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Is there a Future for Information & Insight? Yes, if we learn these new skills

Last week I had the privilege of presenting at the European Pharmaceutical Market Research (EphMRA) Annual Conference in Brussels. My talk was on the important topic of the future of the Market Research profession.

My invitation came as the result of one of the committee members seeing a question I had posted at the end of last year on several LinkedIn groups: Does your organisation need a market research department? And in the future?” Whether you are a researcher or a user of research data, the following summary of that presentation should help you underst and the need for us all to change the way we work with information and data, in order to increase their value to the business. Recent studies by both IBM  and Business Intelligence about the information needs of top management in general and marketing in particular give us some great clues about what they dislike and what we need to change.

Management don’t get what they need

Executives complain that their information currently comes from numerous, disparate sources, is rarely available in real-time, cannot be easily accessed without the help of IT, and anyway takes too long to customise it to their needs. The good news is that they don’t seem to get too much; in fact it looks as if they actually want more, but more of what they need.

Executives don’t get it in the format they need

Management currently get their information primarily via emails and spreadsheets, which I find shocking.  Why do we expect them to take the time to sift through all the information to draw their own conclusions? Are we still too scared to voice our own opinions, or to make recommendations? Only one in eight receive dashboards and yet this is their preferred medium. They want someone to have thought about their needs and then to provide a simple form that is easy to scan, interpret and take action on.

Marketing needs their data in real-time

It’s a hard time to be a CMO or head of marketing these days. They are being challenged more than ever before, to prove the ROI of their spending. They want more real-time information so they can take better informed decisions. They also need consistency so they can compare across channels and link sales back to individual campaigns and lead-generation efforts.

Marketing don’t feel ready to manage even more information

More than two-thirds of CMOs feel totally unprepared for the current data explosion, especially as it relates to social media. They also feel that they aren’t keeping up with all the rapid market changes, even when they have the money to do so.

The solution is as easy as ABC

Taking into account what management have said about their current information sources, providing what they need is as easy as ABC:

  • Accessibility to the information they need, where and when they need it.
  • Business impact so that what they receive enables them to identify and take the actions needed.
  • Consistency so they can compare across br ands, categories, countries or regions.

In addition to these three essential elements, it is important for us to ask the right questions of the data. As with good market research, getting the right answers depends upon asking the right questions (>>Tweet this<<). And we can only do this if we have a good underst anding of what the business needs. In order for us to increase the value of market research and planning in organisations, analysts need regular interaction across all departments and divisions.

For some companies, this has meant placing the experts in each business unit, but I personally feel that whilst it does increase their interaction with the business itself, they lose independence as well as integration across divisions. From my experience, the most valued market research departments are centralised  and individuals or teams have identified responsibilities by business or region. This frees them to give honest, unbiased feedback without the pressure of over-keen bosses to influence the analysis and results. Additionally, in order for market researchers to maintain the interaction needed to underst and the whole business, they will need to learn some new skills:

  • Socialising with both internal clients and external customers will provide analysts with a better feel for the business and how to support their needs. They must also accept to work more with social media data. Some claim it is not representative, but I beg to differ. From what one can read online, it is probably the closest an organisation will ever get to the true feelings of their customers.
  • Synthesising of both integrated data and the sharing of the knowledge and underst anding resulting from its analysis. Storytelling is such a hugely popular topic that I don’t think I need to go further on it, but the integration and synthesis of information from multiple sources will become essential. As the “internet of things” increases the flow of information into companies, someone will have to manage and make sense of it all and I believe that market research is the best equipped for this role.
  • Surprising management with exciting new ways to gather a better underst anding of customers. Technology is providing more and more ways to do this without even asking questions of our customers. Whether it is virtual reality, facial imaging and emotional coding, neuroscience and biometrics, market research now has a wealth of new tools available, so they need to reconsider how they gather their information. Whilst it means that they will have to get out of their comfort zone of st andard methodologies, the benefits in terms of surprise and delight of their management will more than compensate.

I concluded my presentation by saying that market researchers will have to become “Bionic” to encompass the three new areas of expertise that are necessary to meet management’s needs. These are:

  1. Methodological expertise, as well as project management and analytical skills
  2. Intellectual curiosity to synthesise information from all sources and generate actionable insights
  3. Improved communication skills to tell stories that influence business decision-making

Whether suppliers will take the first role alone or help with the second and third as well, will depend upon the client-side teams treating them as true partners and not mere information gatherers. Do you think this is possible in your own organisation? I would love to hear your thoughts either way. C³Centricity used an image from Kozzi in this post.

