What's on the horizon in research? | What's on the horizon in research? -
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What’s on the horizon in research?

: Wednesday, May 09 - 2007 @ 14:55

The centrality of the brand

In today’s world, brands are what people relate to – what they buy. All that truly matters is how people relate to brands and how these relationships change. Yet many marketers persist in using outdated models and beliefs about how people’s minds work in relation to brands, brand memories and buying decisions – models and beliefs that are almost sacred cows but which contain myths:
Myth 1 – Decision-making is mostly a conscious, rational and readily-uncovered process.
Truth – Our emotions and instincts are the first influence on decisions. Most decision-making is driven by these two influences only: relatively little is later moderated by conscious cognition which often simply rationalises behaviour or decisions. Some writers put the unconscious:conscious ratio as high as 95:5. By far the majority of decisions are driven by habit, by people’s long-standing, enduring memories of all their brand experiences and encounters, their brand relationships and their emotional, social and cultural context. Hence, people cannot readily explain their behaviour, let alone their thinking.
The implications – Research that relies primarily on conscious recall and reporting misses most of the action. Research must be brand-led rather than by the specifics of the marketing elements such as advertising or the pack. People are not advertising or design experts. To make them so is to distort how they process the ad or pack. All we need to establish is the simple effect of a pack or an ad on the brand relationship: does it strengthen it or weaken it? That is it. Ad recall and liking are red herrings.
Myth 2 – We think in words; we can use words to recall memories.
Truth – We use all our senses: smell, music and pictures (touch and taste where applicable) evoke memories better than words. Memories are multi-faceted: all contribute to the overall brand persona. Many memories are created unconsciously; many involve the whole body. And memories can change.
The implications – Showing an ad to obtain ad recognition is a far better metric. Provided then people who recognise an ad correctly link it to the brand, the ad has had its impact – positively or negatively. Because instinct kicks in first, words do not tap into most decisions.
Myth 3 – We can understand people’s reactions to marketing interventions without needing to study their social, cultural and emotional state.
Truth – Most marketers stop at measuring wealth, race and language and key demographics. People’s bodies, minds and souls need to be taken into account as well as their surrounding society and culture, however defined: these provide the contextual lens through which they view and interpret the world.
Implications – These all interact. We need to understand these interactions – the human condition – if we are to understand how people will react to marketing activities.

Understanding the human condition – the lens through which we interpret the world

There are three aspects: people’s sense of well-being and optimism, their surrounding society and their cultural context.

A person’s sense of well-being fundamentally affects how they run their lives. In general, people with higher levels of well-being make more use of “fast and frugal heuristics” – unconscious decision-making – making decisions faster and more confidently than less happy people who make greater use of cognition, weigh the facts more and take longer to make a decision. As many as 30% of South Africans are in the “less happy” category but 42% are very much in the “fast and frugal” domain. Optimism drives much in how we plan our lives: hence, the rise in interest worldwide in “consumer” confidence measures. In SA, 60% of people are optimists – people who will make greater use of credit, buy more durables, plan holidays differently, view their investments in a different light. More pessimistic people are more cautious financially – but will buy “comfort” brands and indulgent snacks and sweets.

This links into people’s interaction with society. Happier, more optimistic people have larger networks in which they are more credible and visible; they give to and take cues from these networks more readily; less happy people have smaller networks that they trust less.

This helps understand how brand messages are transmitted within social networks. Using people’s network size, their credibility and role in their networks, their optimism and their sense of well-being allows us to classify them into one of our four Wildfire segments: Igniters can make or brand so it is critical to know what they think about a brand; Smoulderers are close behind; Damp Squibs and Burnt Outs have a different role to play and react to marketing activities differently from the other segments.

Next is to understand the role of culture – or, better, self-identity and worldview. This is about people’s sense of belonging in society: in a world of rapidly increasing choice and opportunity, there is a growth in niche interest groups: brand-centred, leisure-centred and value-centred – “tribes” with which people can identify. These become micro-cultures within broader social contexts. This, in turn, means that we can no longer think of markets as consisting of a few (big) cultural groupings. A new appreciation of cross-cultural values and attitudes – better termed “worldviews” – becomes vital. One can identify a hierarchy of worldviews from macro-cultures to sub-cultures to mini-cultures to micro-cultures. From this emerges the concept of “delta v” – distance between worldviews. What is an ad’s delta v with respect to its target audience? For Black Diamonds, for example, we know it can be huge.

The savvy and interactive “consumer” (person)

People are increasingly sceptical about marketing: they know what we are up to. People are today more assertive and marketing-savvy: they expect more from organisations. Explicit, transparent company values and corporate social investment are a given. Add to this the ever-expanding role and abilities of technology and we have the birth of the new non-passive and interactive person. The days of talking to passive mass-markets have passed. Add again to this stew the rapid rise of “alternative media” and we have a brave new world that is not news but to which we must adapt.

Think of the implications of the interactive “consumer” – person – when that person’s true decision-making processes are considered and when the ameliorating effects of their bodies, minds and souls (well-being) are taken into account along with their surrounding societal context and worldview. The face of marketing and advertising, as well as research – which needs to measure all this – is undergoing a revolution. Those who see the sea-change will survive; those who cling to out-dated models will not.

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Wednesday, May 9- 2007 @ 14:55 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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