Knowledge is power behind all campaigns

As developments in insight take marketers closer to consumers, five brand specialists give their views on research techniques and what could improve them.

Marketing Week (MW): How have you used research this year? Has it been for new product development, advertising, segmentation or pre-testing?

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Caroline Bates (CB), head of strategy and insight, Telefonica/O2

Caroline Bates (CB): Research was crucial for our Thinking of You strategy, which shows customers the benefits of O2 in the tough economic environment. We did quantitative and qualitative research to discover why they chose us and uncovered a gem that we are seen to offer a fair deal to existing and new customers.

Agency Facts International also conducted a market analysis and brand positioning study to see how our brand performed against our competitors and others outside the sector. We also sent members of the marketing team to question different experts, including the consumer editor of The Sun, an Oxford University psychologist and charity workers who bring communities together.

Jon Pollock (JP): Research has mostly been used for pre-testing the creative for our campaigns, particularly for tactical executions. We have used qualitative and quantitative studies and run sessions online and offline. For the new Toyota Yaris, Saatchi & Saatchi carried out attitude and behaviour research in Europe to understand how drivers use their cars. This was followed by creative clinics to gain feedback on the early TV and print concepts.

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Beccy Martin (BM), senior consumer researcher, New Look and a member of the MRS company partner service

Beccy Martin (BM): We’ve drawn on several sources, such as tracking and market share research and interpreted what those mean for New Look. We launched a large-scale marketing plan across different channels using some innovative techniques, such as product placement. We faced a big challenge to evaluate and understand all this activity, but we used various methods to untangle the contribution that each element of the campaign has made.

Stuart Booth (SB): Our focus has been on new product development and service improvements, particularly for the web. We’ve held focus groups to improve our quote processes, where one of our underwriters was in the room to answer questions about insurance jargon and policy wording. Our copywriter also took part, helping to translate phrases into everyday language. We’ve also used a technique called participatory design, with groups of consumers recruited across a range of demographics. Together, they built their ideal online car insurance quote page.

Richard Ellwood (RE): The research areas we’ve focused on include product concept tests, ongoing engagement studies and ethnography. We did this to understand TV viewing and web usability. I have done a broad study to develop the Disney website for pre-school children and their parents, which includes concept testing, beta site testing and post-launch evaluation. This has helped to deliver a 50% year-on-year uplift in traffic to the website.

MW: How do you work with the marketing team when developing campaigns or initiatives?

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Richard Ellwood (RE), research director, Walt Disney (EMEA) and an MRS member

RE: All our research is run as a partnership with our marketing teams and we encourage them to attend research groups to get feedback directly from consumers.

BM: We work with each team so we can advise them on strategy. It can be difficult for the marketing team to accommodate significant changes mid-activity so pre-testing is critical.

SB: We sit within the marketing department, so we work closely on campaigns and initiatives by virtue of our position in the company. An important part of the customer insights function is the insights development team, which demonstrates how research goes to the heart of marketing and the business.

CB: My team is based within marketing, so we can build a picture of the customer landscape and what insights the business needs to address. We then work with the brand team to explore creative ideas. For our Thinking of You campaign, we identified the key core insights we needed to promote this year, such as Fair Deal [where existing customers can get the same deals as newcomers] and rewarding loyalty, and worked with the brand team to explore different creative routes. We then worked together on specific executions for each campaign.

MW: How is research managed in your company?

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Stuart Booth (SB), head of usability and customer insights, Axa Insurance and Swiftcover.com

SB: The vast majority is managed and carried out in-house by our team of researchers, specialising in quantitative, qualitative and usability. It means they can turn work around quickly but at a fraction of the cost compared with using agencies. The team has research managers for specific parts of the Axa and Swiftcover business so people know who to approach and to make sure insights inform their day-to-day decisions.

CB: At O2, we have specific research teams, including core insights and customer experience, while other areas of the business, such as retail, have their own insight people who share information. However, the bulk of the research, such as the brand tracker social media monitoring information, is held in the marketing department. There are also quarterly meetings of the European teams to share customer insight and best practice. Facts International helps to turn around reports quickly.

BM: We manage all research centrally from our insights team. With a fast-paced business such as New Look, there is always the risk that a decision is made using an isolated opinion, so housing the research in one place means we can draw on multiple sources to validate information and interpret it for the teams before actions are taken. This strengthens our profile around the business and means we can also allocate research spend in line with business strategy.

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Jon Pollock, general manager, vehicle marketing, Toyota

JP: All Toyota’s research is coordinated centrally within the marketing communications team for use by the whole business. There’s a manager based in the marketing department who coordinates the research requirements for the business and who liaises with our agencies.

RE: Disney operates in a highly competitive market with content and product distribution across all entertainment platforms. I am constantly assessing what information gaps we can close and repackaging insights from multiple sources including primary research, TV ratings and online traffic data to get the right insights to the right people within the business in an engaging way.

Being able to understand the implicit decisionmaking part of consumers’ brains is surely the most important thing for market researchers

MW: What kinds of innovation in research have impressed you recently?

