Today, let’s take a quick trip back in time. Your high school English class. You are staring down at a what seems like an overwhelming and obscure tome (let’s say, Wuthering Heights). Your assignment - find the theme. 

At this point, you may have thought, well... there is a lot of wandering on moors, several dark encounters, questionable folk. Then, YOUR mind wanders. What is a moor anyway? Is it like a hill? Why wander on a desolate hill? Eventually, though, these story elements came together, and you grasped the theme.

When it comes to creating sticky insights for a report, that theme-grasping skill you learned is the foundation for success.

When our insights ensemble returns from the field, the lead researcher will write up a concise report outline – rich with insights and recommendations. But strangely, it can still feel overwhelming. There is A LOT of deep data packed in there along with important input from our clients and other moderators. It all starts to bleed together in a sea of equally weighted insights. Even the executive summary can feel like a list of bullet points - all important, but challenging to grasp as a whole.


Looking at a report, you can feel a little like this… 


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Even with perfectly organized ideas it is still a lot to process. How can you remember all that?

You can’t.

You can string PPT slides together with beautiful graphics, but the presentation may come out sounding like a child’s first writing experiment, “…and then this happened, and so-and-so said this, and we learned this, etc.”

Those hard-won insights and recommendations must hold together with images and stories. And so, we find ourselves back on the moors, wandering and looking for a theme.

Making insights stick requires a story on which to stick them; a story requires a theme or BIG IDEA.


Here’s how you can do it:


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You have the report outline in front of you –  read it through. Talk with the lead researcher and ask them questions about what they feel the BIG IDEA is. Take a step back, and let it sink in.

Frame up the BIG IDEA in a simple sentence. Test out it out to see if it can hold all the insights together. If it is right, if it really is the BIG IDEA, the insights should ladder up. The BIG IDEA should also speak to the goal of the research.

Then, use storytelling techniques (e.g. metaphor, repetition, voice, etc.) to repeatedly connect each insight to the BIG IDEA.


Here’s how we’ve done it:


We were working on a project looking at how people engage with concessions at movie theaters. The client wanted to know how to improve engagement because sales were flat. Many shop-alongs, video, and conversations later, we had a great outline with rich insights. So many insights though, and how to identify the BIG IDEA?

After much discussion, we realized the consumer language kept alluding to wanting more in the concession area.  More customization, more VIP treatment, more ease, etc. We were on to something. The consumer wanted to experience movie magic the second they began engagement with the theater, not just when the lights went down.

Time to articulate the BIG IDEA. Unless the theater brought the movie magic experience to the concessions area, more and more people would stop buying. The insights all stuck to that BIG IDEA – the images, the narrative, the storytelling techniques all supported it.


Heathcliff wasn’t prancing around in the sunshine with daffodils eating cake with pink frosting. He was wandering those dark, stormy moors, uttering cruel words…the theme was hate, with an undercurrent of revenge. It showed up in his words, actions, thoughts, etc.

The consumer voices you listen to have a BIG IDEA to share, you have to grasp it, and that takes some reflection – a valuable commodity in an age of soundbites and quick turnarounds.

However, when you hit upon your theme - everything will come together as effortlessly as this image I came across at the library with my kids. 

All your insights stick together because they support the BIG IDEA.