Kantar global CEO: Marketers don't understand people as well as they think they do

Marketing and CX research is moving back into traditional methods following Brexit and US elections as brands look to better understand why customers are doing what they're doing

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Marketing research has moved beyond simply seeking insights into building functionality to be able to ensure insights are used in the best way.

This is the opinion of Kantar global CEO, Eric Salama, who was visiting Australia this week. He has been CEO of Kantar since 2002 and was previously a main board director of WPP responsible for strategy and digital. Prior to this, he served as managing director of the Henley Centre and as a researcher and speechwriter to the UK Labour Party Foreign Affairs Team in the House of Commons.

Kantar undertakes its own research as well as partners with businesses like Qualtrics and Medallia to offer more real-time solutions for clients.

While digital can be blamed for changing everything, Salama said events such as Brexit and the US presidential elections have made marketers realise they don’t understand humans as well as they thought they did, and that consumer understanding must be leverage-able.

“Clients are moving from wanting to understand their customers, to wanting be able to action issues and insights, and we see this in most industries,” Salama told CMO.

“This is the same on the CX side; there’s still a big role for understanding what customers feel about their experience, and the customer journey is becoming more complex. There is a gap now between seeking information and where the customer experiences things. Digital has made it more complex.

At the same time, the shine is coming off social media research and moving back into more ethnographic and qualitative research methods, Salama said.

“Clients want to move away from understanding what the experience is, to actually being able to go back to customers and communicate about an experience and do something about it. It’s also becoming more real-time now.”

Why you can’t be good at everything

For Kantar, with the customer journey becoming more complex, brands simply can’t be successful at every point along that customer journey.

“It’s unrealistic. Instead, you need to understand what the critical moments along the customer journey are and prioritise those,” Salama said.

“The customer journey is not a linear journey anymore. They might skip some steps, or they might have decided before they even go to a shop, they are much more informed now about price. People are skipping parts of the journey and researching beforehand. It’s a multi-touchpoint journey as opposed to a linear journey.”

Now more than ever before, clients want insights not just for understanding, but also for genuine action, Salama continued.

“People are also realising brand and CX aren’t different things,” he said. “Yet interestingly, clients still commission brand tracking and customer stats tracking as two separate things, but they are really the same thing. CX is a big part of what consumers think about a brand. And it’s not just traditional services companies; it’s all types of businesses looking to understand CX."

Salama also saw organisations realising they can’t deliver to clients without an engaged employee base. Yet linking those two things up in a really structured way is in its infancy.

Further to this, clients globally are trying to do many of the same things: Have their research be in real time, be forward-looking, and predictive. But there is debate around the role of different research tools, and the role of social media in this, Salama said.

“Some tech clients who were once very focused on behavioural data are now coming to us as drivers of qualitative work, or ethnographic and survey work because events like the US election and Brexit made a lot of clients feel they didn’t understand people as well as they thought they did,” he explained.

“It was a wake-up call for a lot of people. We were one of only two companies to correctly predict the Trump election. It made people realise they had a metropolitan-centric view of the world, and they didn’t understand what was happening to middle America and the hopes and fears of people in those areas.

“It’s the same with Brexit; many companies were too London-centric. There is a real fragmentation of people’s hopes and aspirations happening at the moment.”

That political agenda has seeped through into the marketing agenda, Salama claimed, and growing numbers of clients are recognising engaging with customers means understanding them as people first before they get into purchasing decisions.

“I do find more clients interested, and sense of urgency around, understanding people as people and what makes them tick. There’s more realism around what social media can really help you understand, and its role compared to other research tools,” he said.  

“We’re seeing some of the more traditional research tools, like ethnography, qualitative and surveys, are actually quite helpful when it comes to understanding why people behave the way they do, what’s driving them, as opposed to simply what are their behaviours.”

Such change is not within category, it’s cross-category. “You can’t look at people one way, you need to understand what’s important to them and why they are willing to do the things they do, and why this changes depending on need, category and event,” Salama said.

Innovative thinking

Generally, Salama said the importance of innovation as a brand driver continues, as does the need to connect emotionally to consumers.

“Local brands are doing better than ever before in many markets, and strong brands do create shareholder value. Most CMOs know the basic rules of marketing, they know a brand needs to be emotional as well as rational, they know innovation and trust are really important, and this is nothing new,” he said.  

“The question is why more brands don’t execute against that. They need to build the capabilities and behave the way they would like to behave. In this way, the consulting side of our business is becoming more important, particularly around building a great insights functions. This is not just what the insights are, but how do you build a function to generate the insights and right linkages within the organisation to ensure those insights are used in a constructive way.”  

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu   

 

  

 

 

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