8 Things CEOs might question about your Marketing Plan: And how to Answer them

All marketers create a marketing plan and work to achieve the growth mentioned in it. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop the plan, and even more to get it approved by management.

The annual parade of br and-plan presentations is a reality in most companies. Marketers all breathe a sigh of relief when it is over and they can get back to their beloved day jobs, that of supporting their br ands.

Worried marketer answering a marketing question

However, management doesn’t always allow a marketer to get off that easily. They can just as easily spring an “innocent” question when passing them in the corridor or socialising at a company event. If you can answer the CEOs question to their satisfaction, you will shine in their eyes. Provide an incomplete or worse still no answer, and they might wonder if it isn’t time to restructure the marketing group.


So, here are eight of the most likely questions a CEO may ask and how you should answer. NEVER say you don’t know, but also never drown them in a long-winded answer. Neither response will win you brownie points. Make sure you have an answer like those proposed below and your name might just be on the next list of promotions.

1. Who are our br and customers?

There is far more information needed than just age and gender, to answer this question. Prepare a short description (often called a persona) of a typical user, in the same way as you would describe a friend. See “13 Things your Boss Expects you to Know about your Customers” for further details on what you should already know about your customer.

ANSWER: Our customers are middle-aged women, whose children are in their late teens or early twenties. She shops in local supermarkets and gets advice from  friends on Facebook, about the best br ands to buy and what’s on offer. She’s been buying our br and for over two years because it satisfies her children’s hunger when they get in from playing sports. That makes them happy and she then feels proud of being a good Mum.

2. How much are our customers worth to us?

Marketing plan question about valueBesides having an average lifetime value in your head, you should also be able to provide information about your customers’ perceived value of your br and.

ANSWER: On average each customer spends about XXX (Dollars, Euros, Renminbi, Rupee, Real) each year on our br and, which is about YYY over ten years (lifetime value is rarely calculated further out than this). Our current average price in-store is ZZZ, but 70% of our customers thinks we’re actually worth more.

3. What return on our marketing budget are we getting?

Whilst ROI is not the best measure of marketing’s impact (see this Forbes article for more on that), you still need to answer the question. The answer to this could get very complex if you go into too much detail, so keep it simple. Say what your total budget is, how much you spend on advertising and promotions and what impact that has had on sales, in total. I know it takes a lot more than these two actions to impact sales, but as I said, keep it simple.

ANSWER: Our total budget is AAA of which BBB goes on communications and promotions. With our current sales growth of SSS, that works out at approximately TTT.

4. How much will we sell; what market share are we expecting this year?

You could give just one number in answer to this, but why not use the attention you’ve got by adding something impressive to the story?

ANSWER: We’re expecting a RRR% growth this year to UUU unit sales. This is the highest in the category so our share will increase by PPP points to MMM percent market share.

5. What are our innovation plans for the br and?

You could answer this with a long list of all the new SKUs you will launch but again use your time wisely by adding some underst anding too.

ANSWER: We will be launching CCC new variants, which we expect to add MMM percentage points to our market share. We will also be eliminating FFF units that are not delivering on expectations.

6. What do we know about our carbon footprint?

Marketing question about br and carbon footprint

Questions around sustainability and sourcing tend to be raised in corporations which already have targets. If this is the case in your own company, then measurements are almost certainly already being taken. Therefore you just need to reply with the latest numbers.

But you can again use this exchange with top management to add how your customers feel about the question and all the efforts being made by the company – you do have that information too don’t you?

7. How’s the competition doing?

The answer to this question could cover a lot of topics: sales, market share, new launches, advertising, promotions or pricing. Respond with a simple summary of a few current metrics in comparison to two or three major competitors. The manager will then clarify if he was thinking of a specific topic and you can answer more precisely.

8. How’s our distribution doing these days?

A simple summary of outlets we have gained or lost is enough here, but why not add some detail about successful placement improvements too? That latest shelf redesign that has increased sales, or the fact that you have just been named category captain in a retail chain is definitely news worth sharing.

These are just eight of the most common questions top management asks of marketers. As you can see, the answers I’ve suggested are short. Especially when the question is posed outside the formal marketing plan presentation, the executive is probably looking not only for the information requested, but also to check that you have an excellent underst anding of your br and. He wants to be assured that his business is in good h ands. Prove it to him and also show your respect of his time, by giving a short, precise, answer whenever possible.

