Will Artificial Intelligence Open a Space for Even Greater Humanity in the Insights Industry?

I was at the EphMRA (European Pharmaceutical Market Research Association) conference in Warsaw, 25-27 June 2019, and what really struck me was the focus on AI – mainly the positive potential it offers, but also the significant FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) it evokes due to the changes it heralds.

But, I am sure you are thinking, this is not news.

I guess what is increasingly evident is that AI has taken great leaps forward in recent years and we are already surrounded by it in our daily lives (“Alexa where’s my Siri?”).

The potential applications for the insights community are significant, from predictive targeting of respondents (why screen by asking questions when AI can parse the entire panel and find the best fitting respondents?), to replacing the need for human moderation via, for example, advanced chatbot surveys, or via Alexa-style survey interactions. Plus of course, the wealth of applications for pattern recognition in large data sets, facial coding, sentiment analysis and so on.

So where does this leave humans? – and indeed insights professionals?

My hope is that AI will be the spark that brings greater humanity to insights and business more widely.

Clients and insights agencies will need to work in closer collaboration to agree analysis strategies on how to deploy AI and to synthesise and make sense of the ‘rivers’ of data flowing into companies, to drive better business outcomes.

We need to become better storytellers, rediscovering and elevating one the most basic and oldest pillars of the human story. Storytelling is millennia old (the Lascaux Caves, in the Pyrenees Mountains in France, contain stories told as cave paintings dating back 17000 years), and we all remember stories we first heard as small children (one of the first I remember is ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak).

Waving not drowning, inspiring not telling

The art of storytelling will become even more critical – to communicate insights from the information unlocked by AI, and to drive action.

I believe that AI will empower us and give us space to focus on uniquely human skillsets, such as lateral and creative thinking, empathy, emotion and communicating with passion. This was something that applied futurist Tom Cheesewright suggested in the final session of the conference with the image below.

© Tom Cheesewright

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Turning Data Into Insight Into Action

I recently moderated three one hour sessions with marketing professionals at the Richmond Events Marketing forum exploring the ‘thorny issue’ of Turning Data Into Insight Into Action. Over the duration of the discussions it became apparent that it would have been better to describe the subject as From ‘learning to kick’ to ‘Golden Balls’* since this described the diversity of experience levels of those in attendance.

Although the footballing metaphor may seem a little far-fetched, the expression ‘learning to kick’ and ‘golden balls’ were actually used by participants – and no it wasn’t an all-male audience. I think that the footballing expressions were useful because they reflect a sense that you have to practice to achieve excellence. Further, to achieve success you have to experiment and try new things. This spirit of testing, learning and applying was a key discussion point and the learning from our shared collective experiences proved the most useful outcome.

The learning can be summarised using Lamoureux’s Experiential Learning cycle reproduced below.

The participants segmented the subject Turning Data Into Insight Into Action into three broad themes: collection, analysis and action. We discussed examples in each area where the participants had seen success and also (from those brave enough to share) failure. None of us were surprised that we don’t typically hear many (any?) failures. The perfectly manicured PowerPoint slides about marketing success at conferences are the equivalent of airbrushed models in Vogue magazine. Funny that!

We mapped out some key thoughts:

Collection: how to incentivise stakeholders who have little motivation to collect data that will be of use to marketing further down the line (not seen as their job). How to provide a case to senior management for funding for market research and/ or data capture.

Analysis: from the advanced (latent class analysis was mentioned – click here to learn more!) to the simple tracking of responses to direct emailing campaigns were covered. What provided most interest was individual case studies of successful analysis and action. One campaign (has to remain nameless I am afraid) had led to significant success and a ROI of 30 plus. Jealous?

Action: we didn’t always get time to get to this point in the discussion (let’s face it covering the first two topics in the hour was already a Herculean task). However, one key insight was that the results of any analysis needed to be presented ‘carefully’ to senior management. It was felt that if the analysis was consistent with management’s view of the world it was more likely to be embraced yet ran the risk that it was perceived as waste of time since ‘I already know that’. If, on the other hand, it challenged senior managements view of the world it could well be ignored.

Overall, and it may seem obvious, we concluded that action based on recommendations with evidence from case studies is the most impactful in improving decision making. Easy isn’t it?


*For those of you who are not familiar this was one of the nicknames attributed to David Beckham by the UK tabloid press. Yes, it does have a double meaning!

Stay Nimble, My Friend

Innovate or die. That’s been the business rallying cry… but I think there’s something missing there. Innovate FAST or die. As consumers we have been conditioned to expect bigger, better, over and over. Companies have created a relentless pressure cooker for themselves. Ideating, developing and delivering new products to market faster and faster is the order of the day. But we also know the stats – anywhere from 50-80% of new products fail. How can one quickly separate the winning ideas from the dogs? So, one can’t just be innovative – one must be astutely nimble too. When it comes to insights, we are not immune from the pressure. This is especially true here at BuzzBack. We are perennially curious about new technology and how it can be exploited and deployed to our industry’s advantage. We embrace disruption – it keeps us agile and creative. Lately this idea of harnessing technology to help our clients be smarter, nimble innovators has been keeping us up at night.

We want to see more brands experience wins like last year’s introduction of Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Yogurt – a product that went from a passing comment to home run launch at unheard of speed. How might we help inspire more success stories like this while mitigating the risk that often comes with moving faster than market insights can keep up? So we’ve been developing our own new concept to help clients expedite how they create, evolve, refine and advance ideas with consumer input, all while increasing the likelihood of marketplace success. Watch this space for more news about it, and details on how it works.

Are CMO’s Giving More Importance to Consumer Insights?

