In Praise of Research as New Key to Leadership Teams -- Bill Harvey

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There is a lot of work to do, and the research departments and external research suppliers are inspired by Gayle Fuguitt’s ARF leadership, now knowing that research needs to get a seat at the table in the C Suite for the good of businesses and the economy. The siloed way of running companies wearing unintentional blinders to insights about the business that ought to be core to decision making is out of style. The numbers should otherwise show more domestic growth, for example. Many companies are already waking up to the value of the research function.

Acceleritis is the one force that exists on Earth that could have ever caused such blindness in some of our corporate leadership. What are we going to do about it?

Chief Research Officer (CRO) should routinely sit in C Suite meetings. He or she must be prepped for those meetings with the highest priority obstacles to be removed, opportunities to be brought up, and deep insights about where a brand is or where it is headed, with specific action recommendations for every insight. Most of these recommendations for improvement must be tested first at low risk and this will center on fast definitive hyperlocal (hence affordable) in-market A/B testing à la the direct marketing paradigm.

C Suite needs to be subtly educated about each brand’s heritage, current perception, and optimal transition into the future. Answering these questions, the big strategic ones, should be the underlying driver of the tactical research projects undertaken.

Research companies have a glorious future. Today’s research departments cannot get all this done without relying heavily on their trusted suppliers.

The financial wizards running the new Nielsen are cleaning up right now, selling their stock for the best prices in Nielsen history. Nielsen is indeed positioned to be a fast follower of anything new and exciting anyone else invents. In the past, Nielsen has lost good top-level personnel due to the lack of internal inventiveness. In fact inventive companies acquired by Nielsen have gone through periods of non-inventiveness, e.g. IAG, although now Brand Effects seems to again be doing some groundbreaking. But perhaps that is all changing now as the new Nielsen emerges.

The new Nielsen would be wise to acquire rather than compete with the best of the new breed of research companies on the playing field and yet to come -- and to do so in a way that keeps management and personnel happy and inventive. This would require autonomy for each new acquisition and perhaps doing the same thing retroactively to past acquisitions. Coordination optimized with individual sovereignty and a mandate to continue to lead, not to follow. More like a keiretsu family of linked companies than a hierarchical traditional process that inhibits clarity of information flow and retards innovation success.

If this was the outcome expected, more good research startups would jump into the game. There is still an enormous underwater part of the iceberg that is not understood by today’s research. In particular, the neuromotivational drivers that cause each ad to either lift sales or not, increase loyalty or not, that cause a program to be something you want to watch every episode of asap, or can take or leave. We are nowhere near having science in place at that level of predictivity. And yet there is no law of physics preventing the development of such a science. It is indeed required by the optimizers.

If we are to optimize our minds and our lives and our businesses for maximum financial success, love, good deeds and fun — and aiming lower to start, simply at maximizing the sales effects of advertising — our state of the art 2014 optimizers already implicitly need to know the impact factor for each creative execution against each purchaser target at each frequency level in each media environment. This further permutates by the sequence in which the path to purchase touchpoints occurred to that individual.

Today Mediaocean and similar systems allow for a single “Jesus-number” index to be applied. This in itself is not a problem since all the variables can be reduced to a single impact factor for each “buy” the optimizer is picking or even RTB making. The work to be done is to research all those variables to get to the Jesus number. Nielsen and the rest of the research field, corporate department personnel as well as suppliers, have a huge opportunity ahead to do this work, and in the process communicate in the C Suite so that the leadership is given the maximum input value.

The company that led the revolution to start this work is TiVo Research. Today TiVo Research is still the one most focused on measuring the dose-response variables found to be the core drivers to maximizing each brand’s sales. This always includes creative, crossmedia, purchaser target, frequency, recency and sequence in the field to be studied and reduced empirically. Nielsen Catalina has emulated the TiVo Research methodology and is also doing good work; Kantar Media has also created a TiVo Research-like service and is doing good work especially in addressable TV. ARF and ANA are already leading the industry to focus on ROI and to measure it better, so we are heading toward a research world. For maximum success, Nielsen and the rest of the field must quickly find the optimal ways to work together.

Bill Harvey is a well-known media researcher and inventor who co-founded TRA, Inc. and is itsBill HarveyStrategic Advisor. His nonprofit Human Effectiveness Institute runs his weekly blog on consciousness optimization. Bill can be contacted at

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