SEEK AND YOU SHALL FIND
Just as a solid house requires good foundations, so too do clients need good insights to guide their business strategy – and their marketing communications. And while data is meant to be the new oil, it needs to be refined if you want to find the true val
Shit in, shit out. It’s a crude phrase that can be applied to a number of business sectors and it’s also true when it comes to marketing. And at a time when data is deemed to be so crucial for business success, the companies that can wrangle it – and, importantly, use it to help guide the strategy – are still in demand, although digital tools have allowed clients to access much of that data themselves.
Speaking to NZ Marketing, Andrew Lewis, managing director TRA, confirms that where once the issue was “we have no data, we don’t know what people want from us”, we now have a challenge more along the lines of “we have so much data coming in, we can’t understand what it is people want from us".
“It is our clear view that the path to effective insight lies in how we effectively curate these constant flows of data to answer fundamental business strategy problems. Different pieces of information give us some of the picture, but it is only when they are combined and arranged effectively that we see the big picture emerge; that the insights come into focus.”
A recent example for TRA in this space would be the work it has been conducting for a financial services client, which takes data from sources as diverse as customer satisfaction and brand data, media spend, social media monitoring, transaction volumes, EDM exposures, app usage and product count to understand how the business makes money, how it acquires customers and how it retains them. This widescreen data modelling allowed TRA to identify a small handful of diverse metrics which could be monitored, and influenced via market activity, to drive growth.
“Insights are highly subjective so you need to have confidence that the provider is actually equipped to conduct the exercise,” says Rob Bree, chief executive of Research Association New Zealand. “To identify and engage the appropriate respondents; to ask the right questions in the right way; to utilise the appropriate methodologies; and to interpret the outcomes from the research.”
In the past, advertising agencies were seen as integral business partners and worked very closely with the client and influenced everything from product ranges to distribution strategies to ad campaigns. Increasingly, those creative agencies are left to focus on the communications, while research specialists are often employed to uncover the insights at the start of this process.
“The market has expanded greatly in terms of supply of data in the last decade,” says Bree. “The amount of information available through various means is expanding every day so clients have a much greater range of choices with respect to where and how they source their information. And budgets are under constant pressure so clients naturally want more for less. One of the downsides of this is the availability of poor quality, unfiltered information which comes with a number of inherent risks. Inexperienced marketers might make the mistake of treating data as insights. Data really needs to be sorted, qualified, filtered and viewed through various lenses before you can start to generate insights. And that’s where the expertise comes into it.”
In an ideal world clients would build and maintain long term relationships with their providers enabling a collective build of knowledge, insights, and shared experiences. This isn’t always possible and so having access to specialists on a project basis is the next best alternative. Even so, the same principles apply and so it is preferable to try to build longterm relationships with those providers so that they are not coming in cold on a new project.
Perceptive’s Chris Pescott believes full service agencies have a good breadth of experience and are a great place to resource a brand’s strategic or creative needs (a one-stop shop, so to
Maybe ten years ago, clients came to agencies like ours in order to get certain types of information. Now the issue for clients is not about not having the information they need but rather it is about having too much data and being able to draw insight from those various data sources.
speak). However, he contends full–service agencies often can't go deep enough into a category or vertical to uncover those high value insights – insights that lead to true innovation and market differentiation. “This is largely due to limitations relating to specialist skillsets and technology, particularly when it comes to working with large volumes of data, from multiple sources and having crucial data security protocols in place,” he says.
Indeed, clients see Perceptive, and similar insights specialists, as far more than a research company. They are seen as partners who work hard to understand the sector and add value through insight and their knowledge of what is happening in the wider market – and whether the company is on the right track or needs to adapt its approach.
Businesses have learnt (and some are still learning) that uncovering meaningful and actionable insights from data requires a specialist set of skills and technology. Many are investing in those kinds of skills, but they are not always equipped to handle it – and lack the objectivity required to judge it.
“The businesses that choose to continue trying to interpret the data themselves rarely achieve the results or the return on investment they were hoping for,” says Pescott.
Today more and more companies are concerned with research that uncovers insights that empower them to differentiate themselves in the market, such as customer experience and new product and service development studies. This involves the unification and large data volumes from multiple data sources to uncover new opportunities.
Many creative processes are still driven internally by marketers and agencies that come up with designs and narratives based on what they think will resonate with an audience, which remains a hit and miss approach. Creative agencies typically despise testing of creative. But insight agencies, like Perceptive, are using their specialist skills and technology to help inform creatives using behavioural and motivational research. Pescott says the result is creative that resonates and speaks to the target audience, and ultimately, achieves a greater return on investment.
Kantar’s two agencies, Colmar Brunton and Kantar TNS, offer the full range of insight services to address the client’s brand, market or customer issues. Like TRA'S Lewis, Jason Shoebridge, the CEO of New Zealand Insights, believes it's now a case of too much, rather than too little.
“The biggest change to the use of insight and research agencies has come about through technology and the ubiquity of data,” he says. “Maybe ten years ago, clients came to agencies like ours in order to get certain types of information. Now the issue for clients is not about not having the information they need but rather it is about having too much data and being able to draw insight from those various data sources."