Episode 436

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What exactly makes an insight versus just an observation? What are the different types out there? How the heck do we uncover them? This week, we’re getting insightful about insights and laying out the key characteristics of strong agency insights — like inspiring action and reframing problems.

Chris Kocek will share his favorite techniques for generating insights during brainstorming sessions, like continually asking “why” like a toddler until you reach some real gold. With agencies feeling more and more pressure these days to stay competitive and continuously innovate, it’s important to know what really gets us to those “ah-ha” moments before building out a whole campaign.

And once you uncover those golden nuggets, really selling them to your team for maximum impact is the cherry on top. Join us in this insightful episode to learn how to piece together all of these agency insight strategies from one of the pros.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

agency insights

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Getting to the core of the word “insight”
  • Do agencies always need to feel pressured to be insightful?
  • When agency owners should be pushing for more insights from their team
  • The 3 different types of agency insights
  • Inspiring action and problem-solving through insightful thinking
  • The methodology behind building insights
  • How to sell innovative ideas to clients

“Insight is typically deeper than what's on the surface. It’s about going deeper, getting underneath the thing that's really going on.” - Chris Kocek Share on X
“Women are still the gatekeepers of the grocery store and tend to buy things for the household. That data point is very interesting. So what can we do with that now?” - Chris Kocek Share on X
“There's so much content and there's so many people racking their brains for how to stand out, it does take some work to be able to protect that territory once you've carved it out.” - Chris Kocek Share on X
“Many people don't know what is true or what to believe. So what can you do with that by interrogating that language and coming up with different ideas that tap into that?” - Chris Kocek Share on X
“There's a process leading up to the selling of an insight that's really important, and that's the storytelling process and the collaborative process.” - Chris Kocek Share on X

Ways to contact Chris:


Hey, everybody. Drew here. You know, we are always looking for more ways to be helpful and meet you wherever you’re at to help you grow your agency. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve produced this podcast for so long, and I’m super grateful that you listen as often as you do. However, there are some topics that are better suited for quick hyper-focused answers in under 10 minutes. That’s where our YouTube channel really comes in. For quick doses of inspiration, best practices, tips and tricks, head over to youtube.com/the at sign Agency Management institute. Again, that’s youtube.com/the at sign or symbol.

And then Agency Management Institute, all one word. Subscribe and search the existing video database for all sorts of actionable topics that you can implement in your shop today. Alright, let’s get to the show.

It doesn’t matter what kind of agency you run, traditional digital media buying, web dev, PRR brand, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build, a Better, Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ, will expose you to the best practices that drive growth, client and employee retention and profitability, bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. This is Drew McLellan, your jovial host. Happy Monday if you’re listening, real time. Happy February. If you’re listening real time, great to have you with us. I have a really great guest who’s written a book that I think all of you’re gonna wanna read. But first, just a quick couple quick reminders. Number one, it is springtime is right around the corner. So that means we have three or four big things coming up. We have some workshops. We have the running Your Agency for Growth and profit in April. We have Money Matters in March. We have the AE Bootcamp and the Advanced AE Bootcamp in March and April.

And of course, the big kahuna, the Build A Better Agency Summit in May. All of that information is on the website. So for the workshops, head over to agency management institute.com. And under the How We Help tab, you can scroll down and see the workshops, and you can find Running Your Agency for Growth and Profit and Money Matters. Those are really for agency owners and leaders. Money matters mostly for agency owners and maybe your CFO and running your agency for growth and profit agency owners and like COOs, folks like that. And then of course, the AE bootcamps, as you might guess by the name for your AEs. And then the Build A Better Agency Summit is for everybody, mostly leader level.

We don’t see a lot of entry level folks there. So it’s mostly agency owners and leaders. The, if you’re looking for information on the conference, including the list of keynote speakers, the agenda, all of that, head over to the same website I just gave you. And right in the upper left corner is A-B-A-B-A Summit tab. Click on that and you can look at the agenda. You can read about who’s gonna speak and you can register. All right, so I think one of the biggest challenges for agencies today is how do we keep showing up with big ideas? The reality is that’s what we’re being hired to do. Our clients expect us to come with ideas, otherwise, we’re just executing. And when we just execute, now, all of a sudden we become commoditized.

