On Tuesday, March 23rd, Stan Stanunathan, Vice President, Marketing Strategy and Insights for The Coca-Cola Company will deliver the message that “research transformation is not an option” and talk about how Coca-Cola is changing their insights approach globally.
I will then moderate a panel of other leaders, Gayle Fuguitt Vice President, Consumer Insights, General Mills; John Forsyth Principal, McKinsey & Company, Inc.; and Susan Wagner VP, Strategy & Insights, Johnson & Johnson who will demonstrate that Stan is not alone; other leaders also believe the time is now.
Research transformation isn’t just about changing a department; it’s about being an agent of change for the culture and beliefs of the whole marketing organization:
- Stop thinking of people as consumers and start thinking of them as humans. The word “consumer” is marketing-ese for slicing off that part of daily living that relates to what you can sell someone and throwing away the rest. That keeps you thinking in the box. Stan from Coke says, “When you study consumers you get incremental ideas; when you study humans you get breakthroughs”.
- Move from a control mentality to an influence approach. Brand teams no longer control brand messaging thanks to the web-based social media infrastructure. Ask Motrin, or now Toyota. Research departments no longer control the flow of information about consumers. Marketing teams can search Twitter, or go to digital analytics, or… Are you ready to do what Vitamin Water did, where they let their fan base in Facebook design the next new flavor? Are you ready to let go?
- Think of research as a source of anticipatory insights rather than just testing and measuring. The risk reduction and measurement parts of what research does are important but those are downstream activities. The insights team needs to be thought of as an insights engine that builds strong brands and durable customer relationships. We do more than quantify the expected; we also listen for the unexpected, bringing breakthrough ideas that inform strategy. If the insights team is thought of this way it will be brought into to business issues at the start and regarded as an investment in the future of the business, rather than just an expense to be managed down over time.
What a different corporate environment! Creating a fast learning organization where ideas can come from anywhere and where every test has a learning objective not just an action standard! A way of working together where the insights team is integrated into business leadership teams, where we are part of and potentially lead the social media cross-functional teams, and where the voice of the human is brought by research into every marketing decision.
We are not just being quixotic about this. The ARF is launching a Research Transformation Super-Council and along with those speaking on March 23rd, we have leaders from great organizations like Unilever, Kraft, MTV, Cambridge, Cambiar, Colgate-Palmolive. The super-council will have working committees to map out the transformation blueprint for organizational impact, creating insights-led strategies, and a working committee that will tackle engagement/talent/process.
This is our time, but with it comes the responsibility to up our game, to become leaders rather than just technicians and analysts, and to leverage what we know about humans (cognitive science, behavioral economics, anthropology) to bring insights that shape the strategic glide-path of the organization.
I hope to see you on March 23rd at the ARF annual Re:Think conference, Succeeding in the New Normal for the start of this phase of our journey together.