Insights are everywhere. Now what?

(Reflective notes from the Insights Association’s Insight Paradigm Shift Conference in Toronto in November 2019 by Arundati Dandapani)

NOoh it’s shifting.

The Insights Association’s first Canadian conference “The Paradigm Shift” was a heart-stopping success. It brought together industry professionals who convened on their business growth journeys and top concerns in the age of “disruption”. How do you get from good to great? Are we leading from the front or the sidelines? And, when will we know we have “truly” made it? Alyssa Rodriques of Labatt Breweries of Canada was cited by her colleagues as being a “highly cross-functional” human resource, recently having been promoted to a sales leadership function from an insights role freeing her from old silos. This transition was just one inevitable outcome of the paradigm shift in her company’s organizational structure.

The paradigm shift means different things to different individuals and groups. For me, it was losing my livelihood (among several) to the historic merger of two big conglomerates in a still foreign country; for Steve Olson, who grew up in Regina, it was his first bite of biryani in the hyper-diverse wilderness of Toronto away from his mom’s “terrible” cooking. For some, the tipping point to innovation may not even be drastic or defined. Laura Craig, Co-Founder of CRIS, said that for her, today’s situation was more of a “paradigm nudge”, where technology always existed and AI was still in its early stages to influence people to “change” their ways of work; the agility of enterprise firms seemed to pleasantly surprise her in their adoption of AI and has been landing her start-up firm success after success. Yet others will argue that the paradigm has always been shifting, we are only finally holding conferences around it because collaboration is king and everyone wants to “disrupt”. 

“Pick one person you’ve never met before and discuss your milestones and your pain points,” said Raj Manocha, of the Insights Association’s Canadian Advisory Board in his welcome address.

It was great to make the acquaintance of Patrick Prunskus (at one of the round-tables) with whom I shared my latest project, “Brands We Hate/d,” and I quickly gained a friend. A few weeks ago, at the same venue I had run into another colleague at the Walrus Talks, Canada’s conversation, right opposite Corus Quay. It felt as if the paradigms were shifting beneath our feet, insights were weaving themselves around our lives’ stories. And as many of the IPS event’s speakers would later allude, insights had become an “organization-wide” term used rather liberally. Everyone today needs to be seen as insights mongers to convey premium value. Were they succeeding?

Storytelling is integral to adapting to the paradigm shift. The most loaded word in 21st century commerce is storytelling akin to words like AI and machine learning. There was debate around the power and relevance of the CMO’s role. Was it resurgent? Was it losing clout? Content has never been more “queen” even if some of us don’t like the word content. It makes our hardest work sound generic and lacking the depth or complexity of hyper-targeted creative. Firms like Edelman and Kantar stepped up to provide valuable insight into how they were utilizing data to create effective content, balancing short-term ROI with long-term ROI.

The range of in-situ polls in speaker presentations were fun and apps like “Menti” and “Slido” offer interactivity and a chance to gauge audience sentiment at any given time.

Sales Force of the Future

(Ashik Bhat – Labatt)

Labatt Breweries of Canada is a consumer-centric brand, according to its VP of Sales, Ashik Bhatt, who kickstarted the innovation wagon for the day. Bhatt leads about 700 people everyday, the speed of consumer insights to sales constantly getting shorter. Meaning, Bhatt would rather have a plan that’s 80% perfect, than one that’s 100% perfect but slowed by processes. Make the data and research insights simple for sales, he advised. Bhatt learned quickly that having the best portfolio (being the leading beer brand in his case) doesn’t always translate to results. His challenge was, how do they move from transactional data relationships to becoming indispensable to their consumers’ lives? By understanding their customer (retailer) challenges and their consumer challenges with the beer category. Knowing your customers extremely well, and separating them from potential customers is very important in terms of outreach strategy, research and sales. Customer is the king.

Other challenges faced by sales reps are about how to drive traffic, grow revenue, and finding different ways to build the market basket, saving time and understanding and implementing all the data insights quickly.

With retailers they overcame problems in the aisles, including ease of navigation, ease of choice, consumer education and every factor influencing the purchase decision in-store. Sales reps have to be very efficient in leaner and tighter organizations. Efficiency and hyper-specific insights will drive account-level assortment insights. Through optimized SKUs, you drive traffic with the right product-set based on the right traffic set. His team at Labatt is  utilizing data to help make the best decisions. 

