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Creating A Research Transformation Agenda

By Joel Rubinson

The two most powerful concepts in marketing research…trends and norms…are also the biggest enemies to innovation. We know purchase intent sucks as a primary measure (in my experience, as many as 70% who say they “definitely will buy”, don’t) but because we have norms, we refuse to give it up.  We know trackers have to evolve but we don’t want to disrupt trends.

The result?  Our research programs are falling more and more out of sync with marketing in a digital, social, mobile world. So, here is how to get out of the rut we are in.

When I was Chief Research Officer at the ARF, I created an initiative called “Research Transformation” that benefited from the participation of industry leaders from Unilever, Procter, Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss, General Mills, CBS, J&J, just to name a few.  We created an “Insights Value Creation” (IVC) model and as I recently reviewed the team’s work, I fell in love with it all over again, this time as a model for method innovation.



So let’s take two dusty systems and evaluate them against the IVC pyramid to see how we can do better.

Brand tracking. The better business future we want is guiding marketing action to achieve business growth, requiring a new framework of what brand success looks like in a digital age. However, our current tools are incomplete.  We are often missing some or all of the following important information feeds…digital (e.g. first party clickstream data), social, transactions, customer care. We can make sense of this using data science, which is a skill we often lack on Insights teams.  When we bring together different streams, there will be an emphasis on synthesis, rather than just reporting the survey tracker results.  Because our guidance system is now more complete we must be willing to take a stand, paying off to the original goal.  Innovation imperatives?  Digital, transaction, and social data, data science, synthesis.

New product concept testing.  Once we have picked the winning idea and have created a marketing budget to generate trial, the next thing we need is triers! So let’s make our business future “maximizing trial with our given budget”.  In other words, we want to beat the forecast. The “take a stand” item we are missing in this case really is a set of media planning rules based on a model to predict who is most likely to be a trier in ways that are targetable via digital and social media. Going to the bottom of the pyramid, regarding information feeds, we are missing ad targeting data that can be used for programmatic advertising.  We could get this by matching concept testing results with 3rd party profiles such as Facebook and Twitter interest data or 3rd party aggregators’ audiences against which they can place impressions. We should also be testing search terms that we could buy, measuring click rates.  In terms of science, we are missing predictive analytics at an individual level. The idea is to use logistic regression to model who the individual triers are most likely to be using the enriched data set (adding interests and audiences, etc.) to survey results and by post-analyzing the early results. By the way, when you do this, you are likely to find that there are other variables beyond the literal purchase intent rating that have value at targeting “trier lookalikes.”  I bet income, age, sharing activity, non-branded content consumption of relevant articles offering advice would all be significant variables in a predictive equation.  So stop just using purchase intent and making overall trial forecasts and then declaring victory!  Businesses don’t want trial forecasts, they want triers!

So what are your transformation goals for 2015? I recommend the following process:

  1. Pick an important business need and research program that are most ripe for reinvention using the IVC pyramid as your audit tool
  2. Identify the needed new data streams and skills
  3. Create a new vision for the program
  4. Search for partners who can best enable this vision
  5. Choose a partner and carefully guide the initial work

In my four years since starting my consultancy, I have had the pleasure of working this model for large CPG and media companies in the areas of brand guidance, media research, and shopper insights.  I can tell you that these are not assignments that take energy, they give energy…to you and the organization you serve.

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