Marketing and Research Consulting for a Brave New World
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The Research profession has perennially sought a “seat at the table”.  Last Tuesday, I had a seat at a (different kind of) table.  I was part of a keynote morning panel on innovation at Ad:Tech in San Francisco.  I was the only researcher there, sitting next to some pretty impressive people…the CEO and founder of BabyCenter (over 6MM uniques/month), VP Branding for Adobe, and SVP Audience/CTO for Hulu.  In other words, Pete Blackshaw EVP of Digital Strategic Services of Nielsen Online, the moderator, put together a “table” with a CEO, head of marketing, head of technology, and research leader.  I knew this was going to be an acid test of the ARF Research Transformation message in front of a young digital marketer audience.

The panel’s blend of perspectives turned out to be an effective mix, based on the tweets (and other feedback.) Tweets:
–I’m a professional cynic, but Pete Blackshaw’s “Innovate or Die” was one of smartest panels I’ve heard in a long time. #adtechsf
–Too much to say about the Innovate or Die roundtable. Obama as brand?Layer tennis? Database of wisdom of moms? Good stuff. #
–@peteblackshaw. Fab roundtable keynote at #
Joel Rubinson -innovation comes from storytelling, brands should use consumer story to get others to tell their own story. Yes! #
–@joelrubinson was really smart on the panel on innovation today #adtechsf

When I got back to the office, people asked, what did I say that had such impact?  Really all I did was stay on message with the ARF Research Transformation initiative.  I talked about how research does two things: quantifying the expected and listening for the unexpected.  I said that innovation starts with the unexpected and that happens by having research broaden its mission beyond the activity of surveys to include listening to social media and via communities.  Then I talked about communicating insights in unforgettable ways via storytelling.  I talked about the need to put humans at the center of our thinking rather than our brands.  Especially in social media, people control the agenda; they talk about what they want to talk about.

Last but not least, I mentioned that social media will transform marketing organizations because it lives at the intersection of advertising, PR, customer care, and perhaps most of all, insights.

Separately, I note that most marketers are still toddlers regarding social media strategies.  Facebook and Twitter are brand/celebrity-centered while community sites are often interest-based (e.g. Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, Beinggirl). Some marketers are big in Facebook but have little presence in Twitter.  Some are big in Facebook thanks to fans (Coke, Ford Mustang).  Some have had their brands hijacked by political causes. Some focus on viral videos (e.g. Blendtec, Cadbury gorilla).  Some build community everywhere (e.g. Harley-Davidson). In some cases the passion point is at the master brand level (e.g. Coca-cola) and for others passion is at the sub-brand level (e.g. Ford Mustang, McDonald’s French fries).

So, consider this:

1.      social media will transform organizations by providing a new organizing principle around brand/consumer conversation

2.      most marketers are still struggling to find a coherent social media strategy

3.      The passion points that could be at the center of a social media strategy might or might not yet be identified

4.      insights are the rich exhaust of that conversation

To mix metaphors, the insights function must buy a first class ticket before the social media train leaves the station and that’s a table we BETTER get a seat at! Ad:Tech reactions validated the importance of the research/insights role regarding a marketer’s social media strategy.  The ARF has no higher priority than to continue to work at a listening blueprint, including the relationship of social media and insights.

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