When it comes to marketing, the terms research and insights are common. In fact, we hear them nearly daily. But, you’d be surprised how often these terms are misused or improperly interchanged.

So what exactly is the difference between research and insights? And how can you use them?

Pile of magazines and catalogs

Defining the Basics

Simply put, research is data collection. We conduct research to see what trends, patterns, or problems are occurring within industries.

Research can be collected from first- and third-party sources — like interactive advertisements, surveys, cookies, or studies. And these processes provide information about market needs, market sizes, what competitors are or are not providing, and what your customers think.

This macro-level process helps us determine the “what.” What is happening and what is needed. So, then what’s the difference from insights?

Insights are interpretations of data. They inform clients how one component — like clickthrough rates of an ad — impacts their business and how your interpretation fits into your new strategy. Insights tell a more holistic story. What story do they tell? The story of past, present, and future.

These two concepts work in tandem to help marketing agencies build a successful strategy for their clients.

The How-To

Knowing the difference between research and insights is just the beginning. To actually make this information useful, you need to know how to use it.

Research is the “what.” The data shows us the problems that are occurring. Then we take that data and develop the formulated questions that need answering — it’s a stepping stone to creating insights.

Insights are used to answer questions like: Why are we seeing less clickthrough in certain demographics? How do we reach a new audience? And what can we do to improve our future sales and interactions?

Insights also help you determine a missing factor — who you need to reach.

A well-formulated insight should help your client understand in a quick and direct manner.

The three key elements of insights include:

  • The context: Why is this information interesting?
  • The implication: How can we use this to identify patterns of behavior and predict trends?
  • The application: How do we apply this information and what opportunities exist?

From Findings to Insights

Now let’s put this information to use.

The best way to apply findings to insights is by starting with a question. For example, start with: Are we reaching the right audience? Then, study the research and formulate the answer based on the collected data.

Once you specify the problem, you can start to develop the correct strategy to supply an answer. But the process never stops there. A good analyst will always come back with another question.

Because, no matter how much research you gather or how the insights help you progress, there is always room for improvement and growth.

Glowing orb hovering over an open hand

Insight Tips

The point of using insights is to understand the objectives of the studies and the client’s expectations of how you use insights.

When trying to develop successful and helpful insights, consider these steps:1

  1. Explain context and background — give meaning to the research.
  2. Explain your learnings — what “answers” have you found?
  3. Explain the cause — why is this problem occurring?
  4. Communicate motivation — find the problem point in your market to determine motive.
  5. Next steps — plan for the future, consider resolutions, and develop a strategy.


It’s important to remember that when developing insights, any research study you conduct should consist of “clean data” — meaning the study can be easily replicated by other people.

Together, market research and consumer insights research work together to help you understand the market and your consumers. And, it helps you build a solidified competitive edge using data — not a gut feeling.

Now that you know the difference between research and insights — the basics of how to apply them — it’s time to make waves in your market. And if you need a little more help, feel free to reach out to MKR.