An Advertisement That Rocked My World

We are exposed to 5,000 or more ads a day. Most of them bounce off me without being consciously noted, but the other day I opened a copy of The Economist and encountered an ad that rocked my world.

It was an ad by a business intelligence firm called Fractal Analytics. The headline reads “How relevant is today’s data, if it’s not on your phone right now?” and the text says “ is delivering real-time information from 350,000 retail stores to the top one hundred decision makers at a consumer packaged goods giant. The resulting behavioral change is transforming and accelerating achievement of sales targets by fifteen days every month. This is just one example. Now imagine what your business can accomplish when you have all the answers, right now, to make the right business decisions.”

You might be thinking “That rocked his world? Does he need to get out more often? Or change his meds?” The ad jumped out at me because it spoke to four crucial and intertwined themes that I address in The Insights Revolution: Questioning Everything, which will be available later in October. They are:

  1. Information is coming from everywhere;
  2. Insights need to move at the speed of business;
  3. Researchers need to learn to be more information agnostic;
  4. The way we communicate insights needs to change.

Information is coming from everywhere

For almost a century, survey research had a lock on insights. Want to know what people did? Do a survey. Wish to understand what people are thinking? Do a focus group to figure out what is going on, and then quantify it. There were few other reliable sources of specific information on people’s choices. But the world has changed, drastically.

“In the beginning, we had almost a monopoly on insights, and that put us in a very special position because nobody else had access to data,” Intel’s Antony Barton told me in an interview. “And then, all of a sudden, there is this explosion of data. There are lots of ways to get at insights. I think the industry has struggled with that.”

Elizabeth Moore, at Telstra in Australia says, “I think the market research industry is really at a pivotal point. Traditional models are being disrupted, and the way we buy insights is changing significantly. There’s a whole range of questions that, in the past, we would have gone to a market research house to help us answer, but we’re now actually using big data and analyzing our data.”

Telstra has dropped its traditional market share tracking study and is using customer data to impute share. “Instead of waiting eight weeks, and having measures of error you could drive a truck through — and spending over a million dollars a year on it — we now know, in a week, what the shift in market share is.”

For a research supplier, the loss of a million dollar tracking study would hurt. But, more importantly, this signifies that the world of insights is changing rapidly and will never be the same. The old survey-centric industry is fading, and a new more source-agnostic world is blossoming. One of the big drivers is the need for speed.

Insights need to move at the speed of business

Moore further explains that “the business expectation around speed has changed.” Telstra is now better able to mine customer data and get accurate, up-to-date information almost instantly. That, she says, “puts pressure on other research to be significantly faster.” Barton makes a similar point “Who needs a survey that takes nine weeks to complete? Or who needs focus groups where I will get back to you in six weeks?”

ESOMAR Director General Finn Raben chose an apt and evocative image when he told me, “We can no longer afford to be the grey mice that live in a cupboard and say, ‘Ah, but you know, it took six months and its perfect research.’ Too late, pal. The company’s moved on.”

Maggie Kishibe works at Twitter, a fast-paced, hard-charging environment. She has found that if she doesn’t move quickly, her stakeholders lose interest because the business has indeed moved on. She explains that “one of the challenges that I’ve had is working with a more traditional vendor on a project. The project had great momentum at the beginning. But that momentum has been completely lost because we won’t have results for two months.” She now typically employs a more agile and iterative approach that allows her to deliver fresh insights every week, if not more often.

Researchers need to learn to be less survey centric

With information coming from everywhere, we need to pick up new skills. I wrote about this earlier in a piece entitled Back to School, For Insights Professionals, so I won’t belabor the point here. But it is important to underscore how big a challenge this is, and how essential it is that we invest more in education. The #NewMR’s recent report reveals how scandalously little time we, as an industry, are currently spending learning.

That needs to change, or we will be superseded by other sources of insights.

The way we communicate (and collect) insights needs to change

One of the striking elements of the ad (above) is the shot of the iPhone. It communicates at a glance that a) the information is pushed to you on a device that people check every 12 minutes on average — so it will be seen in a timely manner, b) the reporting is very succinct — the way people normally communicate, and c) they deliver information that makes a difference to your bottom line, right now.

Contrast that with a 100-page PowerPoint deck that you have to attend a meeting to see, or have to click on an attachment to an email that you can only read on a desktop. And then that deck is crammed full of detail, with a few safely vague “recommendations” on the last page. Which is more likely to be seen and acted on in a timely manner?

The Insight industry has a lot to learn from this ad. It reveals a great deal about our future, and how we must change. We must think beyond the survey, work at the speed of business, learn new ways and communicate our insights in harmony with the ways people normally communicate. That’s a tall order, but we don’t really have a choice.

That’s why a simple ad rocked my world.

By Andrew Grenville, Chief Research Officer at Maru/Matchbox.

This article was first posted on the Maru/Matchbox blog.



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