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Everyone Is A Research Agency – Under The Radar Presents The “Snap-Together” Solution

"Under the Radar" provided a clear perspective into where MR is heading. With the emergence of “research under the hood,” companies are now able to “play Lego” with their own and supplier analytics and effectively able to piece together their own marketing research agency.



Editor’s Note: Brian Singh continues his series reporting on what he found at the Under The Radar event in November and what the implications for the insight industry could be. This one is not to be missed folks.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Brian is one of the Advisors at MR’s own “under the radar” initiative, the Insight Innovation Competition. If you think you have a disruptive offering, then I encourage you to enter the competition. If you just want to see what ideas others are coming up with check out the submissions and vote on your favorites.


By Brian Singh

The opening and closing sessions of Under the Radar provided a clear perspective into where marketing research is heading.  With the emergence of “research under the hood,” companies are now able to “play Lego” with their own and supplier analytics and effectively able to piece together their own marketing research agency.

With the explosion of behavioral data, buyers and suppliers alike are able to monitor almost all aspects of the “desire-awareness-intention-engagement-purchase-loyalty” cycle. It is evident that while media/promotional programs all have internal metrics, the focus is now on insight – from individual marketing channels, to consumer customization and optimization of communications/engagement channels. This leads to greater attention being placed on how content, tools and channels are placed together, and for research teams within an organization how insights are best aligned (from traditional electronic media to newer forms of online media, including social media – and the optimization of that mix) to meet clients’ objectives. Thus, in many respects, replacing the third party support and validation traditionally offered by the marketing research industry.

The big shift now is where marketing research may have presented a prefaced approach (i.e., undertaking exploratory research), which is likely still relevant for establishing on overall communication strategy, it is now being done within programs and built on proprietary norms. And not just any norms. But norms that are indigenous to the specific marketing/engagement channel and communication platform that are based on behaviors. Thus, norms and normative benchmarks that were held dear to research firms are now being replaced by detailed behavioral norms held and organized by clients.

The opening session of the conference featured Bob Sauerberg, President and Joe Simon, Chief Technology Officer, both from Condé Nast. These two talked about the direction that Condé Nast was going in adapting to evolving media platforms. Both indicated that they were relearning yet affirming their core strategy – that is, Condé Nast was and will continue to be built upon delivering great content. They are also focused on becoming a new media company (see below). They are trying to break the mold of the early days of television (where it was a poor transformation of radio into a visual medium) by delivering web content instead of “magazines on the internet.”

One area that they have determined to hold great potential is “narrow casting” – the ability to appeal to specific interests based on consumers’ interest graph and content consumption. Bob and Joe indicated that there will be greater attention to storyboarding and scripting via a research-driven approach, as well as the incorporation of greater rich media (with more attention on video – especially video that gets behind the content). As Condé Nast is a large player with the global media landscape, there were three significant shifts that the research industry should consider.

  • Brand Programs: Brand programs (as defined by Condé Nast) are for companies looking to explore brand-driven content from the point of telling a specific story related to products, services or their overall brand itself and develop a pipeline through to ecommerce (see: Thus via “brand program,” Condé Nast is seeking to close the loop to define what a return on investment ( is on any specific program that a company engages with them. Further, given the data driven approach, more “narrow casting” will lead to better alignment of specific brands with the interest graph of their target audience.
  • User Experience: Greater attention is being placed on developing a flexible user interface that is reflective of a brand and aligns with their messaging. Thus, using a data-driven approach, Condé Nast is seeking to align content-based materials with platforms – may it be tablets or mobiles – that are able to connect a brand closer to intent, if not purchase itself. Condé Nast is quite explicit that this is not solely about pursuing purchasing behavior. It is about building longer-term relationships with their readership and brand customers given that they are able to have a better grasp on lifetime value through the quantification of how users consumer their content and how it translates into connection with a specific company’s brand.
  • Becoming a Research Agency: Being a “new media company” means that you are also a research agency, and Condé Nast has invested heavily in analytics (CNTelligence division: They have determined that this is critical to the development of and closing the deal on brand programs. Bob and Joe indicated that there has been substantial effort placed on understanding the network effect of content across different screens, user segments and connection to subscriber data. Overall, there is a goal to connect data with promotional tools to enhance and develop new programs. This approach, they believe, has been critical to helping them optimize programs for brands, but also Condé Nast’s own revenue stream.

