Creating a research transformation agenda for 2015

Aug 28, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the Joel Rubinson on Marketing Research Consulting blog.

The two most powerful concepts in marketing research — trends and norms — are also the biggest enemies to innovation. For example, as many as 70 percent who say they "definitely will buy," don’t but because we have norms we refuse to give it up. We know trackers have to evolve but we don’t want to disrupt trends.

The result? Our research programs are falling more and more out of sync with marketing in a digital, social, mobile world. So how to get out of the rut we are in?

When I was chief research officer at the ARF, I created an initiative called "Research Transformation" that benefited from the participation of Unilever, P&G, Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss, General Mills, CBS and other industry leaders. An "Insights Value Creation" (IVC) model was created as an "audit" for method innovation.

So let’s take two dusty systems and evaluate them against the IVC pyramid to see how we can do better.

Brand tracking. Our current tools often miss some or all of the following important information feeds: digital (e.g., first party clickstream data), social, transactions, customer care, etc. Data science can make sense of this but that skill is often lacking on insights teams. When we bring together different streams, however, there will be an emphasis on synthesis, rather than just reporting the survey tracker results.

New product concept testing. Once we have picked the winning idea and have created a marketing budget to generate trial, the next thing we need is triers. So let’s make the top of the IVC pyramid "maximizing trial with our given budget." In other words, we want to beat the forecast. The "take a stand" item we are missing is a set of media planning rules based on predictive analytics (e.g., logistic regression) to target likely triers via digital and social media. Going to the bottom of the pyramid, regarding information feeds, we are missing ad targeting data that can be used for programmatic advertising. We could get this by matching concept testing results with 3rd party profiles such as Facebook and Twitter interest data or 3rd party aggregators’ audiences. We should also be testing search terms that we could buy, measuring click rates.

So what are your transformation goals for 2015? I recommend the following process:

  • Pick an important business need and research program that are most ripe for reinvention using the IVC pyramid as your audit tool;
  • Identify the needed new data streams and skills;
  • Create a new vision for the program;
  • Search for partners who can best enable this vision;
  • Choose a partner and carefully guide the initial work.


What’s missing from traditional marketing research methods in the digital and social age? What research transformation goals would you recommend?

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10 Comments on "Creating a research transformation agenda for 2015"

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Gene Detroyer
I teach my entrepreneurship students that traditional market research is something they should never do. It will lead them down the wrong road. Steve Jobs explained it best in his biography: “At a 1982 planning retreat, someone on the Mac team, thought they should do some market research to see what customers wanted. ‘No,’ [Jobs] replied, ‘because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.'” “On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, ‘Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the phone?'” “Some people say, ‘Give customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” And, even if you show them, they often don’t know they want it.… Read more »
Ian Percy
I think we’re trying to balance between two canoes: “traditional research” and “innovation/transformation.” These two are antithetical to one another and unfortunately most in retail don’t see that. Look first at “RE-SEARCH.” We tend to look through the same old stuff over and over again trying to find some magic thing we missed yesterday or over the last decade. The prefix “re” means “back to the original place; again, anew, once more.” So nothing is missing from “traditional marketing research,” it is what it is. You’re just not going to find innovation or transformation there. David Kearns, former Xerox CEO said: “While the customer knows what he wants, he doesn’t always know what’s possible.” Neither do retailers. The world of “possibilities” or “innovation,” if you will, is accessed through a different portal than the one through which you merely fix yesterday. This is the world Kant labelled “noumenon” and physicist William Tiller calls “the R space.” Einstein called it the “Great Mystery—the source of all true art and all science.” This is the world of possibilities that we can access effortlessly, once we learn how. I dare say most breakthroughs do not come while looking over spreadsheets and they certainly… Read more »
gordon arnold

A very large majority of the marketing “Say-Sos” were out of school before the internet was much more than chat rooms and a source for game cheats. Today a majority of the educators and most of the text used to educate our present day students come from sources with not much more than user experience in the information technology arts. Even the use and understanding of computer languages for software is all but gone.

This results in the useless attempts to explore the internet and e-commerce markets with much of the potential for creativity, new revaluation and relevance being undiscovered. This is the largest part of the reason that we spend billions of dollars placing advertising where nobody sees it. A good understanding of what is going on out there is no substitution for finding a way to get cheap, modern information that owns new-age consumer insights from the public that will support sales. This simply exists nowhere on the net. So what is missing is best described as “know-how.”