It’s harder to charge a fair price for our efforts, and it’s really easy to get stuck having to compete on price. So to avoid that conundrum, we have to show up with strategic insights and to help us do that. I have a guest today. His name is Chris Kocek, and Chris wrote a book. Chris owns an agency in Texas, and he wrote a book called Any Insights Yet. And it’s all about how we recognize insights, how we inspire insights, how we sell insights. It’s a really great book. It’s very hands-on practical. It’s not theoretical at all, so I highly recommend it.

But before you even rush off to Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or wherever you buy your books, let’s first let you meet him, hear about how smart he is, and then I suspect he will go right off. Or maybe even during, while you’re listening, you’re gonna buy the book. So without further ado, let’s welcome Chris to the show. Chris, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

So tell the listeners a little bit about you, your background, how you came to write the book, and then I’ve got a ton of questions, so we’re gonna jump into those, but first give them a little bit of background.

Yeah. So I got my start at BBDO, New York as a behavioral planner out there. Had some great mentors, Tracy Lova, Brent Vartan, and learned a ton about the business. Then I got recruited out to GSD and M here in Austin, which is where I am today in Austin. And, and about 11 years ago, I started my own agency, Gallant branding. Around that time when I started Gallant, I wrote a book called The Practical Pocket Guide to Account Planning. Mm. And that book had a three page chapter about insights, and students and professors and professionals came up to me and said, you know, I really like that, that chapter, but I, I just wish it were a little longer.

Yeah, maybe four or five pages.

Yeah. So I started, I started working on an expanded edition for that and a few other things. And then that expanded chapter, or that expanded edition just kind of grew and grew and, and ended up becoming its own book.

So the book just came out. So just for the listeners, the title of the book is, any Insights Yet Connecting the Dots? Create, create New Categories, transform Your Business. So it just came out in September of 23, depending on when folks are listening to this. So if you’re listening real time, it’s only been out for a few months. So let’s talk a little bit about insight. I think insight is one of those words that we banty about, but I think a lot of people probably have different definition for it. So how do you, how do you define the word in the book and in your work, and why do you think, I also think it’s a word that we toss out quite a bit.

Why do you think that it gets used so frequently?

Yeah, those are great questions. I mean, you know, when I first started writing about it, I, I thought, okay, so how do I wanna define an insight? What is the definition? So I actually started by asking a bunch of people who I know, creative directors, strategists, chief strategy officers, futurists. I asked a whole bunch of different people, you know, what’s their definition of an insight? And there was, there was confusion around it. It’s banty about, there’s a lot of different ideas. There are some common threads. And insight is typically something that is deeper than what’s on the surface, right? The insight, right? So going deeper, getting underneath the thing that’s really going on. And so, so that depth is really important.

But to your other question in terms of why is it used so much? Well, I think it’s just because it’s, it’s, it’s sexier to say in a meeting, Hey, I’ve got an insight, versus I have a data point, right? Or I have an observation, or, Hey, I’ve got this trend report. Yeah. Everybody has the trend report,


Right. So, so what’s your insight? What’s gonna give us something deeper? And sometimes it can be a little misconstrued, because if you have a data point that nobody else has seen, well, that that’s gonna be news to other people, right? So that might be deeper than other people, you know, have access to at that point. But I think an insight is not any one of those things. It’s not a, a single data point. It’s not an observation, it’s not a human truth, it’s not a trend. It’s the combination of all of those things coming together to solve either your, your campaign challenge or a unique business problem.

Okay. And, you know, you and I were talking before we hit the record button, I think this is one of those things that a lot of agencies feel a lot of pressure to be super insightful. Do we always have to be insightful?

No. No. Not at all. In fact, one of the alternate titles to the book was gonna be no insights necessary.

Oh, nice. So,

So, but that didn’t have, that didn’t have as much sense of urgency.

Right? So, so when is an insight, maybe not necessary, but I, I guess what I’m getting to is how do I know if I’m working in an agency, whether I own the joint or I’m a department head, how do I know when I have to push for, or wait for, or search for an insight? Because, you know, again, I think like we use the word loosely. And so somebody, some folks, you know, I, I suspect there’s a lot of campaign briefs, right? That the last question on the brief is what’s the big insight? Or something like that, right? And, and maybe if it’s a campaign you’ve done 12 times for a client and you do it seasonally, maybe there isn’t a new insight.

So how do I know when, when there is cause for an insight?