Do you frequently get asked other questions that I have forgotten? Do let me know. If you also have a better way of responding to any of the above questions, I’d love to hear those too.

If you’d like your team to be better prepared for “awkward” questions from management, why not ask for a 1-Day Catalyst session on marketing KPIs? No obligation, just INSPIRATION!

C³Centricity used images from Microsoft and Dreamstime in this post.

The New Marketing Role: Testing & Tested

There have been many discussions lately about new marketing and how the function of the marketer has changed in recent years. The position has gone from a primarily creative role to one encompassing many new competencies.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, marketing is also being challenged more and more to prove its ROI to the business, whilst at the same time being “forced” to get intimate with IT. These are very tough times for marketers. That is why I thought I would add my support and sympathy with a few ideas on how to make your life a little easier.

A/B Testing

Oreo's creative marketing at 2013 SuperBowl

It is no longer sufficient to publish great content on the web. Marketers are required to constantly challenge their own thinking and to improve what they are doing. A/B testing is now C/D/E and almost every other letter of the alphabet.

Great is no longer enough and anyway doesn’t stay great for long in the eyes of the customer. They are now (too) quickly losing their first positive impressions, accept as normal what was surprising just one week earlier and are soon off looking for something better.

 

IDEA: It is essential to work out a detailed plan of online activities, just like any other section of the marketing plan. Decide who will publish what and when, and make sure it aligns with and supports your offline events. Incorporate testing of content and headlines into your plans too, but always leave a little space and flexibility for topical content should something inspiring happen in the marketplace. Think Oreos at the 2013 SuperBowl.

Prepare to be challenged

Greenpeace marketing against P&G

Although I don’t know whether P&G were prepared for last week’s direct Greenpeace attack on their Head & Shoulders br and, it is not something they can easily ignore. After a similar attack on Nestle’s KitKat last year, it is clear that customers feel empowered to verbalise discontent in a ferocious manner. For this reason, it is vital to be prepared for as many possible eventualities as possible. This is where future scenario planning can be of immense support.

IDEA: Watch how other br ands are being called up short and consider what you would do if something similar happened to one of your br ands. Spend time studying societal trends (you are of course following them, aren’t you?) and then develop a few plausible future scenarios. The easiest way is probably to identify the two most important axes of uncertainty and then to describe each of the four worlds created. Review and agree what marketing and management would need to do in each of these situations.

Proving what you’re worth

Marketing has never been so closely scrutinised nor challenged as in recent years. The wealth of information being produced thanks to new technologies makes it arguably easier to measure activities than ever before. So marketing is being challenged by the business to prove its ROI. It is no longer acceptable to claim the lack of direct relationships between actions and outcomes, because of the wealth of data available.

IDEA: Review and agree with management the KPIs that you both consider to be indicators of marketing success. And then measure them, regularly if not permanently. Read this article for the top ten KPIs you should be following. Real-time information has become the new norm and although challenging at times, it does provide the advantage of the possibility for a quick response when things are not going according to plan.

Getting more comfortable with data

Marketing & IT need to be friends

It has never been a priority for marketing to befriend the IT department in their own organisation, but that time has come. But marketers need help in managing all the data available to them and for this they require systems and platforms. As was reported in a recent Domo report, the majority of marketers would work with data more often if they had the time and it was all in one place instead of dispersed across platforms.

IDEA: Work with IT to develop a system to provide easy access to the KPIs you’ve identified as of most relevance. Also develop dashboards that summarise all you activities on one page and into just a few, if not one single number – which management too will appreciate.

Get intimate with your customers

Just in case you haven’t heard, your customer is in control and that includes of your own marketing in many instances. From venting their dissatisfaction on social media, to boycotting your br ands when they don’t agree with your sustainability or sourcing efforts, today their voice is most definitely heard. If you still don’t have company objectives which include spending time with your customers then you need to set this up – urgently.

IDEA: Introduce your whole organisation to your customers and make sure you put them first in every single thing you and the company does. There are so many ways for people to get a better underst anding of their customers and rather than feeling you are losing control, you can lead the area and get additional recognition as a customer representative, rather than “just” a defender of br ands. That is in my opinion the only real future for marketing.

These are just five ways that marketing is being tested today and hopefully my ideas have inspired you enough to see this as an opportunity rather than as a threat. Let me know what you have introduced in your own organisation to meet these new challenges, or maybe others you yourself have faced; I’m sure everyone would love to learn from you.

C³Centricity used images from Microsoft, Forbes & Greenpeace in this post.

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