How Marketers Can Use Metaphors to Fuel Insights

In our last blog post, I shared top competencies where marketers need training. We talked about the Who-What-How marketing framework and the importance of deeply understanding your customer in order to convey the right messaging in the right way. Knowing your WHO allows you to dig for high value insights. In this post, I’ll share how metaphors are a powerful tool to unlock these pivotal insights for your brand

The Importance of High Value Insights

In the marketing field, I am sure you hear how important it is to stay focused on your customer. Well, strong insights are the most critical factor in being able to stay customer centric! Often we push our products onto our customers. However, we should start with the customer’s unmet want or need and let this inform our product positioning. As marketers, our task is to dig deep into the minds of our customers to decipher these needs and wants. But, we all know this is easier said than done. Consumers do not always know what they need or want. What they truly wish for could be something undeveloped. Or, their true desires are so sub-conscious that they are unable to adequately articulate them.

Using Metaphors to Dig for High Value Insights

Metaphors are a powerful tool in unlocking these high-value insights that consumers have a hard time conveying. Metaphors help us think about things differently, and tap into those hard to reach insights. The first step is to take your WHO and create a sub-conscious metaphor for them regarding their product experience.

As an example, we recently worked with a higher education institution. We conducted interviews with students and faculty and connected their comments with metaphors to uncover insights. Students at this institution felt like they were expected to forge their own path versus carrying out a scripted experience. Thus, the metaphor we might connect is that students feel like they are the captain of their own ship. This reveals that students want the autonomy and opportunities to create the tailored collegiate experience they desire. It should be noted, your metaphor and subsequent insights are not to be shared overtly. These insights simply inform your messaging to make it more targeted and powerful. This in turn helps you to reach your goals and KPIs.

The Power of Metaphors in Marketing

We are not the only ones who advocate on behalf of metaphors. Gerald Zaltman and Lindsay Zaltman, authors of Marketing Metaphoria, share the power of metaphors in this Harvard Business School article. They state: “because deep metaphors are shared by consumers who may vary considerably on the surface, they become very powerful tools for developing new product concepts, communicating about them, restructuring market segmentation strategies, and simplifying product design processes.” Clearly, metaphors are a very useful tool to add to your marketing arsenal!

Tying this back to our example, we recommended to our higher education client that they create messaging for prospective students highlighting the unique experience they can create for themselves. From the research and using metaphors to unlock high-value insights, we knew this message would resonate deeply with the kind of student this institution was hoping to capture.


At Noetic, we deeply believe in the imperative role high value insights play. In fact, our firm’s name was derived from this belief. Philosopher William James defined noetic as “insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority.”

Once you have uncovered key customer insights, let’s talk through how to develop strategies that leverage these insights. It would be my pleasure to help you create a strategy that is truly noetic.