John Zeigler
Jun 17, 2015

Emotion and expertise: two priorities for the future of market research

The news that an industry taskforce, bringing together some of the biggest names in marketing, will be reviewing the role of research, is heartening.

Zeigler: the most successful work connects with people on an emotional level
Zeigler: the most successful work connects with people on an emotional level

The Insights 2020 initiative, led by Keith Weed of Unilever, will be looking at how best practice is changing in market research, and how research providers need to change.

It is an important opportunity to take a fresh look at an element of our industry that has for so long been questionable.

So much of the research that is produced for clients has the effect of destroying a campaign’s emotional connectivity. Clients for too long have relied on research to cleanse the creative product. By seeking to mitigate the risk of new ideas, they often make the marketing irrelevant.

The Insights 2020 review has topics such as digital and data in its sights. I would argue that it should have two further points of focus: emotional connection and expertise.

First, emotion. By emotional relevance, I mean the ability to examine how consumers choose brands, how they make purchase or repeat-purchase decisions. Traditionally, research has been dominated by measures such as recall or key message comprehension. But we increasingly know that emotion influences action, not just rational recall. Research in too many cases focuses on the rational elements – they tend to be easier to measure. And so they ignore the important emotional drivers of decision-making. A recent study by Warc found that the world’s best campaigns from the perspective of business impact (the top winners at effectiveness awards shows) were significantly more likely to use emotion and storytelling at their heart than other campaigns.

Around the world, there are research companies breaking new ground here. In Australia, Forethought Research uses research that looks at both the ‘explicit’ drivers of a market (rational appeals, ‘reasons to believe’, and so on) and the ‘implicit’ drivers (emotional factors that influence purchase in a category)).

It seeks to connect motivational emotion to category or brand purchase tricks. This sort of research helps to build better creative work. When testing ads, it allows clients and agencies to judge work against criteria that actually matter.

Let’s look at expertise. Our research techniques tend to focus on ‘ordinary consumers’, rather than experts in their field. We go to a small group of workers tired from a day at the office, or challenged by the tireless antics of their children; we put them in a room and we walk out with a conclusion for how a brand should develop, or a decision on whether an ad is right or wrong. It’s like asking the patients in a mental asylum how it should be run! But there is a research industry worth billions of dollars built around this entire framework.

Here’s an alternative I have seen some clients experiment with to good effect. They build panels of experts in creativity—a creative council that can review work and knows what good work looks like. These panels are built and trained to enable a view of how the creative might be seen (if it’s not noticed, nothing else matters), how it might connect emotionally (this can be assessed based on their experience) and likely clarity or strength.

There is theoretical support for this approach. Research by Les Binet and Peter Field confirmed the importance of emotional appeals to effective marketing, and found that the work judged to be creatively excellent in awards shows was significantly more likely to deliver a large business impact than non-creative work. Arguably, the judgment of experts is a better predictor of effectiveness than our traditional research techniques with the people from the asylum.

An expert panel would enable businesses to make faster, cheaper and better decisions around creative work that will works.

The reason these two issues—emotion and expertise—matter so much is that they are crucial to delivering effective work. Clients need to be able to prove the impact of what they do, and agencies need to respond to clients’ need for growth.

The IPA’s 'The Long and the Short of it' study by Les Binet and Peter Field found that highly creative work worked ten times more efficiently than non-creative work. That means that great, emotionally based work, can turn a client’s $10 million budget into the equivalent of a $100 million budget. Yes, that’s right—$90 million in free efficiency. What business isn’t interested in this sort of impact? For a procurement department, it sounds like a much better proposition than the alternative—shaving yet more dollars from the agency’s fees.

When I talk to clients about this challenge, and the opportunity ahead to do it so much better than at present, the response is more often than not, “No one has ever told me that.” Consider yourself now told.

Research needs a reinvention that is designed to connect to the real science of decision-making. Only then will businesses will start to get more creative work that drive great business results.

Can a simple review of the research industry produce such a profound change and turn around the fortunes of the industry? Possibly, as long as its focus is changing the bad practices that kill great creativity. (Though a word of caution: the panel includes people such as Sir Martin Sorrell, whose WPP Group has a significant interest in existing research techniques.)

If the panel cannot achieve this outcome, I believe businesses will continue in their race to the bottom, propping up results with savings and cuts instead of investing in programmes that can build volume, share and repeatable business results.

John Zeigler is chairman and CEO of DDB Group Asia-Pacific, India and Japan

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