Q&A: How research partners can take advantage of big changes in MR

forwardIn conjunction with his speaking appearance at its Research Asia Interactive Conference in June, the Asia-based magazine Marketing published an interview with Tyrone Almeida, director, insights and planning, Asia Pacific/S.S. Africa, Kellogg Company, to find out how Kellogg’s has taken advantage of the new wave of market research to better understand its customers.

Marketing: How has the use of market research at Kellogg’s evolved over the years?

Almeida: There have been a number of aspects that have changed over the past few years in terms of how we use market research.

The first big change has been in using MR to be more forward-looking versus just seeking to explain the past or have a gauge of the immediate future (like gauging a proposed product’s market potential). This means that the same MR we did in the past is now redone, allowing us to understand shifts in the market dynamics and their underlying micro and macro causal trends. An understanding of these underlying trends then helps us build possible scenarios for the future and in a way predict what kinds of ideas or product streams are likely to be more successful than others in the future. This is far more efficient and I would dare say more accurate than the old process of brainstorming based on today’s market conditions.

The second big change has been in terms of the places where MR insights are applied. Traditionally it has been in marketing and product development. Now it is playing an increasingly prominent role even in areas like supply chain – right from ingredient-sourcing options that best resonate with consumers to location of warehouses and depots that best balances sales coverage with cost of coverage. PR and corporate communications are other areas that MR is increasingly influencing. In a nutshell, the application of MR is going wider and deeper.

The third big change has been our shift to reuse and re-mine existing data rather than just generate new data. Each new piece of data or information is actually just one part of a large jigsaw puzzle (or the market) with the added complication that this jigsaw puzzle is an evolving one. So the best way to understand the jigsaw is to always look at any new piece in the context of all the pieces you have so far and not in isolation. What this means is that all new pieces of data are examined in terms of how they fit in with past data – what is consistent, what is different and what that means to our overall understanding of the evolving marketplace. To do this we’ve had to shift some of the focus to reanalyzing past data through different lenses versus just generating new data. This has also been helped by the fact that new analytical approaches applied to old data sets often yield new insights.

Marketing: What are your views on traditional marketing research versus emerging marketing research?

Almeida: Well this is a topic where any answer is going to sound very cliché. So let me get a few patently obvious observations out of the way first. MR, or for that matter any field, has to continuously evolve with the environment to stay relevant. Like many other industries, in MR the forces driving change have largely been technological, social and economic. We have newer ways of generating, collecting and analyzing data. We have a better understanding of the science of consumer behavior and that’s driving new research methodologies. As markets become more sophisticated with newer trade channels, modes of buying, newer communication, interactive forms and so on there are more avenues to apply MR work. So on the whole, MR has rightly had to evolve.

I specifically refer to the emerging and recently emerged practice areas like social listening, behavioral economics, neurosciences and others which have not been fully integrated or made fully compatible with work from traditional MR – the case in point being the still long drawn-out process of trying to create new unified media measurement metrics that merge traditional media GRPs with those for new age digital media.

This is because, unlike many other industries, the emerging approaches have come from agencies or vendors not traditionally involved in MR (social media research, neurosciences and others). This has created two distinct sets of players in the industry – those pushing the traditional approaches and those advocating the new ones – while what is really required is for both to be compatible. Perhaps the collaboration of multiple countries or merger and acquisition activity in this space might be in the interest to the entire MR industry.

Marketing: What are the top challenges for market research as a discipline?

Almeida: If I take the role of MR “to inform stakeholders to make better decisions,” then based on that premise there are two key challenges I see for MR as a discipline.

  1. Providing insights in a timely and easy to understand way: The biggest barrier here is the dramatic proliferation of data sources, which often leads to conflicting views of what exactly is happening in the market. This same data proliferation also slows down decision-making because data is being generated faster than it can be analyzed and put to use. So the critical need is to reconcile the different sources and provide an integrated view of the marketplace using the different sources and doing that in as real-time a way as possible.
  2. Organizational structures that best enable the use of MR insights.

The best and most action-oriented insights come from MR practitioners who possess the following skills:

  • MR technical knowledge so that they understand what the best tools are to solve a particular issue;
  • brand, category and market knowledge so that insights can be tailored to the context of the problem being solved; and
  • organizational knowledge so that they can navigate organizational complexity (identify and convince the right stakeholders) and ensure that the insights are acted upon.

Unfortunately given the complexity of each of these skills and the trend of outsourcing complex tasks to specialized firms, it’s very difficult to develop people with all the three of these skill sets. In the current ecosystem of client companies, consultants and MR firms, each party comes with one or two skills but almost never all three. Clients, consultants and MR firms that work in long-term partnerships with joint training and development programs and have an intimate understanding of each other’s businesses and operating practices come the closest to achieving an organization structure that can seamlessly leverage all three skills to deliver the best and most action oriented insights.

So for me this continues to be one of the biggest challenges today.

Marketing: What are some of the current research tools employed by Kellogg’s?

Almeida: I’ll cite three examples:

  1. Demand space-driven segmentation which looks at the what, when, where, with whom, why and why not. Segments created in this way often tend to be far more insightful than just clustering consumers or their needs.
  2. Mix-modelling for both understanding category and brand dynamics as well optimizing our spending and efforts.
  3. Element-wise driver analysis, which looks at the different components that go into a product or proposition and quantifies their end impact on consumer appeal so one can optimize for the product experience and the cost.

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2 Responses to Q&A: How research partners can take advantage of big changes in MR

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