Ideas are Easy. Insights are Hard.

In previous blog posts, Mark Smith and I have emphasized the power of the 6-word story, as well as the 6-second message. The impetus to create concise, pithy, and inspiring communication has only accelerated in our world of short attention spans and bombardment of stimuli. There is a virtually never-ending buffet of media around us, and being able to insure that our plates are full of information that is useful, rather than that which is fake (or just noise) is getting more and more complex. 

And while the quantity of information is certainly a big part of the problem, the quality is even more critical. If we want our audiences to focus more on the stories of our brands and our products, then our processes need to be better at mining insights. Typically, the majority of an organization’s time is spent on idea development and on execution, but it is the work in between these steps where the magic happens. 

Ideas are easy. As you walk through your offices right now, the cubicles are over-flowing with sparks of ideas that hold the exciting promise of one day turning into a magical proposition. We can count them, we can sort them, and we can power dot them… but do we have the expertise, the discipline, and the support to research, polish, and refine one into a clear and inspiring insight?

Execution is “easy” too. Don’t get me wrong, it is hard work and often takes a whole different skill set of organization, management, and agility. But innovation teams typically have lots of expertise and investment in processes to “get stuff done” and to deliver initiatives to market.

Insights are hard. They are hard to develop, hard to assess, and hard to perfect. The process tends to be messy. It takes effort to research the language, the trends, and the visuals to elevate an idea. It takes expertise and experience to pull out a key nugget or soundbite and to transform something mundane into something magical. It takes focus and persistence to push past “yes, that is interesting” to “Wow, that is amazing!”

In my years at P&G, the best example was the development of the Clinical Strength antiperspirant category. It was understood that the category was becoming commoditized and that consumers were “settling” for products that still failed them once or twice a week. Consumers had “heard it all” and were skeptical of any new products and claims. “Prescription” types of products across multiple categories and industries were an emerging trend. And with a focused team, a disciplined, agile approach, and an adventurous spirit, the Clinical Strength category was born. It seems obvious now… which is proof of an amazing insight!

At Upstream 360, insights are at the heart of what we do each and every day. With a diverse team of creatives, marketers, scientists, and story-tellers, we invest heavily in partnering with teams and organizations to master the craft of insight development. Whether it is in transforming a vague idea into a clear concept, in finding the precise language and visuals to make a claim or a demo magically intuitive, or in developing powerful and memorable copy for sales, digital content, and advertising, our experienced team is now quite nimble at an UPSTREAM-lined process that transforms ideas into insights. That’s not to say that it is easy… but rather that it is a core competency and mantra that drives us each and every day.

To quote Jay Baer, “We are surrounded by data, but starved for insights.” It takes a unique blend of creativity, discipline, and agility to develop a killer insight, and an investment in doing so is becoming increasingly critical to break through the clutter.

The Joy of Six

One of the biggest priorities for advertisers and ad-makers alike, is figuring out the best way for a brand to reach a consumer, while capturing the right kind of attention.

It probably took you about six seconds to read that first sentence, and therein lies the tale.

Cue the 20th Century Fox pre-movie fanfare music

Fox Networks Group just announced they are adopting the six-second, “unskippable” ad, following in YouTube’s footsteps as it tries to cater to its growing number of streaming service viewers.  The ads will eventually debut on linear television, marking the first time a television broadcaster had adopted the new six-second ad format.

This isn’t all that surprising.  There’s been an ongoing evolution of condensing communication into bite-sized, “snackable” content for a while. 


Leveraging our product expertise, Upstream has been on the curve of delivering this type of effective, short-and-sweet creative ever since the race to communicating benefits and technologies in :06 seconds began.  Which is about the time private label brands got more competitive, making product superiority differences harder to discern.

Traditional agencies with traditional creative approaches are not ideally positioned to tackle this new form, so the struggle is real.

The ads may be short, but the stakes are high. P&G’s Chief Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard says by improving the efficiency and the effectiveness of their marketing spending, P&G brands are continually improving productivity to grow users and drive top-and bottom-line growth.

As attention spans shorten and more and more people watch videos on their mobile devices, it seems that six seconds is both long enough and short enough for on-the-go users who appreciate a succinct message.

For Creatives who appreciate the constraint, and for brands who value the consistent results, it’s a pretty good bargain, too.

And that’s the long and the short of it.

Mark Smith is the Chief Creative Officer for Upstream 360 and the father of a teenage daughter.  He stays motivated by the twin powers of doubt and insecurity, while his approach to the work is making it legitimately interesting, shareable, and something people can connect with. 


Mark is also an author of the book Innovation Myths and Mythstakes, available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle and coming soon on Audible.