Andrew Needham

Technology is changing faster than consumers. Consumers are changing faster than organisations. So organisations need to change faster if they are to keep up. Though many are finding this difficult to achieve.

A recent IBM Global CEO Study that covers 1,130 CEOs across 45 countries and 32 industries showed that organisations not only felt bombarded by change but many are struggling to deal with it. 8 out of 10 CEOs saw significant change ahead and yet the gap between the expected level of change and the ability to manage it had almost tripled since the previous study in 2006.

There are many different manifestations of this change (too many to cover here) from faster product life cycles and globalisation (the shift of budgets to emerging markets), to changing demographics and the challenge of ageing populations on Western economies. But one of the biggest is the impact of the social web on everything we do. eMarketer predicts that the tipping point will happen in 2012 when 60% of all marketing budgets will become social. Linked to this is the arrival of Big Data. In 2010 the human race created 800 exabytes of information. To put this into context between the dawn of civilisation and 2003 we only created 5 exabytes; now we’re creating that amount every two days. By 2020 that figure is predicted to sit at 53 zettabytes (53 trillion gigabytes) – an increase of 50 times. As Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist said “We used to be data poor, now the problem is data obesity”.

This presents us with a number of new challenges that I have set out below as hardening client needs. I have concentrated on just a few with some suggestions on what research companies need to do to make sure they’re in a position to meet them.

Moving from Big Data to Big Insight
Making sense of all the data out there, simplifying it so that we can derive valuable meaning and insight will be one of 2012’s client mantras. Social listening will give way to social media insight. Having researchers in your team that are also technologists, digital anthropologists that can help to analyse real time social data will become a required skill. Being able to augment different data sets from the virtual and real worlds so that we can help to create one closer view of our customer will depend on our ability to mix different on-line and offline methodologies in a coherent and credible way.

Quality without speed is not enough
One of the greatest demands from clients is how to deliver fresh, robust and relevant insight more quickly and cost effectively than we have ever done (or needed to do) before. Qualitative research companies need to lead in the use of technology so that we can become quicker, faster and more responsive in the ways in which we gather insight about our clients’ consumers. We also need to develop research and planning tools that are less generic and more focused on the CMI client needs of today and tomorrow. This does not mean replacing human analysis – to the contrary, the role of the researcher has become even more important than before because of the need to find real quality from the huge quantities of data that is out there. It must also mean we can do better than relying on tools such as the Target Group Index.

Logic needs to give way to more magic
We are going to see more emphasis on qualitative research as a robust exploratory tool to understand better consumers’ emotional drivers as well as to help improve the quality and shaping of social ideas and social content before things go too far and way before the quantitative testing stage. Too much blind reliance on testing things to death has seen some of the magic and creativity in marketing lose out to the logic. Creating magic today means creating social brand stories that are contagious and can be propagated effortlessly by key consumer cohorts. Co-creating with these consumers, involving them much earlier in the marketing process and leveraging their content and creativity as part of the marketing process will have an increasingly important role to play here. If what goes in is rubbish then testing what comes out will be rubbish. The Coca-Cola Company is leading the way and I am sure other FMCG clients will follow.

Creating content excellence
There is a new marketing ecosystem where content is more important than channel, where audience passions/interests are becoming more important than demographics and where the media model has changed placing more emphasis on created and earned media as opposed to bought and owned. Understanding which ‘big ideas’ have enough social currency  (it’s not what consumers are doing with your brand but what they are doing with each other that counts) and can work effectively across all platforms will attract much more focus. Understanding the different consumer cohorts within a brand audience and their influence will also be key to understanding what content areas will have the most impact when it comes to propagating ideas. Researchers need to come up with a new model here one based on rational, emotional and social metrics that is continuous and adaptive.

New measurement models
With the increasing socialisation of brands and the importance ‘connected’ brands are placing on new metrics such as social brand value and influence, helping clients to understand, validate and measure what ideas work best in the earned and created media space as well as why it works will be increasingly important. Finding ways of proving that the more customers of a brand are interconnected the more they are willing to pay for the product and the more loyal they will be is vital. Working out a more real time model for measuring which big ideas have the best potential for success; are the most likely to be propagated and can work across all media is another area that needs close attention.

Andrew Needham is Founding Partner and CEO at Face