Super-Council Eyes Seat At Creative Table

There is probably no small number of marketers, media sellers, advertisers, brand managers and creatives who see market researchers as Radar O'Reilly-esque number crunchers packing Ambien-like PowerPoint presentations, whose sole job in life is to find the creative spark and kill it with consumer data.

The Advertising Research Federation (ARF) is hoping to change all this and finally give research a seat at the mythical table where strategy is shaped and campaigns are hatched.

The group's May 7 meeting in New York was devoted to figuring out just how to take data, turn it into ideas, then turn those ideas into compelling stories about real people and find a way to express that within organizations.

The work is being done by ARF's Research Transformation Super-Council, whose leaders include Donna Goldfarb, director of consumer and market insights at Unilever; Susan Wagner, Johnson & Johnson's VP of global strategic insights; Amelia Strobel, SVP, and head of research and competitive intelligence at Kraft; Gayle Fuguitt of consumer insights at General Mills, and others at consumer-goods companies, media companies and research firms.



Among the co-chairs of the Super-Council is Joel Rubinson, chief research officer at ARF, who explains to Marketing Daily that the template for how to transform research's position in marketing organizations is a bit like a six-layer wedding cake, representing both how research fits into a company and the temporal movement of research practice from gathering data to presenting it as a human story. Each higher layer is, per Rubinson, less pure-data driven and more about human-driven strategies, and is less about backward-looking data and more about forward-looking planning.

At the bottom of this wedding cake-like procedural diagram are data. Above them is interpretive function from the perspective of social sciences, intended to give the raw data perspective. After that is the process of synthesis "if you are bringing in data from different places -- from managed communities, digital trails, surveys, site behavior and shopper databases, forensic analysis based on patterns," says Rubinson.

The fourth layer is where the research function becomes as much about performance skills as it is about research. "It's bringing the story the data tells to life in a way that avoids the death-by-PowerPoint trap," he says. Last is something that might be the hardest thing for data smashers: taking a stand, a position, or having an opinion about what consumers think and do and how that should influence market strategy.

"Research transformation really is about transforming the organization," says Rubinson. "It's about people in research being agents of change rather than being perceived as cautionary and stuck with normative databases and methods that slow things down. The perception in many organizations is that research wrings creativity out of marketing initiatives rather than enhancing it."

Rubinson says the council's initiatives actually started in July 2008 with a workshop on how researchers can "listen" by mining the blogosphere as opposed to only using survey-based approaches. "Very quickly that meeting became one about really how research needs to up its game," he says. "The Research Transformation Super Council is an activation of all that preparatory work."

"Ultimately, the thing we need to realize is that data is inherently backward-looking and all marketing decision-making lives in the future," says Rubinson. "It's always about the next thing, so by definition the consequences of your business decision are unknowable. Marketing is a game of hunches; what research is trying to do is inform decision-making in a way that improves its chances."


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