Well, I think it’s, it’s always good to be on the lookout for insights, right? Or to be on the lookout for what I call the breadcrumb trail that leads you to an insight. So again, the insight is, is a combination of things. In the book I talk up, I use a metaphor that it’s a constellation. It’s a constellation of these different things. So you might have a data point that gets you started, you say, wow, that’s really interesting. That’s really counterintuitive. I didn’t expect that to be the case. Like, in the case of Old Spice, I think it’s something like 60 to 70% of all body washes are bought by women for men, right? Right. So women are the gatekeepers still of the grocery store, and they tend to buy things for the household.

So that data point is very interesting. What can we do with that now? Right? If you want to connect the dots with other data points or other things, you can do that and build out like a big old insight. Or you can say, Hey, that’s enough. Right? That’s enough for us to get started with this really cool creative hook that says, ladies, look at your man now back to me. Now back to your man, because we know that you’re the ones buying it.

Right? Right.

Right. So, so you don’t always have to have an insight. And, and the cause, I mean, the, the cause is differentiation. You’re always looking to, to make yourself your brand differentiated from anybody else. So, and insights gonna help you with that. But again, insights take a little bit of time to build, because you do have to connect the dots between different things. If it were that easy, if it was just, oh, I’ve got this one thing, I’m done, everybody could do that.

Right. So you identify three different kind of insights. Can you talk us through what those are and what the differentiation between them is?

Yeah. So as you mentioned the, in the subtitle of the book, it’s Connect the Dots, create new categories, transform Your Business. So, right. So there are category insights, right? And, and those are big category disrupting, business, building, you know, type insights, like the things that led to Airbnb, right? Or Netflix or Slack, right? Right. So it’s not just, Hey, people hate email, right? That’s right. There’s more to Slack than just people don’t like email. There were many different things happening in the marketplace. And, and then the creators of Slack came along and said, Hey, we think that there’s a, a new product that sits between email and text messages,


Right. There’s this interesting way that people are communicating in work, and it’s actually highly inefficient. People can’t keep track of the project, you know, and all these different modalities that people are communicating through. So let’s make this thing called Slack. Same thing with Airbnb, right? There were a number of converging trends, you know, millennials looking for, you know, more unique places to stay a sort of anti-corporate mentality to some extent. Don’t wanna stay in the same old same old hotels all the time. Yep. There was that, there was the, you know, peer-to-peer online review systems. And again, those things were all visible for everybody to see. And then people who ended up coming up with Airbnb and VRBO and HomeAway, they said, Hey, we’ve got an idea.

Yeah. Yeah.

Right. And so, have,

Have you ever read the book Becoming a Category of One by Joe Callaway?

No, but I’ve heard of it.

It’s a great book. So again, it really emphasizes this point that, that an insight could be big enough that it literally creates a whole new category of product or service, and that you can become basically a category of one, at least initially, right. Where you are the first one that does it the way you do it. Right? Absolutely. So I highly recommend it. It’s, it’s been around forever. Yeah. It’s probably the one book that I wish I had written. Like, every time I read it, I read it every couple years, and I’m like, damn, that Joe Callaway for writing this book. But

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I highly recommend it to my list for sure. Yep. Because I, it’s come up now in like, the past couple of conversations, so I guess, yeah. So something’s trying to tell me something. Yep.

Okay. So there’s category insights, then there’s

Category insights, then there’s brand Insights. Now, what’s the difference between, you know, category and a brand? You know, so, so Liquid Death, for example, right? Is a good example of

What a crazy product, right? Yes.

It’s a product. I love the, the story of how that came to be, at least according to Mike Cesario. He, he, he said that he saw Backstage, you know, a big, big concert. He saw, you know, performers would often pour out their Red Bull and then fill the can with water, because they gotta go out there and do a 90 minute set or a two hour set, right? And they’ve got a contractual obligation with the energy drinks of the world to, you know, have that can on stage.


But they’re filling it with water. That’s pretty amazing. Right, right,


That observation is pretty amazing. But then he connected the dots with some other things. So like, you know, the idea that water, all water messaging tends to be about purity, right? Fiji untouched by human hands. Isn’t that their tagline? Yep.


Right. So, so Water is constantly talking about being pure, and, and, you know, and there’s certain marketing tropes or conventions that you see in water marketing, and then Liquid Death comes along and from the outset even with its name, right, right. Liquid Death. And I think the biggest challenge they’ve had really is just convincing people, Hey, it’s just water.

Right, right, right. When you look at the can too, and you can sort of see who the audience is, and Yeah. It was a, it was, it’s brilliantly branded. Yeah.