Graeme McVie
Graeme McVie
3 years 1 month ago

In addition to the challenge of obtaining, managing and incorporating the multitude of new data sources to understand consumer response/interaction, it’s going to become increasingly important to determine how and when to use a top-down marketing mix modeling/optimization approach and when to use a bottom-up individual customer analyses approach. The top-down approach is obviously important for higher-level budgeting and planning and needs to drive down to such levels as the media plan and flighting of media ad spend. But with the rise of omni-channel personalized marketing it is becoming essential to leverage customer/transaction/item-level data when designing customer marketing communications that are 100 percent personalized by offer, content, channel and time.

Any retailer that brings the top-down and bottom-up approaches together while simultaneously incorporating the new sources of data in a manageable way will satisfy the needs of shoppers better than the competition, and will use their marketing and market research budgets in the most productive way.

Dan Frechtling

Joel and Gene provide compelling examples of what’s flawed in conventional new product research.

For ongoing service operations, I’d submit it’s the voice of the customer “in the moment” that’s missing in the digital and social age.

Mobile (through micro-surveys) and social (through sentiment analysis) provide powerful new listening channels.

Companies like Medallia offer tools to survey customers in real-time, such as SMS, Survey URLs, QR Codes, mobile app integration, geo-fencing. Evocalize further integrates social and other derived information into rich customer profiles.

This enables operators to know how satisfied their customers are on-demand, compared to benchmarks, and segmented by customer value.

Raymond D. Jones
Raymond D. Jones
3 years 1 month ago

Maybe the first thing we have to do is stop calling it “marketing research.” The discipline we practice today is far broader and more widely applied than that practiced by our elders.

Market research methods must change to meet the needs of a 21st century marketplace. However, it is important to note that the key fundamentals remain. Market research is not meant to answer every question or provide perfect information. It is designed to produce information and insights that reduce the error of decision alternatives.

There are many who believe that research transformation means a complete rejection of the traditional methods. While there may be different parameters, metrics, or sources of data, the endgame remains the same.

I have heard the refrain about the limited value of research in some situations. We have to conduct research within the appropriate context. I have done a lot of new product work. The type of research done to support new technologies or “new to the world” products must be focused on discovery while the research to support a line extension must use more traditional methods.

Shep Hyken

So much research is complicated and overwhelming. The key is simplification. Simple isn’t easy. But, simple is powerful. There has to be balance between big data and simple data. The result is that you get clean data that is clear and understood.

Ralph Jacobson
Too much gut feel still remains in the planning, execution and analysis of marketing research methodologies today. Most market research data contains responses collected using categorical questions that have a predefined list of responses or categories. An example is the question, “What do you remember seeing in the supermarket today?” Respondents answer by selecting items from a list of responses. This type of data is hard to represent and analyze using conventional tools. You truly need to get a bit more technical to extract the findings that matter in today’s environment. More advanced data collection models support the categorical variable type, and using the data model you can run Structured Query Language (SQL) queries on categorical data. SQL (not to be confused with Microsoft SQL Server) is a standard international language for defining and accessing data. Now, here’s the really gorpy part: The data model must support a subset of the SQL language natively and have an expression evaluation component, a library of functions, a number of SQL syntax extensions, and a scriptable programming language that have all been designed specifically to meet the needs of the retail and/or CPG marketing research professional. This is no easy task. Innovative marketer… Read more »
Kai Clarke

The art. Marketing research has always been flawed. We get too wrapped up in the statistics and ignore the obvious. Seeing the forest through the trees is an art…and there are many failures to reflect this. New Coke anyone?

Joan Treistman

I think it boils down to this. For years as researchers we’ve been trying to “hold everything else constant” or creating a methodology where our insights depend on “all other things being equal.” Joel is telling us in some very specific contexts not to.

Instead, he’s suggesting we take everything into consideration. That doesn’t mean we have to measure everything, but rather know what else can influence the outcome we seek and don’t pretend it doesn’t exist when we conduct research.

Next decide what’s in and what’s out of our methodology so that we understand what we’re giving up in terms of data, insight and precision. And then we can determine the relevance, value and importantly the budget this research approach deserves. Joel, tell me if I’ve misinterpreted you.


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