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Brand Research

The New Roles Of Marketers And Researchers

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What is it, exactly, that brand marketers want to do? Maybe this question only makes sense to marketing researchers like me because to many researchers it seems that, increasingly, marketers want us to do their jobs. I’m not being critical. I’m just wondering what the role of brand marketers will become if, or more likely when, researchers step up to the biggest strategic roles that marketers fill today.

For decades, but especially lately, marketing researchers have been criticized for not being trusted strategic advisors. A surfeit of technical mastery but a dearth of insight. A project orientation instead of a relationship orientation. Too much reporting; too little storytelling.

This criticism has been taken to heart. The shared view within the research profession is that the future of marketing research must be built on two new competencies – consulting and synthesis.

Simon Chadwick and Ian Lewis, partners at Cambiar and ex-senior researchers, have included among the consulting skills that researchers will need to master such things as value creation, stakeholder alignment, opportunity identification, creating intellectual property and communicating for impact. That certainly sounds like things marketers do.

Similarly, Stan Sthanunathan, head of global insights at Unilever and formerly at Coke, has said that the role of researchers must be to “provide provocation and inspiration that drive transformation and actions that generate growth,” which means “dreaming about the future and taking our customers there.” In other words, inspiration for brand leadership, and that, too, sounds like marketing.

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Branding Trends

Brand Building In A Hi-Tech World

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Evgeny Morozov is a scold. Little if anything about the direction in which digital technologies are moving these days meets with his approval.

Morozov is not alone. A small coterie of other like-minded critics – Nicholas Carr, Sherry Turkle and Jaron Lanier, chief among them – have added their voices to a Greek chorus of Cassandras chiding consumers that 21st century digital technologies are a Trojan horse imperiling civil society and personal well-being.

It goes without saying that digital technologies are upending all aspects of life. Every sweeping change like this, whatever its motive force – technology, demographics, the economy, politics – comes with challenges that menace the opportunities. But before we throw the digital baby out with the bath water, let’s put the apprehensions in perspective and ponder our digital futures in more constructive ways. Unlike public intellectuals who earn their keep by stoking our anxieties, brand marketers must fashion real-world solutions that negotiate trade-offs to deliver value propositions that measure up to our manifold hopes and dreams about the good life.

Fears that technological advances have unleashed a fast-approaching social apocalypse are at least as old as Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic, Frankenstein, originally sub-titled, The Modern Prometheus, which was published barely a generation after the first stirrings of the Industrial Revolution.

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Brand Marketing

Brand Marketing And The New World Of Less

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Less is the future.

Some of what’s less is structural. We are facing natural limits of critical resources including key metals and minerals, water, land proximate to economic hubs, and cheap energy supplies. Threats to climate and biodiversity add to the urgency of lessening demand for these resources.

Additionally, we may be facing economic limits. Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon argued in a 2012 paper that we are at the end of an exceptional period of innovation and productivity growth. Decades of slowing productivity returns to innovation in combination with several economic headwinds mean that the U.S. (and other developed countries) face decades of slow growth. Breakthrough innovation will continue but not with the economic impact enjoyed during decades past, which came from one-time gains and for that reason, cannot be repeated.

Gordon’s thesis set off a spirited debate about whether or not there is something more to look forward to. But what’s not at issue is that there will be less of what was important in years past, even if something more comes along in the future.

Over the near-term, at least, prospects for middle-class households portend less. Long-term unemployment is a plague on many formerly middle-class houses. Labor force participation is down dramatically. Decades of stagnant wages are likely to continue for decades more. Middle-income jobs are disappearing under relentless pressure from technology. And no matter how you look at it – income, wealth, employment – the next generation is struggling to get started.

Some in the Millennials cohort have taken an aspirational view of this daunting situation by embracing the idea that that living with less is acceptable, if not preferable. While this is by no means the majority opinion, it is an earnest view, not the sort of rebellious dropping out dabbled in by hippies and slackers in prior generations.

Less is becoming aspirational in other ways as well, particularly owning less. The sharing economy of peer-to-peer, crowdfunding, renting, barter, loaning, gifting, swapping, collaboration and open source is taking hold as music sharing services like Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Last.fm and Radio Paradise proliferate, established companies like Avis and Enterprise jump into car sharing, and startups like Airbnb or NeighborGoods or Rentiod gain traction.

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Big Data

A Brand Marketers Guide To Big Data

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One of the big questions on the table for brand marketers is what to do with Big Data. The presumption is that more data means better marketing, but finding the path from more to better is the challenge at hand.

A big part of this challenge is that the flood of data is misunderstood. The term itself, Big Data, focuses brand marketers on the amount of data, an orientation reinforced by infographic hyperbole about the supernova of bits and bytes sweeping through the brand marketing galaxy. But more data matters only if it’s better.

Getting something better from Big Data goes beyond the data itself. In fact, it depends mostly on the ways in which data are analyzed. What the Big Data revolution has stirred up is less about amount and more about analytics, but this is not something that comes naturally to most brand marketers.

A recent survey of marketing professionals by the IBM Center for Applied Insights found that 40 percent are well behind the curve of the analytics required for Big Data. Another 37 percent are further along, but still “limited” and “struggling.” In other words, a little over three-quarters of brand marketers are not keeping pace with the analytics needed to ensure that Big Data produces better outcomes. As Ari Sheinkin, IBM’s VP for Client Insights, put it in an AdAge op-ed, brand marketers are “stuck in a time warp, channeling their inner Don Draper.”

Most worrisome is the finding from this survey that fewer than one in five of this three-quarter slice of brand marketers brings a “scientific approach” to research and analysis. Relying instead on gut and grit may explain why only 23 percent of all marketing professionals say they are “highly effective” at building value through new insights, only 25 percent at capturing new markets and only 32 percent at engaging individual customers. Big Data alone won’t improve any of this. Indeed, more data will make all of it worse if brand marketers put it to use unscientifically.

The first question brand marketers should ask about Big Data is not what to do with it, but what not to do with it. Knowing what not to do is also the best way to see what can be done.

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Future Of Branding

Brand Marketing And The Future Of New Media

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These days, we tell ourselves that we are living in an era of new media. True enough, although maybe not quite so true as we like to think. It all depends on what we mean by new.

What makes new media new? Lots of things, it is said. Speed – new media release and update content on a faster cycle. Co-creation – new media blur the lines between producers and audiences. Sharing – new media are social platforms of exchange and connection. Technology – new media are the spawn of the Web and, increasingly, of mobile, too.

Certainly, these are big differences. Yet upon closer examination, none of these differences stake out a definitive boundary between old and new. New media are further out on each dimension, but traditional media are catching up fast because these dimensions are also core to traditional media.

Competition to be first with the story is fundamental to the culture and business models of the old standbys of newspapers, radio and TV. Speed is nothing new.

Audience tastes have never been far from content creation. A well-established industry of rigorous testing has long put audiences in the driver’s seat of content, from picking movie endings to choosing magazine covers to thumbs-up-or-down decisions about TV shows, and more. The loop has tightened, but the loop has always been there.

Offering content that becomes water cooler talk has long been the holy grail of advertisers. The pioneering theories about word-of-mouth and social effects, such as two-step flow, date back to the 1940s.

And the history of media is a history of new technologies. We may call TV old today, but in the 1950s it was the new media darling du jour.

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