The bigger consumer challenge was in trying to partner with retailers to get enough conversation going. Partnering with retailers brought in high- traffic but not enough conversions. Category to consumer account conversions were the best according to Bhatt. They improved in-store ease of navigation, made it easier for people to  select their beverages without sending them to cold rooms by designating special fridges, and creating consumer education – they worked with colour coding to detail the variety of offerings for consumers. Among their larger priorities were: going from silos to total commercial thinking, thinking about both the customer and the consumer, and understanding the specific challenges of both. Another big crusade for them was democratizing the data for customers and sales reps in an easily digestible way. Tell the business what to do not just talk about the consumer. To become indispensable to the customer, your efforts must leave no stone unturned. “Go from so-what to now-what,” summarized Rodrigues.

One Home Depot: One (evolving) Team, One (ambitious) Dream

(Andrew Go — Home Depot)

Location / locality is talked about a lot of late because localization offers new opportunities to create better quality data. The innovations at Home Depot included some experiments in intelligent automation and IoT. It was important for them to understand the consumer whether they were enterprise or DIY. Trust was important. Focusing on just a single transaction was not enough. They took three years of transactional data to structure into a self-serve dashboard. A lot of their values, said Andrew Go, are tied in the why. Taking different sources of information and understanding the “why” and being predictive and relevant is critical to their success in the new paradigm.

Retail is a very fast moving space. We need real time operations to track analytics, said Go. Which is why the internet of things has a huge opportunity in System1 driven retail. Onsite search, product ranking, fulfillment – how do we power marketing? Loyalty marketing is about putting a moat around your customers. Email marketing is about being personalized and purposeful to understand buying behaviour. Home Depot is continuing to scale with data intelligent automation personalization and targeting as well as experimenting in location intelligence and the internet of things. Go advised, don’t focus on watermelon metrics: contextualize the insights. Know the “why”. Hire and breed cross-functional teams. Tell the right story.

Why Digital Data is the Fuel You Need to Make Fire Content

(James Lachno — Edelman, Nicholas Boles — Edelman)

Integrating communications and marketing are the goals of digital media maximization. Content is the effective vehicle, and a nightmare cycle of creation and distribution, said the team from Edelman. The problem is bad content that’s prompting us to switch off the phones — 74% of people avoid advertising. Relatability is twice as important as popularity. With content, give people what they want. Create channel-agnostic stories. Storytelling is a buzzword, yet more powerful than ever. Effective storytelling remains a consistent challenge for most businesses drowning in big (or small) data today. Top takeaways in the slide below:

Reframing always-on content for a consumer facing government brand remained one of their favourite challenges. How would they get people to care enough about energy efficiency, was their burning question. Locating where energy efficiency was, and translating it for different audiences was their plan. This involved identification of beats, opportunity brief (identification of themes between collaborative planning), content development, measurement and reporting – were all part of the process. They settled on a spring cleaning energy efficiency post. It went viral. Use real time data to create a home run with fast-twitch storytelling, advised the duo. Blend audience brand priorities, data and creativity. Don’t self-censor data in the fear of risk!

Unlocking ROI Through Advancements in Analytics

(Hilary Borndahl – Kantar Canada, Nick Necsulescu – World Vision Canada)

Next up, Hillary Borndahl of Kantar Canada, asked, what are the top media ROI drivers? Measuring short term versus long term ROI is critical. With media, the focus is still on the short-term returns. Consider the lens, she advised. Long term brand-building versus short term sales. Creative is king, content is queen. The most important piece of the value chain is the creative, and achieving salience and association of brands across creative. Newer niche brands are taking over jobs that used to be done by the older established firms. There was now a voluminous mix of structured and unstructured data to be worked with.

With more spending on digital TV than ever before, what % of digital content what you need to be testing to maximize ROI? What are the barriers to pretesting? How could you incorporate AI learning into everyday strategy?

World Vision Canada and Kantar talked about reframing the problem. The same thoughts/opportunities and solutions that set you free, tie you up in knots. How do you deal with this contradiction? By reframing. Understanding what we are trying to solve. Media mix and analytics are the most predictive, and so is the ability to understand the combinational tactics at multiple channels.

World Vision Canada used Kantar to test 14 ads using AI and ML. They helped prioritize content to optimize donors’ ROI. Impact is the driving factor with donors. AI/ML traces KPI scores (ie) impact over video duration. The world is changing fast and we need data-led decisions. How can we incorporate AI into our day to day strategy and everyday thinking, juggling the short term and the long term ROI?

Stuck In The Middle With You

Ian Ash — Dig Insights Inc.

