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What Is The Difference Between Analysis and Insight?

I posted a chart in a discussion forum the other day, and someone responded that it was a great insight. That left me scratching my head – the chart was useful, to be sure, a predictive forecast of when a topic was likely to trend in the next few months. But it wasn’t an insight, at least to me.

Why? Because that’s not what the chart was. It was an analysis. So, let’s set some ground definitions.

The Definition of Analysis

Analysis comes from Greek, analein, which means to unlock or loosen up. When we take data and analyze it, we’re unlocking its secrets, loosening information from the data. A pile of numbers is data; an analysis helps us to make use of the data in a way, a format that we comprehend.

The Definition of Insight

Insight is quite literally looking inside, inner sight. When we’re talking about insights, we’re looking deep inside our data and analysis. We’re looking at why something happened, what the contributing causes were.

The Difference Between Analysis and Insight

Specific to marketing analytics, the difference between analysis and insight is this:

  • Analysis tells us what happened.
  • Insight tells us why.

That’s the simplest, most straightforward explanation. If you’re putting together a report or a chart and you’re defining what happened – website visits were down 16%, email opens were up 12%, etc. – you’re doing analysis. If you’re trying to explain why those things happened, you’re creating insights.

Recently, I set up a hunting camera in my backyard to see what wildlife comes around. I caught this critter the other night.

Picture of a skunk

Yes, that’s a skunk.

The analysis is simple and clear. There’s a skunk in my backyard, and not a small one. But what isn’t clear is why. Unless you knew that I also have a lot of fruit bushes and trees – then the answer, the insight becomes apparent. What’s in my backyard is very appealing to the skunk, because not only do skunks eat that kind of food, they also prey on smaller critters like mice – so my backyard is basically a buffet restaurant for it.

In the discussion forum, my posting a chart of what happened was an analysis. I provided no explanations, no deep dive, nothing that suggested why the topic was going to trend or what we should do about it, and thus it wasn’t an insight.

So, why did one of the forum members react that way? A really good analysis can provoke someone to create their own insights in their mind. A really clear analysis gets your thinking going, because you don’t need to spend any brain power trying to understand the analysis. It’s clear from the moment you look at it what happened, and thus your brain immediately goes to, “Okay, why, and what do we do next?”

A powerful analysis speeds things up.

A bad analysis slows things down.

A powerful analysis makes insight and strategy generation easier.

A bad analysis makes it harder.

If you want to generate insights, if you want to be insightful, perfect the art of analysis first.


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