Yeah. So they came in with a point of view, and, and I, I kind of think that the subtext of everything Liquid Death is, is nothing we do or say should be taken seriously. Right? Right. Every single one of their campaigns is irreverent and making fun of marketing. That’s their platform. Let’s just make fun of all the marketing conventions.


Then you’ve also got, you know, brands like Blueland, if you’re familiar with them, or blueland, which is the, they’re like the little tablets that you can like drop into water for, for like cleaning solutions,


Right. So, so they looked at the market and they said, everybody’s just transporting water.

Right? Right.

All these household cleaners, it’s just water, and it’s mostly water and bottles and a little bit of cleaning solution. Everybody’s got a tap at home.


So what if we, now that’s both a category insight and, and a brand insight, but the way that they’ve gone to market, similar to Liquid Death, is that they’re building this brand that, that has, you know, these different touch points and reinforces the category insight if you’ll

Yeah. Right.

That’s the second one, brand Insights. And then the third one is campaign insights. So you can have a brand, and then what are you gonna do to refresh that brand from a campaign standpoint? So you’ve got, I love or

Re or reinforce it, right?

Yeah. Or reinforce it.


So one of the examples in the book is Lay’s do us a flavor, right? Right. The do us a Flavor campaign.


That campaign is based on so many counterintuitive elements, right? Because if you were just leaving it up to the r and d department, say, Hey, we got new chips called Chicken and Waffles, or Wasabi, or some other random flavor that you’d never expect on a potato chip, most people would be like, yeah, I don’t think so. I’m not interested in

That. Right? Right. So

They would steer clear of something like that. But on the other hand, and here’s the contradictory piece, new flavors are what get people talking. And in a social media driven world, you want that conversation to be happening. So if, and this is one of the techniques in the book is create conflict.


So a flavor like chicken and waffles or, or what, what’s the most disgusting flavor you can imagine from, oh,

You know what, when, when I was in Asia, they have like a salmon something flavor. Like if you travel abroad and you look at the potato chip bile, it’s fascinating, the flavor of chips, but it was salmon and something. I was like, you could not pay me to put that in my mouth. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. So,

So, you know, here, here are these different ships now again, and you’re crowdsourcing, so you’re getting consumers to actually volunteer different ideas. You put a prize on the line, Hey, you know, these three flavors are, people are gonna win some money for it. Yep. So, so it takes some contradictory data points, and it, and it, they, they kind of turn them into a campaign. One of the things that we learned working with a snack brand, a chip brand at Gallant was, which I’m sure Lays probably knew this as well from all of their research, but there’s an interesting little thing that happens when you buy an unfamiliar chip flavor. You buy a safety bag.


Because you don’t if you’re gonna be let down,

Right? Right. If this salmon chip is bad, I still need some potato chips.

That’s right. And so by doing that campaign, they automatically created a buy two bags each time.

Oh, that’s brilliant. Yeah.

You know, so that’s, that’s a really interesting, you know, brand, like a campaign example or activation. And that campaign, is it still going on? I i it went on for at least 10 years.

Yeah. Right. I haven’t seen it lately, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not still going on somewhere, at least on social. Yeah. Yeah.

And then there’s campaigns like the Dove campaign for Real Beauty. Right? Right. So here’s Dove selling beauty products, and they see this cultural tension happening in the ether. We all know about it now, it’s been around for 20 years, is that, you know, standards, beauty standards. Right. They’re unrealistic. Right. And Dove comes along, and this is the great irony, right? They’re still selling beauty products,


But they created the big tent to talk about real beauty. What does beauty really mean?

Right? Right. And

That goes to one of the other techniques in the book, which is interrogate language. Hmm. So people are always talking about beauty, beauty, beauty. What does that mean to you? Does it mean photoshopped? Does it mean, you know, authentic? Just being yourself. There’s, and so then you can really start to dig in on a lot of different words, you know, what does it mean to be manly? Right. In today’s society, you know, so, so those are the three, the three different kinds of insights.

So I wanna talk a little bit about sort of the characteristics of an insight, and then I wanna talk a a little about sort of the methodology of getting there. But first, let’s take a quick break, and then when we come back, we’ll talk about what, what are the parts and pieces of an insight. All right. We’ll be right back everybody. Hey everybody, thanks for listening today. Before I go back to the interview, I just wanna remind you that we are always offering some really amazing workshops. And you