Dig Insights’ Co-Founder Ian Ash presented more context to the mergers and acquisitions economy we were seeing develop in practically every big industry today. Market research (a $80 billion marketplace) was no stranger to M&As and as he demonstrated, mainstream market research is experiencing intense consolidation, there will only be more strategic acquisitions. Panel companies will increase acquisitions of automated platforms. And as big firms were consolidating in recent years, the more of the squeeze the small-to-medium sized firms were feeling. He also brought up the role of automation and how companies like Zappi were resorting to white labelling (a third party re-licensing of sorts), because actual development of IP or software is expensive. Along with intense consolidation among MR firms, clients will buy analytics and data science firms to delve in the big-data space. He left us with final takeaways on merging data sources to tackle unique problems, becoming more predictive with AI, ML, and fostering a culture of trust, safety and fair compensation with blockchain in the future.


(Isabelle Landreville — Sylvestre & Co)

At Lunch Break we disusssed the following milestones and challenges in a session led by Sylvester Consulting.

Top business problems concerning attendees gathered at pre-registration

The Transformation of Vividata: A New Cross Media and Consumer Insights Measurement Platform in Canada

(Pat A. Pellegrini, Ph.D. – vividata)

Vividata‘s CEO and President Pasquale (Pat) Pellegrini, Ph.D. presented the history and future of his company, detailing the evolution of measurement, and transformation of his company’s business offerings as their organizational structure, board composition and market demands for data intelligence have moved in favour of their custom boutique offerings. He also talked about their new partnerships and passive metering studies Metrica. A 50-50 split composition between custom and proprietary intelligence would be ideal, even as it is more in favour of their custom offerings currently, said their president. Their non-profit organization continues to excel at cross media consumer research, developing a multi-partner strategy and growing their cross-media measurement, passive metering, and engaging multiple ways to collect and model data as markets change.

They augment survey data with passive data. “Weighting is the enemy of variance,” said Pellegrini whose offerings are distributed between 50% online and 50% offline (including telephone and landline). They work in ad sales, digital depth and excavate audience insights including the tracking and measuring of in-app behaviour. They have a single source survey and digital consumers. They are working online and offline modes, fusing data and can help measure campaign effectiveness across media.

Insights Disruption – The Research Technology Revolution

Paul Neto – Measure Protocol, Laura Craig — CRIS Research, Peter Haslett — Realeyes

The ride of a life time – Lessons in Creative Leadership from the CEO of Walt Disney was cited as a go-to book to help professionals thrive in an age of data abundance. Laura Craig Co-founder of CRIS said that market research is in high demand. It’s the underlying core of who we are. Organizations have to move faster and as an industry we have stepped up to scale insights with tech. Data don’t talk but we need to understand the data and communicate what it means, said Craig. We are seeing different players in the market. There is a recognition that we need market research more and more in these changing times. How can new solutions benefit old business? We need insights people to take a stand now more than ever, said Craig, emphasizing the role of human beings in an automating world. We don’t need to stick to one method anymore. The big challenge is in choosing the best tech solution for all your problems.

Paul Neto, Co-founder and CMO of Measure Protocol, said that we are on the verge of automation, price compression and operational efficiency. We can get back to important things like consumer engagement. Better data quality is becoming the norm as we have multiple and disparate data sources. We are getting back to humanizing data. At the forefront of tech you’re trying to deal with the resurgence of qual and understanding the “why”.

There is a tech movement. The insights function has been used widely across the organizations. The missing link any industry has today (e.g. advertising or AI) is an understanding of human behaviour. We need to be asking: as industry players what skill sets do we need? The top skill today is data insights and data analytics, because there’s a real void between what’s required and telling the story, said Neto. The ability to connect data points is critical. Moreover, voice is challenging, but few people want to talk about it.

Peter Haslett of Realeyes said that we are stuck in the middle of the left. We are moving towards making technology as human as possible. AI can make things look the same. He said we must ensure humans are there, making human connections and building strong brands to differentiate ourselves.

Technology providers, ad agencies, media and your company are all looking at the same dataset. We have the ability to go from social to scale. We can now personalize data, instead of doing it in a box. We have to talk to media counterparts and talk across budgets to make a real impact in business. We need to ask human-centric questions, and we can get so much more data now without dismissing previous techniques. We need to ask ourselves whether people are engaged emotionally. The budget right now sits in the media. You can adapt creatively across media, making it an important time for all CMOs, concluded Haslett.

Better Behaviour Predictions Through Better Behaviour Testing

(Chris Whitaker – Explorer Research)

At Explorer Research, they don’t do a lot of tracking studies. They think recall is suspect on many occasions. Only 60% of consumers recalled a brand. Only 27% recalled it correctly. They consider biometric measures in situation as being more accurate testing methods in cases like retail storefronts.

Clients ask, is my retail environment good for shopping?

Recall is not a reliable measure of real shopping. In situation testing however, is. Context influences behaviour a lot in store. There is a behavioural impact to advertising. Biometric measures are 30% more engaging when the biometric response is indexed to TV.

