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#reThink13 : The Four Horsemen of … The Resurrection

Many in our industry are open to change – scared and unsure perhaps. But the large attendance at the ARF re:Think 2013 conference shows that there is no lack of knowledge seekers.


Richard Evensen

Yes, I realize that the four horsemen bring the apocalypse and, for some companies, this will be true. We’re in a period of massive changes and, to survive, companies, their marketers and advertisers, and the researchers who support them, must also change. Those who don’t will perish.

But I’m an optimist. I believe that many in our industry are open to change – scared and unsure perhaps – but the large attendance at the ARF re:Think 2013 conference shows that there is no lack of knowledge seekers. More importantly, there are companies stepping up to the plate (as I called out in my previous blog post) which are delivering on the innovation needed to ensure the resurrection of our industry.

So, what are the four horses which will bring about either your destruction or success?

1. Data. Stop trying to get it. It’s big enough and this wave will only get bigger. Instead, figure out how to integrate it, analyze it and distill out the value in the massive amounts of big data which companies are already buried in. Winners will:

  • Create solutions which integrate incongruent data sources and allow us to get a more holistic picture of individuals, businesses and the ecosystems in which we operate.
  • Provide technology which allows for agile translation of data into decisions which companies need to make to optimize the opportunities of the moment.
  • Use human and machine smarts to build better predictive and prescriptive models that drive future decisions versus simply make sense of the past.

2. Developing Markets. Get off the fence. This is not an “if” but a “when” and it’s clear that when is NOW. It’s basic math. Developing (emerging) markets are growing … developed markets are not. If you need to show 10% y/y growth to satisfy investors and GDP growth is negative, you have to be a LOT better than the competition … or get to growth markets before they do. Winners in this space will:

  • Understand that Americans are weird. Yes, you read that right. And there’s proof. Read this article for a real eye-opener: So stop projecting your thinking on others and align to local cultural norms and values if you want to succeed.
  • Find innovative pricing strategies. The reality is that people who make $1/day or even $10/day aren’t going to pay what you charge in the U.S. or Europe. Think outside the box. There are a lot of ways to package and price what you offer.
  • Segment smarter. If you think the Chinese in cities over 1 million people are all alike, well, give yourself the Ugly American award. Demographic clustering is for dummies. Not every 46 year old male wants a red sports car. You have to be relevant to succeed and the first step is smarter segmentations which identify unique purchase drivers.

3. Demographic Shifts. A tip o’ the hat goes to my blogging superstar colleague, Robert Moran, who tried to wake people up to the basic fact that demographics are making a major shift in developed – and definitely in developing – markets. Granted, demographics are not destiny … but it sure changes how you target, what you sell, for how much, etc. Winners in this space will:

  • See ahead of the shifts. I met a 25-year old grad student in Toronto who was optimistic about his job outlook. In his view, he just needed to wait 10 years for the (larger) older generation to move into retirement, at which point there would be a massive demand for the (smaller) younger generation. Smart thinking, even though the harsh reality is that he’ll likely have some lean years while he waits for the dinosaurs to drop.
  • Don’t assume the past predicts the future. When demographics shift, it doesn’t simply mean that one group expands and the other contracts. You don’t just get more old people and fewer young people. The expansion/contraction creates an entirely new dynamic, with different view and needs influenced by the time and circumstances in which the shift happens and simply based on the influence of scale.
  • Align your brand before the change. One of the biggest failures I see in brand positioning is in not refreshing your brand attributes in time and being seen as stogy. Brands need to stay at the cutting edge (but not bleeding edge) to ensure that they are positioned well for demand spikes as values and needs shift.

4. Devices. There was a lot of focus on mobile at re:Think 2013, which was a big step forward. But what about tablets … and connected TVs (think Kinect) … and M2M? We’re already seeing an explosion of multi-device engagement and this is only the beginning. The challenge, of course, is being able to follow our customers when they’re engaging across so many different devices, in different ways and with different expectations. Winners in this space will:

  • Connect the device dots. I already gave a call-out to Convertro in my previous blog. They’re using analytics and big data mining to track customers across traditional and digital channels. GfK is working directly with mobile operators to get access to needed data. Research Now is tracking their panel across devices. It’s happening and will be a must-have within a very short time.
  • Have great integrated apps.  Mobile (and now tablet) apps are here to stay. Not having this interface is like wearing shorts in the winter. You look foolish. Plus you miss out on staying connected with your customers and capturing a lot of very valuable data. Just remember that they’re device hopping so you need to be cloud-based and ensure data integration across devices.
  • Get creative. Nike’s sensors were already a great way to expand the brand and product value of its products. Tie this in though with a website which provides smart analytics and allows the brand to be a valued advisor, and then pull in social linkages to create a real sense of community, and you are on the way to exploding brand equity and stickiness.

So, if you’re in marketing, advertising or research, realize that this is a great time to be great!

Just realize that being middle-of-the-road is very likely to get you run over …

As always, your comments are welcome. For those companies looking to make sense of the shifts, feel free to reach out to me ([email protected]). I’m happy to help you strategize the road ahead!

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