Recently I read several articles highlighting how Chief Marketing Officers of large CPG companies were stressing the importance of consumer insights.

Nuno Teles, CMO of Heineken USA,  talked to the New York Times about how they turned lagging sales of Heineken Light around by adding Cascade hops, an ingredient mostly found in craft brews. “Everything in marketing should start with a consumer insight.” The key insight that led them to that decision, was that “40 percent of 21- to 27-year-old consumers desire a light beer with full taste.”

In some companies, this change of attitude involves some important internal reorganization. The CMO of Newell Rubbermaid, Richard Davies, explained to CMO.com that his company doubled the market research budget. “The reality is that a lot of marketers are not overly interested in understanding the consumer. They’re just playing lip service to the consumer,” said Davies. But at the end of the day, it’s the depth or complete lack of consumer understanding that will determine your success or failure. That was true 40 years ago, and it will remain true 40 years from now.”

Earlier this year, Advertising Age mentioned that he also doubled the market-research staff as well.

Are these two examples representative of a trend or not? Are you seeing some moves by CMO’s that might hint that they they are changing their vision of consumer insights within their organization? What are your thoughts on the matter?

Time & Motion – Can we learn from a 100-year old study?

I recently found out that the married couple in the original 1950 movie, Cheaper By The Dozen was the same couple who developed some of the earliest Time and Motion Studies. With a combination of observation and creativity, Frank & Lillian Gilbreth introduced a non-stooping scaffold that allowed masons to drastically improve their productivity in their bricklaying work. See for yourself.

This got me thinking about parallels in the market research industry and the role imagery plays in online surveying. By using image-based tools and techniques, we can likewise improve respondents’ “productivity”, giving them aids to better communicate emotions and associations that are difficult to express with words alone. Through images, they can “lift” ideas too heavy for text responses. We then have this imagery available to help the researcher communicate findings and insights to their audience.

Leaving Your Brand in the Hands of Teen Influencers

I saw an article in Ad Age recently that discussed how Wet Seal, the retail brand was foraying into SnapChat via a 16 year old. They hired beauty vlogger Meghan Hughes, aka MissMeghanMakeup, because the brand wanted to consciously increase their following on the hot, new social media channel. She took over Wet Seal’s SnapChat during the weekend before Christmas and chronicled her days by way of SnapChat stories. And it worked! She got them 4,000 new followers in just over 2 days.

Hiring a teenager to communicate to your brand followers may sound shocking but it’s nothing new. Other brands that have enlisted the help of a teen influencer are Taco Bell, MTV, L’Oreal and Kmart to name a few.

Seeing this article in the news reminded me of a presentation I attended back in October at an ARF Young Pros event. Jillian Curran, Senior Manager of MTV Insights provided a great overview of MTV’s study on Millennials. Their study decided to focus specifically on the younger Millennial’s (14-17 year olds) so they could get a better understanding before the group aged into their core target demographic, ages 18- to 24.

A fascinating point in the presentation was when Jillian shared this key finding: 78% of 14-17 year olds claim “someone I know would consider me an ‘expert’ in at least one thing.” If older Millennials are noted as feeling special, younger Millennials should be noted as being specialized. An image that drove this point home was of Harry Potter representing older Millennials with the word ‘specialness’ underneath, while a picture of Katniss Everdeen was chosen to represent younger Millennials with the word ‘specialism’.

Younger Millennials are taking pride in using the internet to find their own niche interests with 2/3 saying they are into something ‘random’ that other people aren’t. And when they take this knowledge to the internet, they gain a following and fast.

What do you think? Would you leave your brand in the hands of a teen influencer? Sound off below.


Commercials That Drive Sports Fans To Cheer

It’s one of America’s favorite pastimes and it’s right around the corner. As we gear up for Super Bowl Sunday, many people are excited about the parties, the drinks, the food and of course… the commercials! We asked sports fans, what’s so awesome about their favorite commercials during the game. More women want their commercials to be funny, while men prefer their commercials to be modern, informative and sports-oriented. When asked which products they’d be more interested in seeing, it seems food, drinks, cars and electronics were top of mind. To see what else we found out, click the image below to see the full infographic.





Dare to Be Different

Every so often I find myself in a conversation with a brand manager whose objective is to develop a concept, package or positioning that differentiates them from their competitors. Yet they propose to achieve this with the same research approach that everyone else is using. This leaves me scratching my head.

I think that by following the same protocols clients will end up in the same place as their competition. This conundrum is analogous to the challenges faced by the automotive industry when all companies used the wind tunnel as the linchpin of their design approach.  The result of this was years of cars all looking the same, because they followed the same inherent, aerodynamic shape.  Congratulations: parity by design. It was only when this similarity became evident in practice that the industry realised they did not have differentiation. Furthermore, when the pure aerodynamic design was explored in detail it was discovered that the benefits in terms of fuel consumption only really became apparent at speeds way above the legal driving speed in most countries!

Market research and insight professionals sit in an influential position to lead change for their companies in their pursuit of differentiation.  Perhaps Jeff Hunter, formerly of General Mills, captured this thought best at the MRS Conference a few years back – here’s a clip of his presentation.  He eloquently challenges us to seek alternate routes at the 1:57 time mark.

So, does your company seek competitive equilibrium?  If the goal is to be the SAME then, by all means, walk into the wind tunnel.  In this way you will follow the same exact methods as your competitors, act on duplicate insights and in all likelihood achieve very similar results.

But if you dare to be different, then partner with an agency that is nimble and excited by the opportunities that new methodologies bring.  Can you imagine the innovation that could result from that kind of energy?