Condé Nast’s approach, in tracking consumer behavior, is leading to better research-driven approaches that in turn lead to more customized one-on-one/relevant marketing for clients. The closing sessions which featured Belly, SteelHouse and VigLink presented slices of where this is going and how this can complement what Condé Nast is doing – directly and indirectly.


Belly is a universal loyalty program that offers one-of-a-kind rewards for businesses that consumers love to visit while attempting to replace the boring “buy one get ten free” punch cards that consumers actually want. They have developed a package solution which allows consumers to check in via an in-store iPad and earn points that can later be redeemed at each individual business that is part of the Belly network. Belly is taking the whole notion of loyalty and making it more democratic through a customized experience and simplifying the approach to rewards – based on the notion of better, more relevant rewards.

Belly indicated that their data-driven approach is driving more social actions and cross-industry buy-in. This metrics-driven approach has yielded more action by consumers, as there is greater buy-in from local businesses (where currently in operation). From a research industry perspective, understanding loyalty and the behaviors embedded within, Belly is seeking to better connect businesses with customers in specific regions, but also across regions and businesses to deliver more relevant rewards.


SteelHouse calls itself an ad tech firm and indicate that they are bringing innovative solutions to brands, agencies and ecommerce marketers. Specifically, SteelHouse is conducting behavioral targeting and this is driven by the personality of the shopper, and is done in real time. What SteelHouse is delivering is where previous prediction was based on existing behavior, they are now focused on discovery and how that leads to customer desire. This goes beyond the base content that is presented at a company’s website and seeks to grasp the notion of engagement across a customer’s behavior online. As noted by Mark Douglas, the founder of SteelHouse,

“We think that the market is going to continue to evolve in building those wants and making it more organic and where we are going to be driving innovation and how we fulfill the number of places to reach the consumer – the content, the advertising in terms of what we are doing – and linking it all together from discovery to purchase.”

From a research perspective, SteelHouse is seeking to deliver to clients a stronger grasp “beyond the pipeline” from communication to purchase to potential purchase.


VigLink has thrown the traditional advertising model on its head. In this case, publishers of content earn money via out clicks from their content – with the objective of turning content into commerce. VigLink was based on the observation that advertising is looking to get closer to content – akin to Condé Nast’s approach to developing brand programs. However, VigLink is trying to detect where brand content exists and align their advertising programs and reward publishers – thus, building the return on investment for advocacy and the authenticity of the content. As opposed to buying key words, VigLink is aligning content directly back to brands. From a research perspective, the challenge has always been to assist clients in controlling the message; here it is about detecting the creativity and authenticity of the message that can deliver more third-party insight and desire for brands.

Based on these bookends of Under the Radar, all platforms and associated platform-based entities are rethinking the pipeline for brands. “New media companies” are offering a slice and/or an internal solution that disintimediates core offerings of the marketing research industry. Thus, the onus is now on us, the research industry, to consider what the tools offer and to delve into the art of aggregation as this presents a substantial opportunity to connect corporations with various emerging and evolving tools.

There are other tough questions arising from these two sessions that our industry needs to carefully consider.

  • How many large brands would adopt a collaborative approach with media companies and other service providers and cut out research agencies entirely?
  • Can MR firms still call themselves “research agencies?” And what does the industry call itself when research is embedded in every media, ecommerce and engagement platform?
  • What are the emerging roles, jobs and opportunities in this emerging universe?
  • And what value can we provide beyond what algorithm designers, mathematical modellers and IT professionals can deliver?

