Consumer behaviour: An appetite for new insight

Connected platforms such as smart TV are revolutionising marketing by allowing users’ habits to be monitored. Now chief marketing officers must get to grips with these powerful means of mining behavioural information.


Understanding consumer behaviour is one of the most daunting tasks facing chief marketing officers today. New technology is creating a sea of data about who their customers are and what they’re doing, but CMOs risk drowning if they fail to get a grip on where the most useful information lies.

Even the humble TV is becoming an enormous mine for unearthing behavioural insights through ‘smart’ TV platforms, following the pervasive growth of internet-connected devices. Online connectivity and services like video on demand are repositioning the television as a hub for all forms of media consumption, and viewers’ usage habits are more trackable than ever.

Samsung and LG, for example, unveiled upgraded versions of their internet-connected sets at the influential Consumer Electronics Show in January, indicating a further push by smart TVs into interactive functions more often handled by smartphones and tablets. Meanwhile, BSkyB is preparing to roll out its AdSmart platform later this year, promising to serve different ads to different groups of households and to offer marketing insights based on viewing behaviour, while Channel 4 has a new set of data tools to interrogate its 6.5 million registered online users.

Jennelle Tilling, vice president of marketing at KFC UK and Ireland, welcomes the introduction of more sophisticated forms of behavioural targeting through traditional media. The fast food chain runs an extensive and complex TV advertising strategy throughout the year, which incorporates general brand messages, product-specific ads and spots aimed at different demographics. Tilling says she is interested in the potential of connected TV advertising platforms to match messages to specific consumers.

“The more targeted you can be the better,” she argues. “Because we generally run four layers of advertising at any one time, it’s exciting if I can have mums seeing one ad, young adults seeing another and teens viewing another – particularly as we have a constant flow of [advertising] work going out.”

TV viewing data can also provide behavioural insights into how likely viewers of Coronation Street or EastEnders are to shop at Asda rather than Tesco, for example.

But while Tilling is keen to adopt new technology to enable better targeting, she also reveals that KFC draws on time-tested research techniques when gathering its own behavioural data. For example, rather than running mass focus groups or surveys, the brand uses what Tilling calls “immersions”. Research teams observe a small group from a specific demographic, or a single family in an everyday situation, in order to get deeper insights into what makes them tick. “When people are actually with their family and kids they are much more likely to be open and honest,” she suggests.

Sky’s roll out of its AdSmart platform promises to serve variable ads to different groups of households

Diary of lifestyle habits

In addition to immersions, KFC runs a ‘diary’ scheme in which it asks research subjects to keep a log of particular lifestyle habits and their thoughts and feelings around them. Tilling says these insights feed directly into KFC’s advertising. For example, its latest spot to promote its Family Feast meal was devised around the notion that mothers like to appear less domineering in front of their children at the weekend, making them more inclined to treat them.

“The idea is that on weekends, mums want to reverse the rules and let the kids be in charge,” she explains. “We’re saying that Family Feast is the best product we have in our range to enable mum to have that kind of feeling with her kids. And as you’d expect, there are lots of insights around value that go into it too, because of the recession.”

Anatoly Roytman, EMEA managing director of Accenture Interactive, says that marketers should not neglect these traditional techniques. He argues that some brands have become obsessed with thinking about what behavioural data they can collect from their own digital platforms, when they should be trying harder to understand the wider market of potential customers that haven’t even visited their website yet.

“Many companies think of themselves as the centre of the universe, where everybody has to come and visit their website even if they sell soap or shampoo,” Roytman says. “In other words, they think of themselves as a destination for their target audience of single mums or working mums or whoever it might be.

“That’s the wrong way to look at it: brands need to forget about this inside-out approach and look outside-in. That means considering the value that they can offer to make people engage with them in the first place.”

Matt Turner, vice president of marketing at, says that a crucial element of his job is to ensure that the business understands the needs of travellers who are looking for places to stay, as well as the hosts that use the site to let people rent their homes (see case study, see page 40). His challenge is to develop both sets of customers at the same rate, so that supply and demand are broadly matched.

However, Onefinestay holds much more personal information on hosts than it does about guests. For example, it knows hosts’ occupations, where they live, what their properties look like and their motivations for joining the service. Data on its guests is limited to the kind of information that people would provide when checking into a hotel, but rather than restricting the company, this simply means it must focus more on developing a behavioural, as opposed to a demographic, understanding of them.

“We’re able to target guests more as individuals and less as segments,” he says. “That’s simply because once they come to the website, we’re able to see what they’re doing, what properties they’re looking at and how they’re searching. Therefore once we continue the conversation, whether it’s off the website or still on Onefinestay, we’re able to provide them with messages that are specific to the types of properties they’re looking at.”

Map-based searches

He also points to the potential of using mobile behaviours such as map-based searching to identify localised marketing opportunities in New York and London, where the network of properties currently exists. “The more that we can bring our properties to the surface, particularly in those neighbourhoods that are under-served by hotels, the more we can present ourselves as a really interesting choice or option,” he says.

KFC targets different behaviours with product-specific ads and wider brand messages

Roytman at Accenture Interactive argues that CMOs and senior marketers must become guardians of these rapidly growing behavioural data sources to ensure the right balance is struck between business goals and consumer needs. He suggests that the role of the CMO is changing into that of the “chief customer experience officer”, as brands increasingly target different consumer behaviours.

