Archive for March, 2013

The new imperative for great consumer insight

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

I’ve recently been chatting to one of the all-time gurus of media strategy about the state of planning in the industry.  He worries that good consumer insight is being overshadowed by big data, that the exciting developments in this field will lead to real deep human insight being of less value to marketers and overlooked.  Judging by the debates I have listened to at conferences and seminars over the last couple of weeks, this is a question that is looming over our industry and worrying many.   To polarise opinions there are the neophiles who want data to drive everything (David Rowan has suggested that you’ll be disadvantaged without it), and then there are the traditionalists who think big data is dirty data and don’t believe it can give any real insight at all (Dominic Mills says it is the prerogative of those who peddle snake oil).

Of course both camps are right and wrong.  Let’s simplify the issue.  Let’s say that there are just two kinds of good comms.  One drives desire, the other harvests that desire.  Clearly data will make the latter more efficient and more effective.  Data also has a role to play in comms that build desire, but it is not only driver of those comms strategies.  Good old fashioned human insight is essential to explain and interpret the information that data can provide.  Consumer and market place understanding will continue to be sourced from all kinds of insight, some of which will be qualitative rather than quantitative, ethnographic rather than interactional, of course behavioural economics and even gut instinct.    This is true whatever the medium. 

Recently Carolyn Everson was interviewed by Ian Darby in Campaign.  She said in closing :

“When Mark [Zuckerberg] first interviewed me, he said: ‘I want the content from marketers to be as good as that from your best friend.’ That was his vision – I don’t think we’re there yet; I think it’s a long-term vision that we have to get to – but the goal is to have marketing become as integrated an experience as any content you’d get from your friends.”

I agree with Carolyn here.  We are nowhere near there yet.  Facebook users are unused to being interrupted by advertising (I’m talking brand building and desire creating advertising here, not harvesting demand or DR).  The real joy of FB is that you stay in touch with a wide circle of friends and family who constantly surprise and delight you with their updates.  You’ll be the fan of various brands or organisations that you really warm to.  But your expectation will be that the updates that they bring you will be as great as the updates from your actual friends.    This requires much stronger, more insightful, and more in depth consumer insight than any other medium.  To compete for positive attention in this environment any brand communicating on FB needs to understand you as intimately and as personally as your friends and family do. And your friends don’t track all your recent internet activity, e-commerce or supermarket receipts like big data can (or at least if they do you have the wrong kind of friends).  That isn’t how they have insight into you.

Now, some of your FB friends have known you all your life, so this is quite a big ask.  Not one that can be solely satisfied by algorithms.  I don’t think therefore that the need for great consumer insight is being overshadowed at all.  I think it’s about to have a new, invigorated, lease of life (or likes).

Conference speakers call for an end to siloed thinking.

Monday, March 18th, 2013

This seemed like a theme that speakers came back to again and again during the Warc MAP conference this month.  (By the way, I don’t know whether to put “siloed” or “silo’d”.  I’m drawn to the apostrophe but decided against it because I know some people get very annoyed by its misuse.)

The two days covered a range of subjects and included David Smith’s vision of global futures (the rise and rise of the middle classes around the world), Colin Strong’s challenge of the smartness of Big Data (needs the perspective of market research), new research technologies based on neuro-marketing and facial recognition and Les Binet and Peter Field’s new take on the IPA Datamine.

My role was to question, well just about everything.  My session was titled “Are we fixating on the wrong things?” which gave me plenty of scope for challenging the status quo.  My conclusion was that we have to eliminate siloed thinking: between channels, between territories, between business units, between advertising that drives desire and advertising that harvests demand and between media industry research methodologies.

I was not the only one to think that siloes need demolishing.  I think it was a bit of a theme.  Binet and Field’s work looked at the power of Brand Response – a practice which we have championed for over a decade at MediaCom – which combines brand advertising and immediate response techniques for long term healthy return of investment.  London Business School’s Paddy Barwise reprised his philosophy that marketing is nothing without service delivery.  He also told us firmly not to speculate on our own personal experiences quoting Dr Deming who said “In God we trust, everyone else must bring data”.

The latest research from Thinkbox looked at Paid, Owned and Earned media and pointed out that being talked about happens in the real world as well as online, and the former is often kinder than the latter, so we must consider both when judging buzz for a brand.  Both are driven by TV. 

Matt Stockbridge’s fabulously entertaining client keynote on day 2 showed the absolute need to take in the whole picture before judging which elements of the marcomms mix are working and which are not.

There was a great deal covered in the two days.  My overall sense however is that unless we take a sledgehammer to the siloes and unless we drive more of a partnership approach on behalf of brands then we won’t fufill the absolute potential that new data solutions offer us.

You have to see what the customer sees, feel what the customer feels, know their truth to get it right.

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

I spent some of this morning in the inspiring company of Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at the Design Council .  (If you’re going to be Chief Design Officer anywhere it can’t get better than that job can it ?) We were sharing a panel at a local government digital summit, compered by the wonderful Spencer Kelly and giving our experiences of driving digital change. 

Mat talked persuasively about the key difference good design makes.  Like so much else the secret is to make it relevant and attuned to the customer rather than merely to the needs of the organisation. 

One example he gave was of a colleague using head mounted cameras to help with the redesign of emergency admissions in hospitals.  What do you see when you’re lying down and being treated ? A dull and fusty looking ceiling.  What could you be seeing ?  All kinds of calming, or informative signage which could help your state of mind and your well being.

As Mat pointed out, violence in accident and emergency departments has been a focus of international concern and costs millions.   Even the most normal person can be wound up by delays in crowded departments, particularly if they’re accompanying a friend or family member in distress, or they are in pain themselves.  Mat’s design work for the NHS includes testing better signage in A+E about the process (who you see and when) and an indication of whether the department is busier than usual, quiet or just normal.

I must admit the sense of this particularly came home to me just last week when I had an appointment for a normal check up at a clinic in Edgware that I hadn’t been to before.  The signage at the hospital when I arrived gave labyrinthine directions to a car park somewhere on the hospital estate.  I’d arrived 30 minutes early as I had driven and as I don’t go that far north that much anymore I’d allowed plenty of time.  This was just as well.  Call me dumb but I managed to park in the single remaining space in 3 car parks in a row on the hospital grounds before I, each time, noticed that there was a very small sign indicating that the spaces that happened to be free were exclusively for staff or consultants.  The fourth car park, which was for visitors and patients was of course full (with 4 cars waiting).  I finally gave up and parked on the street (which was fine because this is Edgware not central London and they let you park in Edgware).  I only just made my appointment on time however, and I was much less calm than when I’d arrived at the hospital 30 minutes before hand.  Which in turn as Mat pointed out, made it harder for me to listen to what I was being asked to do, and admittedly less smilely with the staff.   Look, I can’t complain, everything was fine for me, but I really got the point from Mat’s presentation this morning that a small tweak to the design of the communications would have just cleared this difficulty (which clearly effects dozens of people every day judging by the cars circling the hospital estate).

Better design would have solved this, better signage, or even a warning in the letter that parking isn’t to be expected on the grounds.  It isn’t just about my mood – which remained cheery throughout.  There are lots of worse examples than mine of problems caused by bad design stressing people out unnecessarily.  Staff dealing with stressed patients are more prone to morale issues understandably and absenteeism.  All of this costs money which simple good design, based on consumer truth would solve. 

I feel more inspired than ever to walk in the consumer’s shoes through every part of the strategy we design to deliver brand objectives.  You must of course listen out for the consumer’s truth, not just your own.