Eye-tracking can be used differently across devices and offers communication effectiveness within frame size.

Consumers idealize their own behaviour and this affects what they shop for. They may believe they buy more or less of something or at a certain price point. Price, roll count, ply level, brand, softness — emotions drive decisions. That’s why in-situ testing is critical for accuracy in retail environments.

Virtual reality, shopper labs, mobile, AI, Eye-tracking are some of the other ways to test non-conscious behaviour. These methods have come a long way and Explorer are taking on more in the US and can take the program and do it in multiple markets at the same time. “We all strive for the best predictive insights,” said Whitaker. “In situation behavioural testing especially for retail is more predictive.” This can be done timely and effectively. New technologies are enabling even better behavioural testing.

The retail environment according to Whitaker, has never been more exciting –especially competing with Amazon. Companies are scrambling to build the best loyalty programs, and Explorer Research is helping clients deliver on their loyalty and predictive ROI using a range of in-situ beahvioural testing methods.

Yesterday and Today – The Nestle Canada Story

(Steve Olsen – Nestle)

Marketing culture increasingly values feelings as much as facts, said Steve Olsen whose company Nestle in Canada, is moving away from being lab-focused to consumer facing. Their relationship with research partners has become more collaborative and less transactional over time. This is because their relationships have become a lot more messy and transparent as new tools and techniques that prioritize foundational research and expanding expertise promote influence beyond research.

To keep up with the skills-chase, Olsen volunteers to run the business review for brands in his category, running workshops and embedding research throughout the organizational culture where he can. In the new business paradigm, according to Olsen, there is an accelerated need for continuous learning and inspiration. Visits to conferences help expose himself to lots of thinking. He particularly values attending the advanced research techniques conference, to understand the science behind the methods, and keep up with the growing knowledge on the academic and highly technical side as well.

Olsen’s needs from suppliers include: expecting people in the middle to be full supply consultants. He very rarely comes across talent that understands or innovates with reference to context from an interdisciplinary expertise. For example, someone might be able to recite the ingredients of chocolate without bringing you the botanical perspective. Research must answer the biggest business question, than try to solve everything, advised Olsen. Let’s make the survey experience reflect the consumer experience; being in tune with the consumer’s line of thought, voice and vision remains central to writing effective surveys or optimizing your research design.

Other areas of interest for Olsen are text analytics and a lot of experimentation, especially with growing thought leadership and testing out trials vs subscriptions. His open invite to experimentation was as follows, “Try out a free/cheap trial on me then sell it to my competitor at 3X the price.”

Massive Marketing Shift – How BMO Created a More Data-Driven Marketing Group

(Maja Neable — BMO Financial Group)

Maja Neable, the CMO of BMO in Canada, offered her take on the challenges and opportunities that persisted in her role leading one of the country’s top banks. A bank had less memorability among non-users with longer adoption cycles. BMO was perceived as the bank of the future, she said, and GenZ is formidable example of the new consumer. The line between personalization versus privacy is already a fine one.  We all as brands are adjusting. The tradeoffs are yet to pay off, she said.

In a services industry as banking, we are faced with the proliferation of new media channels. Brands that are able to position themselves in the customer journey where it makes more sense for them will succeed. Technology is becoming a part of “big tech”. The integration of all data streams is hard but recommended to gather the most useful insights. There is an increased demand to justify budget. We have a 360 degree view but far from full data integration – which is easier for startups than enterprise firms. The e-mail marketing team is trained for rapid test and learn.

Design journeys based on customer pain points, said Neable. Many organizations use NPS with its share of criticism. It doesn’t matter what you use so long as you do it enough and act on its results to grow your business performance, said Neable. “All the frontlines were very engaged. Our push is to have more insights put in  front of the right people. We need a lot more ownership of insights,” she said. They combined two different sources of data and were able to create some data the business believed in. Marketing is both left and right side of brain, said Neable, it’s challenging. The customer journey in banking especially takes so many data-points in such a long time. Measuring that is a challenge: 20 years or 6 yrs is a challenge; they need to constantly showcase their performance effectiveness is critical. They use AI and automation at BMO but these are rudimentary and not yet conclusive. Neable placed her business’ insights gathering journey closer to the predictive spot on the curve.

Catherine Yuile, of the Insights Association’s Canadian Advisory Board, wrapped up the evening summarizing the takeaways and lauding all the industry participants for another successful event. The conference was an overall exciting congress of some of the great minds in the business of data technology that offered a glimpse into the expanding role of insights organizationally and across sectors. It was especially assuring to have followed many of these brands’ journeys over the past few years and seen how quickly their systems and processes were adapting for excellence in an increasingly complex world.

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