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Who Is Leading Insight Industry Transformation?

December 7, 2012

By Ian Lewis, GreenBook

From 2008 to 2010 ARF was the industry leader in Research Transformation, with a Research Transformation Super Council (RTSC) led by Susan Wagner of J&J, Donna Goldfarb of Unilever, and Joel Rubinson of ARF. RTSC developed a new mission for Research “Inspiring better business futures by listening, learning, and translating humans and markets to bring them to life, in order to anticipate and give knowledge to the enterprise”. When Joel left, ARF dropped the ball on Research Transformation. While ARF was sitting on the sidelines of Research Transformation, the industry was busy transforming. Now, two years later, ARF picked up the Research Transformation ball once more and put on an event with a celebrity client speaker roster including Michelle Peluso, Global CMO and Internet officer for Citigroup; Joan Lewis of P&G; Pamela Forbus of Frito-Lay; Richard Thorogood of Colgate; Dan Goldstein of Microsoft; and more (plus leaders from the top suppliers).

Did it deliver?

ARF CRO Don Gloeckler kicked it off citing lack of progress with Research transformation (or is it that ARF hasn’t been paying attention?). Don believes that too much energy has gone into developing proprietary solutions rather than collaborating and inventing together. He wants competition to be on application. Don cited as a glowing example the Apollo single source project, which collapsed in 2008. There was little evidence of support for his position from the audience.

Don was followed by some terrific speakers. Michelle Peluso stated “Behavior and real time trump observations trump synthetics” [focus groups and surveys being synthetic], noting that she’d only done one focus group in four years and “I’ll probably never do another focus group”.  Ouch! An example of Citicorp’s increasing consumer centricity is renaming job titles from “loss mitigation” to “homeowner support” for staff dealing with mortgage payment issues. Michelle is excited about solutions for cross-channel analytics, social media listening (citing the Gatorade Command Center, in Fast Company June 2012), and “real world” mobile research.

P&G’s Joan Lewis talked to the evolution from one-way surveys to a research world characterized as 1) always on, always available; 2) continuous; 3) observing; 4) participating and co-creating; 5) a source for inspiration. Our role moves from being Farmers to becoming Chefs.

Pam Forbus was terrific! She threw down the gauntlet saying “New tools and methodologies are not going to get us there”, citing the need for leadership not navel-gazing, and for being savvy about business and company politics. Pam asked “Will Insight functions exist in the future?”, and went through a list of corporate functions [IT, strategy, business intelligence/analytics] and external sources [Wall St and management consultants], arguing how they are better equipped than Insights at the new needs – for total systems thinking, synthesis and simplification, speaking the CFO language, having a bias for decision-making and impact, moving from reporting to predicting, focusing on the business drivers and on growth.   What do clients need to do? Pam’s top four are 1) build and strengthen capabilities; 2) a mindset shift; 3) a new engagement model; and 4) a bias for impact and decision-making.

While Pam was throwing caution to the wind, Richard Thorogood’s theme was exciting times countered by need for caution. And if you need a word for cocktail conversation, try Ethnotics – the merging of ethnography and semiotics. Richard’s most telling comment came in the panel discussion, where he talked about how Colgate partners fully with ad agencies and management consultants but doesn’t give the same treatment to research suppliers. He cited concern about confidentiality with suppliers (e.g. if they work for Unilever or P&G). Richard’s views on this are emblematic of a big issue for our industry – we need true partnerships between clients and suppliers in order to deliver against the new needs, but we’re stuck in a transactional mode with procurement in the driving seat, outdated business models and suppliers who are treated as vendors rather than partners. Renee Smith of Kantar talked to Colliding Worlds – Why Partnerships are Necessary, giving a litany of challenges both within suppliers and with clients. Sobering.

GfK’s David Krajicek asked “are we prepared”? Technology needs to be focused on the ecosystem vs. the engagement, and be information stream agnostic; Tools needed are data mining, and visualization for insight discovery; Talent must be insight architects who are business partners that use inductive thinking and relationship mapping.  David didn’t address how to acquire or develop the right talent, and the answer to his opening question IMHO is No.

In a mixed panel of clients and suppliers, a warning to traditional suppliers was clear, maybe best stated by Joan Lewis – “things that are big, backward looking have to cost less. The money’s not going to be there in 5-10 years”.

Later in the day a second supplier panel was asked to design the ideal new research company. The NewCo characteristics included consultative, collaborating with clients, integrative, listening, speaking to the next generation at a conscious and unconscious level, and being priced appropriately.

Dan Goldstein of Microsoft provided an interesting and informative change of topic, addressing what social network data can do for targeting and diffusion. He used an example of people going to a store. Here’s another cocktail term for your arsenal: Homophily, the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others. Bottom line #1: social networks work for targeting. If your “friends” have been to a store, it’s more likely that you will go to that store.  Rationale is that people who are in social contact are similar in some way. Bottom line #2: content on social media sites rarely goes viral.

Last but not least, breakout groups addressed Future of Research needs. Key takeaway was that competencies are the key need, and Don Gloeckler asked for volunteers to work on roles and skills.

So did the ILF deliver?  We heard some interesting presentations and plenty of challenges for our industry. The day’s theme was Tools for Transformation; the key takeaway is that the top need is competencies, not tools.  Plus we heard plenty about dysfunction within suppliers and in the client-supplier relationship. My sense is that research transformation is well underway and no one has led the effort so far. If the ARF wants to assume that leadership role, they will have their work cut out for them and will need extensive collaboration across the industry to do it- including the new players as well as the traditional ones.

If you were there, please weigh in!

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