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Understanding the ‘why’ in consumer research - Tim Cain at WARC #adresearch11 Conference

Tim Cain AOP’s Head of Research Tim Cain attended the first half of the WARC Advertising Research 2011 Conference last week, hearing all the latest thinking on how media companies can stay at the cutting edge of consumer research and insight into their audiences: The theme of the morning was very much around challenging the current notions of how advertising research is conducted, and encouraging brands and researchers to develop new approaches that provide better, and quicker, insight in this rapidly changing world of media consumption and consumer attitudes and behaviours. A recurring view from a number of speakers and panellists was that we need to understand the “why” as much, if not more, than the “what and how”. Jo Rigby, Research Director EMEA, Omnicom Media Group gave the opening keynote presentation on advertising research in a global digital landscape. The changing paradigm of advertising was a central tenet, as advertisers are increasingly embracing the idea of pull rather than push approaches. Jo emphasised five big challenges and changes to the research industry, starting with cultural shifts:
  • We’re less dependent on 'representative samples', and instead looking at identifying communities of consumers based on interests rather than demographics, particularly influenced by the growth of social media as an emergent platform for research.
  • ‘Big data’ is another major cultural shift, and research skills need to develop in order to deal with the explosion in the volume of data made available by digital channels and align it with the traditional ways of ad research.
  • The demand for real time data, and the notion of participant observers are two other key changes.
The latter is about the move to watching consumers interacting in communities and utilising co-creation workshops, liberating the space between the researcher and the researched rather than the traditional more direct “tell us what you think” approach.
  • Technological determinism is another challenge – that is, the focussing too much on the absolute, such as how many devices are sold and what they’re being used for, rather than why this trends is happening. The concern is that the proliferation of free data is cutting short some of the depth and detail traditional research would go into.
  • The final one is reductionism - too much concern for single answers to a problem, leading to measurement of the wrong things. A classic example of this is focussing solely on click through rates, for a brand building campaign where passive reaction to the advertisers will provide more telling insight than a hard metric.
It's been emotional Merry Baskin of Baskin Shark echoed many of the earlier sentiments and made a passionate call for researchers to embrace the idea of change and diversity in the techniques they are applying. For instance, 90% of quantitative surveys are conducted using online panels and too much emphasis is placed on trying to determine rational responses; the traditional research mode leads to respondents post-rationalising their responses. Capturing emotional responses holds much greater value said Baskin, and it’s time the research industry realised we’re dealing with emotional consumers rather than rational respondents. We should be looking to capture feelings rather than reasons - decision making isn’t normally a linear pattern.  Merry encouraged researchers to be “curious and brave!” One of the growing challenges to the industry is the pressure to deliver answers fast, while campaigns are live, to enable optimisation. For multi-layered campaigns running simultaneously using a variety of media channels, this can prove difficult, if not impossible. As the introduction of dashboards and similar tools bring us closer to providing real time insight, the call to ensure the robustness of data was reinforced, rather than the temptation to take action based on initial low level indicators. One final thought: the event Chairman Mark Palmer of Maverick Planet should be congratulated for his own ‘maverick’ use of made-up stats which entertained the audience throughout the morning! Find out more about WARC