“This role is much more prominent than just marketing because it involves bringing together all the other departments that are involved in customer experience, including sales and service,” Roytman says. “Basically the CMO has to become a steward of the interchange between the consumer and the brand.”

Kimberly Kriss, senior vice president of marketing at AEG Europe, has put behavioural data at the heart of her strategy since joining the live events business last year. One consequence is that the company, which owns The O2 and other sport and music venues, has developed a technology system that uses ‘algorithmic audience modelling’ to create a single view of its customers across all channels. That includes an extensive “social listening” operation through which the company listens and responds to consumers on social media.

Kriss, who has previously worked for PepsiCo and Reebok, explains: “Many companies in the live events space get excited because they have a database of, say, 2 million customers and they believe it’s enough to send them a blanket email telling them Justin Bieber is in town. We’ve decided to adopt a model of understanding customer behaviour that goes beyond the transaction.

“So we’ve combined the knowledge we have of our customers from the transactional data with geo-, socio- and psychographic data to enrich our knowledge of what our customers are doing. That not only leads to more satisfaction and loyalty, but it allows us to be smarter with our marketing spend and capitalise on cross-selling opportunities.”

For example, AEG Europe has used this internal data monitoring system to devise British Summer Time: a new event that will take place in Hyde Park this summer. Kriss claims the 10-day festival, which will incorporate music concerts, poetry recitals, comedy and games, is a direct response to the huge amount of behavioural data the company has sourced and analysed.

“The event is going to be completely different because we’ve listened to what consumers are asking,” she adds. “It has come from doing in-depth research to understand how many festivals people have attended, the impact of the recession on attendance, what they didn’t like about festivals in the past, the kind of food they’re eating at those festivals, the kind of merchandise they bought and so on. We’re really starting to understand customers’ intimate behaviour.”

Similar insights are now available to brands in many industries, whether their business is primarily online or offline. But for virtually all of them it’s becoming more necessary to understand which types of behaviour are most important to track before taking a deep dive into the data.


Case study: Onefinestay

Marketing to users who are simply proud of their home may include word-of-mouth channels

Onefinestay was founded in 2009 and calls itself a high-end “unhotel”. Like mid-market US counterpart Airbnb, the UK-based website allows travellers to find accommodation by renting privately owned rooms and homes from a network that currently spans New York and London. For vice president of marketing Matt Turner, the key to creating a rewarding experience for users is making sure guests have a good choice of rooms and property owners can take regular visitors.

“The relationship between the host and the guest communities is symbiotic. The growth of each needs to be in step with the other so that both communities realise the benefits of the service,” he notes. “We’ve got two different audiences where, in many instances, you need to talk to both of them at the same time.”

The personal details that hosts input when they list their properties mean Onefinestay can use the data to create user profiles for targeted marketing. Turner gives an example: “For certain profiles, the prospective host is very interested in earning additional income in a way they’ve never realised before.”

Because this is likely to be the motivation of a large number of hosts using the site, it’s a message that Onefinestay tends to spread widely, using what Turner calls “broadcast” marketing. This includes online display ads, Facebook and Twitter.

But he adds: “For another user profile, it could simply be that their home has been recognised as being good enough for Onefinestay inclusion. To go with the kudos and buzz around that, it might be more appropriate to use word-of-mouth channels or a referral scheme when marketing to them.”

The amount of personal data that Onefinestay can collect from guests is lower than that from hosts. As such, Turner, who joined the brand in February from broadcaster BSkyB, says one of his biggest priorities at Onefinestay will be to produce more targeted marketing through behavioural analysis of how guests use the website.

This includes using display ads on other sites likely to attract the “rather niche, premium audience” who use the Onefinestay service. However Turner adds that as the site’s reach across connected platforms such as mobile devices expands, so too will its ability to understand its customers’ behaviour.

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Stuart Carnegie

Stuart Carnegie
Strategy and propositions director
Sky IQ

There is an incredible amount of insight on consumers and the topic of big data is one that excites many marketers. But it’s important that brands are clear on the business questions they are trying to solve first. If they are clear on that issue they can create hypotheses that will help to focus the data.

We tend to split the world into three thematic sources of data: ‘think’, ‘say’ and ‘do’. We prefer to always start with actual behaviour, because it gives an anchor in the real world. It gives us a much clearer understanding of what people are actually watching on TV, for example, how they then interact with a brand and what they purchase. These different areas of behavioural insight can then be linked to give us a rich picture of consumer behaviour. From there, we can work back and look at what has influenced this action and add in the ‘think’ and ‘say’ strands.

For instance, we help our parent company BSkyB make informed decisions based on actual viewing information. Using this aggregated and anonymised insight as a starting point, we can try and understand other factors that led to that behaviour to create predictive models.

Managing data needs to be higher up the agenda of chief marketing officers and senior marketers than it has been. As the people who devise the right marketing strategies for their businesses, it’s fundamental they have the right analysis to guide them. This is especially true across major investment channels like TV, where insight has been limited in the past.

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We’ve seen problems arise when an insight team is created with too much focus on quantity: how many questions can it answer or how many reports can it produce? The CMO must ensure that the priorities of the insight team are aligned with the business’s priorities to help it answer the right questions.

The same is true of real-time data across different channels. This can be immensely valuable in helping CMOs deal with opportunities and threats as they appear. But it is less useful in guiding them to the business goals of customer acquisition and retention.

CMOs need to take a holistic view of the consumer and continually collate insight. It’s that understanding that will guide brands and help them predict future behaviours.