Marketing and Research Consulting for a Brave New World
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Marketing research and insights professionals must flip the switch…change the starting point.

Traditionally, the marketing research process starts with a business question that leads to a survey project.  Results come later, often too late.  The project results might be enriched with other information to help strengthen the insight and to tell the story, but “The project” is the starting point. Speed to learning is often in the slow lane.

Now we live in a world where there is a river of information that pre-dates the marketing question.  This river of information flows continuously and is fed by digital tributaries from social media, search, navigation pathways that wind their ways through owned media sites, etc.  This river is an incredibly rich source of marketing insights that is naturally occurring, in people’s own words, about what they care about.

So the marketing research flip is this: instead of starting with “The Project” and then adding in other stuff, we should start with the river and add in survey projects as needed.

What are some of the nuggets of gold we might find in the river?

  • Certain consumer groups using our product differently than we ever imagined.  This was documented by the ARF listening playbook for Hennessy who found that people on were talking about the brand differently and using it more for mixing, changing Hennessy’s thinking tremendously about their own brand.
  • Search leading to new predictive power.  Google economists presented compelling evidence last year of the forecasting value of search terms at predicting auto sales down to the brand level.  It makes sense; if more people are searching for your brand, it is a very good sign for near-term sales.
  • Website metrics about traffic, which pages are viewed, etc. tell you a lot about how people engage with your brand.
  • Emerging vocabulary.  When you measure brand performance based on attribute lists, you are using language that trails the marketplace, as it is the researcher’s vocabulary.  The challenge is to create listening platforms that create fast “sense and respond” systems to emerging social changes.
  • Digital behavioral response to advertising or events.  Conversation in social media, search, visitation to owned media, the viral effects of sharing all can spike in response to either great advertising or to events (like acceleration problems).  I remember the NY Times created a tool to graphically show tweets minute by minute and by geography during the super bowl in 2009 (click on talking about ads on the left and play with the timeline).  The word response was dramatic.

Now, when you commit to wading into the river, you are committing to synthesis of these different information feeds into common themes that will hopefully result in the “aha” moment.  Also, because the river is continuously flowing, the speed to learning is faster than waiting for project results.

This new vision of how market research should operate it is not mine alone; it is the collective view of the leadership of the ARF Research Transformation Super-Council which includes leaders from Unilever, J&J, Kraft, Colgate, Kantar, IPSOS, McKinsey, Cambiar, Cambridge Group, MTVN and others.

On October 28th, the new vision for research transformation and insights value creation will be unveiled by the ARF.  In this brave new marketing world where the consumer is totally empowered by digital life, there has never been a better time for the insights and research profession to up its game and have decisive impact on marketing action.

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One Response to “A digital river of marketing insights”

  1. Hey Joel,

    Another great observation for the industry!

    Coincidentally, I’m working with a digital survey company that developed a new tool that automatically enables webcam functionality with a survey that can provide a “fast feedback” mechanism to brand managers interested in immediate response to a broader survey instrument in field.

    Here’s how it works:

    a) Survey design embedded in web based audio/video application
    b) Email list created on sub set of target population to capture audio/visual and coded survey responses
    c) Respondent opens email completes and sends in results (hits the send button)
    d) Available immediately for internal & client review
    e) Enables fast insight to pressing business issues
    f) Results forwarded to interested parties

    I’m thinking this may be a valuable overlay for custom research houses while providing incremental revenues for incremental benefits. I envision much interest on the part of companies seeking digital feedback, similar to Experian Simmons DataStream, while waiting for the traditional custom research cycle to run its course on balance of survey population.

    A potential first step dipping one’s toe into the digital river?

    Let me know if you’re interested in learning more.

    Kind regards,