The annual ARF ConsumerxScience conference (previously Re:Think) brought to light new ways of measuring the consumer journey, understanding the psychological motivations of populations and brought forth, as ARF President and CEO Scott McDonald pointed out, “A lot of conversation about the accuracy and validity of targeting data and, in the context of recent events, about the ethics of kinds of advanced data-driven targeting that are at the core of digital advertising.”
McDonald is helming his organization at a pivotal time for research, data and analytics. Between the recent Cambridge Analytica data usage controversy, fake news and the upcoming EU GDPR data regulation, the use of data and research insights are hot topics.
The Good and Bad of Data
Nothing has impacted the field of research as data has, “in ways both good and bad,” McDonald said. “We have a lot more behavioral data to work with than ever before, but best practices are still evolving for the use of the data for insights.” He stated that the growth in the amount of available data has outstripped tools for analyzation resulting in older consumer protection guidelines that have not kept pace. “There is some risk now of a privacy backlash that could restrict targeted marketing and cause collateral damage to research,” he added.
Where this has all led to is that more priority is now given to rules around data use and retention, “either through self-regulation or government regulation,” McDonald continued. “More emphasis on data transparency (labeling) and validation (quality scoring).” But he also believes that tools will continue to improve to get more insight value from data collected and this could lead to a better balance between classical research approaches and data science approaches.
The Influence of Millennial Men
With movements such as #MeToo there has been less discussion about the influence of Millennial men who, according to Brad Fay, Chief Commercial Officer, Engagement Labs, are, “surprisingly engaged as influencers in the marketplace. They are an everyday source of advice and have expertise in a wide range of categories and large social networks.” These digital natives came of age during times of upheaval and have witnessed the backlash of trends.
Fay referenced Jack Myers’ book The Future of Men. “There's something different about Millennial men,” he said. “What does it mean to be male? The definition of masculinity is changing. We are reinventing masculinity. There are generational differences. Today’s young men struggle to figure out a path forward.” His research concludes that young men are avid consumers who talk about a range of subjects, including media and automotive. But versus all men, younger men also talk more about food, finance, travel and even beauty products. Interestingly, they talk less about sports and technology than in the past.
Fay offered several insights. Men care about relationships. They want to see themselves as smart shoppers. They enjoy meal preparation. They still over-index in sports and beer but not as strongly as they used to. He advises marketers to “start looking at young men [in ways] they haven't done before because they influence others. Think of them as a key asset though their social networks.”
Preparing for the Research Departments of the Future
Industry veteran David Poltrack, Chief Research Officer, CBS Corporation and President of CBS VISION, is concerned about where research is and where it is going. “We have big problems reaching industry now,” he stated. “We embrace insights and now it is coming back to bite us. Insights are intuitive, not empirical. Intuitive means instinctual, what you feel. But our business is based on empirical evidence and not intuitive.” His advice is to “reeducate our management … and get insights out of your title!”
McDonald noted that any disruption is scary. But Radha Subramanyam, Chief Research and Analytics Officer, CBS Television, embraces change. “Most people don't like change but we have to stay focused on the objectives,” she said. “Data is useless without insight and our insights get better with more and smarter data.”
In terms of skill sets for hiring, “surround yourself with generalists,” she suggested. “As individuals think of their career, they should amass more than one set of skills and find ways to harness all of them to business goals. As we staff at CBS, we look for people with skills and with curiosity.”
How can today’s researchers prepare for tomorrow? “Classic researchers need to go beyond the usual software and multivariate statistics and learn the approaches favored by data science,” McDonald said. “Data scientists need to get better at understanding the domain specialties they study, and also the body of scientific work that they are addressing with new tools. Both sides need a bit more humility about the limitations of their approaches and the value of hybridizing,” he concluded.
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