As traditional media continues to adapt to a mobile, multiscreen and social universe, so to must the MR industry.

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11 responses to “Everyone Is A Research Agency – Under The Radar Presents The “Snap-Together” Solution

  1. Are we bandying about terms like disintermediation and disruption because we believe this is happening or we just trying to make a case for discussion? I see none of these as really either disruptive or disintermediating, Lets face it marketers do not want to pay for market research, they need it when internal data does not supply their required information needs. Now, because a lot of social media enables companies to follow the purchase process from stimulus to purchase and even post-purchase, your argument is that this somehow represents a major challenge to traditional market research. All of these social media tools are fine, but they rarely deliver reasons why people ultimately behave as they do. Yes we can identify that someone whose demographics are such and such ,who watches this medium, buys that product is highly disposed to Brand X or book title ABC. But this information has no competitive advantage because it is available to every marketing company. Social media has no barriers to entry and analytics are moving so fast and so easily available that all this insight will be like all internal data ever was, just indicative with no differentiated insights. As an example, Pharma companies often have very detailed information on doctors prescribing practices, to a level that is as good or better than social media will ever offer. Despite this they still research their markets because the data really doesn’t provide insights and strategic direction. When companies start to realize that information on consumers from social media platforms starts to become ubiquitous and campaigns start to fail because everyone is using the same technology and therefore the same tactics, where will they go for information that might give a competitive edge? In my view this trend will ensure that traditional research moves to a strong value-add. And can we just for a moment stop going on about online and mobile as something disruptive. These are just data collection methods and most MR companies are developing or already have strong capabilities in use of these technologies. To the few client companies that actually have a researcher in-house that can design a decent questionnaire I say good luck to all 3 of you!

  2. In addition to what Chris so eloquently says, Mr. Singh clearly fails to understand a simple point about what’s going on in MR – we do not have any measure of the “desire-awareness-intention-engagement-purchase-loyalty cycle”. We have measures of pieces of it from different sources – but it is the single-source promise of big data that keeps it top of mind. Without that single source, we will never have more powerful models than we now have (assuming normal incremental developement) and the promise will never be fulfilled. We are, at present, locked into a nomothetic world and only true single source will be sufficiently disruptive to bring us into an idiographic world. It appears that Mr. Singh is buying into the hype and not the reality.

    1. @Steve and @Chris, as always thanks for the thoughtful comments to push he dialogue ahead. I hear your points and don’t disagree with much of what you are saying in theory, but I think you are missing 2 important points: 1.) Many of the largest client organizations in the world are actively supporting the development of new approaches that will provide that single source solution (the synthesis of many data passive and active streams, including asking and observing) and 2.) Tech companies are listening and are developing the solutions to meet the need. This is from direct conversations I am having with all players in the value chain; it’s not aspirational, IT IS HAPPENING. I agree that the skill sets of researchers may be very much in demand over the next few years to help make the data meaningful, but as Brian stressed in this article, the channels of data, regardless of type, will increasingly come from non-traditional MR firms that develop a very different engagement model and value proposition with consumers and brands.

  3. @Lenny – many of the largest client organizations also supported Project Apollo, so just because there is client support for the idea doesn’t mean it’s going to be a reality. Tech companies think they are developing solutions and talk like they are developing solutions – doesn’t mean they are actually developing solutions that work. Take, for example, IBM’s recent publication “Science Meets Product Assortment”, which was supposed to be Big Data applied to the assortment question. Not so much, as it turns out. I’m not opposing the effort – I’m opposing claims that the effort is already succeeding.

    1. Steve I am bound by NDAs so all I can say is that brands are working at a very deep level with tech companies to do this, and it is already being validated. The writing is on the wall, unfortunately it is in invisible ink for many. Over the next 24 months it will become painfully apparent to everyone as these efforts become public.

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