BM: Neuroscience is fascinating. Being able to understand the implicit decision-making part of consumers’ brains is surely the most important thing for market researchers. Neuroscience has the potential to give New Look a whole new insight into our customers, their brand choices and ultimately how we gain their brand loyalty. It is a process of test and learn right now.

RE: I have recently read about new approaches, such as emotional response recognition and crowdsourcing. It’s very important to conduct research with consumers using the communication platforms they are most comfortable with, so Disney runs a lot of research online. I’m also keeping an eye on developments in researching via mobiles and smartphones.

SB: I’m from a user research and design background so I’m particularly interested in new online techniques, such as automated testing, which allows websites to be researched with large numbers of people recruited through an online panel. Another approach is remote usability testing, through which I’ve run real-time consumer assessments of websites from as far away as Texas.

JP: At Toyota, we’ve really been impressed by the speed of testing that is possible via online communities and research groups. The ability to aggregate data quickly and give key insights to different parts of the business is helped hugely by online research.

CB: We have tried to bring more innovation to our own consumer panel and we use specialist online research agency Join The Dots because this is about connecting different insights to give us a competitive edge. We talk to 3,000 people on our panel and we gained vital information around our Think Big initiative [which gives young people support and training to run community projects] to see how we could improve the sustainability of our business.

MW: How are you using crowdsourcing and social media for research purposes?

JP: This is new territory for Toyota and we need to learn more about how we can make the most of online communities and GPS to support product development as well as the marketing creative, tactical campaigns and consumer hotspots. By tracking online enquiries, search and sales patterns around product features such as satellite navigation, we will know which websites to target and what marketing activity to do around particular products.

BM: New Look’s customers are very active in social media and being able to engage our customers there means they are more willing to give honest and constructive feedback and insight. However, it is really through our closed community that we make the best use of the media. We have an ongoing dialogue with our members, who work collaboratively with us in testing and developing new concepts. There is a stronger engagement with this community than our mainstream social media members so the feedback gathered is far richer.

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RE: I’m a big believer that in market research, you must listen as much as you ask questions. However, much of our research is conducted with children, meaning parental permission is needed in the first instance. While we know a large proportion of children under 13 will use social media, this isn’t the most appropriate method to conduct research with children. Similarly, crowdsourcing could be challenging with children the technology isn’t necessarily suited to researching the audience.

SB: Our use of crowdsourcing and social media tends to focus on campaigns, particularly online. Consumers’ level of engagement with insurance is relatively low compared with must-have products like smartphones. However, there’s more potential in our creative work, helping us to craft campaigns that resonate with target groups.

MW: Do you track what is being said about your brand on Twitter or Facebook?

CB: Yes, to research quickly what people are really thinking. We compiled a quick report on phone insurance, which is a very sensitive issue with consumers. In this way, we collected what was sometimes raw language that people were using but it was very insightful because people are not directly answering questions, so you get more honest answers. In response, we held an internal briefing to discuss the concerns customers have.

SB: Yes we do. This is managed through our PR agency, Brazil, and we respond to postings where appropriate. We are improving our in-house capabilities so we can do more sophisticated long-term analysis.

BM: We use a social media monitoring tool to quantify the vast amounts of conversations we know are happening about our brand online. These are organic conversations in a world controlled by the consumer so the comments are brutally honest. It provides a better understanding of how customers are talking about our products. We’ve also integrated this insight into our customer relationship strategies.

RE: We track the level of buzz for Disney and for individual properties and characters, for example, Phineas and Ferb or Lightning McQueen. We typically measure buzz around 10 weeks before the premiere of content and monitor it across any social media. We’re on a journey with this and are working with partners to build greater analytics to understand the sentiment of posts and comments. We offer exclusive content on our own Disney sites and monitor related Facebook and YouTube ’likes’.

Research certainly needs to be faster, more ’honest’ and more insightful as well as being better targeted

MW: What are your frustrations with research, and how can you get round them?

SB: My big frustration is the over-reliance on long website surveys introduced to customers through pop-up invitations. These are intrusive and I’d be suspicious of most samples recruited this way. Who has time to answer such surveys and is happy to have them thrust in their face? Most people have limited patience for online surveys unless they are incentivised or part of an online panel. Yet these surveys frequently take 15 minutes or more to complete and often ask badly-structured questions.

BM: We work in a fast-paced business where the research results are always needed yesterday to inform key decisions. We face a constant challenge to meet shorter deadlines and have high expectations of our agencies. However, we are often let down by agencies’ lengthy operational processes, which need to be updated to match the pace of their clients.

RE: My main frustration is a lack of pan-European studies focused on children’s entertainment platforms and activities. It means we have had to establish bespoke studies within Disney to close key information gaps. I don’t have frustrations with the research process itself. At Disney, recommendations from studies are reviewed in action for marketing communications or content development so we can highlight what activities have been put in place as a result.

JP: Research certainly needs to be faster, more ’honest’ and more insightful. It also needs to be better targeted.

CB: It is frustrating when an agency cannot tell a story using research to engage the client. I have so far struggled to find any commercial application for neuroscience techniques for O2 because of the way we pull our communications together. There can be advances and new tools in research but it must be clear what you are measuring so you can apply the results.

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