This is the 8th anniversary of an amazing event. As Chief Research Officer at the Advertising Research Foundation, I orchestrated a day that brought together 30 leaders for a brainstorming session facilitated by Thinktopia, a leading brand consultancy. How can we make the brand of research an indispensable part of the day, like morning coffee? The attendees represented an amazing group of companies including, J&J, Unilever, CBS, IBM, Colgate-Palmolive, Hasbro, Meredith, Coca-Cola, Y&R, etc. We had both research leaders and internal marketing clients in the room.
The core ideas from 8 years ago remain true but need to be re-contextualized because marketing practice has changed so dramatically…in particular, the rise of digital’s share of the ad dollar pie (now bigger than TV) and within that, the explosive growth of mobile and programmatic advertising.
The Research function is the voice of the consumer/customer and should bring the consumer into the boardroom. We should be like morning coffee…essential, energizing, habitual. What did we learn about the consumer yesterday? How is our campaign performing and what should we adjust…But often our research brand is more like trail mix…used for the occasional camping trip.
WHERE IS RESEARCH LEADERSHIP FALLING SHORT?
Being too deferential. One of the marketing people in the room from Unilever said that he WELCOMES people who challenge his thinking. Right! Research wins by being STRONG. Bring new ideas about growth and how media strategies should be adjusted in the digital age, infused with evidence about your point of view.
The alternative? Weak and deferential research is brought in at the end, positioning you as a cost, a drag on the timeline, and as a tester who poses a risk to the project.
Not embracing action. Research places too much focus on insights as the deliverable and not enough on prediction that leads to action which drives higher marketing ROI. Today, research and analytics must commit to the ruthless pursuit of higher marketing return on ad spend via informing smart digital strategies and embracing multi-touch attribution methods. For many this is outside your comfort zone, but believe me, this can be mastered.
Hanging onto the old, not grabbing onto the new. (Free half hour of consulting to anyone who knows what country western song that line comes from and who sang it!) Exhibit A: research teams stick with expensive brand trackers that are retrospective, provide little useful direction, and are costly. It is time to reinvent brand guidance systems using all the signals that the digital world has to offer and making your survey component much leaner.
So how can the brand of research succeed? It needs strong leaders and future leaders building teams who embody seven characteristics.
Embrace action: go past insights and own the recommendation all the way to being accountable for the business result. Lead the effort to measure return on marketing and whatever it is, set a target of improving it by 20%. With precision targeting and multi-touch attribution methods, shame on you if your enterprise can’t achieve this.
Stay grounded in the rigor and process of research. If we lose our professional standards and processes, we lose our creed and qualifications. Today the digital world is awash in third party segments that have not been properly vetted. The rigor of the research profession is what is needed here.
Be charismatic. Infuse with theatre to be heard and to become unforgettable
Be future focused. If you prove your foresight, research will be a critical part of the enterprise’s future. Back in the mid-2000s, all TV based companies had to decide if the ad supported TV world was going to implode like Forrester and Bob Garfield suggested. Media research leaders came to a different conclusion and they were right…TV ad revenues continue to grow as do revenues from their digital properties. Are you, research leaders, central to today’s discussions…how fast to move into mobile and how to safely ramp up programmatic?
Be the runway connecting the brand and the consumer. Today, you have a new reality to master. The way that brands are built has fundamentally changed because of consumers’ always on lifestyle. Have you adapted and transformed too?
Be a thought leader. You must shape thinking. Tell the marketing team something they didn’t know. Prove your point and light the way. You must be courageous and a risk-taker. Become an agent of change. Embrace new marketing ideas, new research tools, and become an effective activist for cultural change in the organization. Earn your seat at the table regarding digital or risk irrelevance.
What is the C-suite belief system about the value that research brings? Are you lighting the way on brand building and marketing ROI in a digital age? Are you morning coffee or are you trail mix?