The Black Hole in Marketing Science

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Cover image for  article: The Black Hole in Marketing Science

Some of the greatest minds in the industry have come to opposite conclusions about things. Peter Drucker emphasized the importance of gaining new customers, and Andrew Ehrenberg and Byron Sharp doubled down on this principle with layers of empirical purchase data and math. Larry Light and Mike Donahue insist that focusing ad spend on profitable loyals provides the highest profits. Joel Rubinson, Leslie Wood and myself point out with even bigger and better datasets, that ads do the most work among occasional buyers of a given brand (which Byron calls "light users").

Whereas Byron appears to dismiss targeting altogether, optimization of short- and long-term sales effects will tend to show that disproportionate allocation to brand "occasionals" (which Joel calls the Moveable Middle), within a campaign aimed at reaching all prospects, will outperform a zero-targeting approach.

In fact, the low ROI on new-to-brand (and especially new-to-category) acquisitions means a long payback period in terms of Lifetime Value, the investments in which can be offset by a certain volume of stimulated occasionals. In other words, the answer is balance, not black and white.

Also, Byron’s argument against targeting only certain segments, that it will leave money on the table, is valid. However, in today’s early Addressable Age, use of different creative against different segments, within a campaign aimed at reaching all prospects, will also outperform a zero-targeting approach.

There is a black hole in marketing science, and it is understanding of the way consumers make decisions. Gerald Zaltman comes closest to illumining this darkness by revealing that 95% of consumer decision-making is made by the subconscious mind. His most recent work involves creating new methodologies that shed light on the implicit metaphors the subconscious and conscious mind use in remembering brands and their perceived attributes.

Part of the problem, as we have hopefully adequately demonstrated above, is that even great minds can get locked into either-or positions. The Acceleritis culture yearns for simplification and creates an almost irresistible urge toward reductionism.

Another part of the problem is that natural forces impel us to make use of what we have, thus with the onset of accessible massive purchase data sets in the 1980s (point of sale UPC scanning and mobilization of previously existing data sets such as auto registration, prescription drug compliance records, and first party data) we see the work of Byron Sharp emerge, based on highly compelling evidence focused on the act of purchase.

However this leaves out what goes on in the minds of purchasers and how that is affected by advertising and other marketing stimuli. Hence the black hole at the center of the marketing galaxy.

Survey data have been upstaged by massive passive data, yet there are ways of using survey data that can add to the enlightenment of the black hole. For example, when I was EVP of Brand Rating Index we had reinterviewed people who had been surveyed six months earlier, and could see brand switching. I was amazed to see that 83% of the switchers to a brand had six months earlier considered that brand their second choice. It was that early in my career experience that led me to uncover Swing Purchasers in the TRA data -- which NCS also found and called "Category Heavy Brand Lights" -- and Joel also found and called The Moveable Middle.

RMT – Research Measurement Technologies, a company I co-founded with Bill McKenna and other industry leaders, detects a person’s motivations based on the content she/he consumes. Simmons showed this method added +83% increase in predictivity of brand adoption for every brand in the Simmons questionnaire with at least 1000 respondent users. The ARF Cognition Council found that these RMT Motivations explain 48% of the variance in IRI sales data.

Motivations may be the main variable hidden within the black hole. Vividata, the "MRI of Canada," has now integrated RMT Motivations in their 40,000 sample. These Motivations are not based on questions asked of respondents about what motivates them. They are based on the content consumed by each respondent, as self-reported.

This creates the potential for in-market experimentation, targeting using media that skews toward the people who are motivated by values that your brand offers through its brand image and the imagery and metaphors in your brand’s ads.

RMT and its partner Semasio can also provide advanced audiences whose motivations reflect their online content consumption as measured by Semasio in 22 countries including the U.S. and Canada, for use in programmatic.

Will marketers who test motivations in Canada learn that there are important ways to differentiate a brand’s ads to specific segments, while aiming to reach all prospects, that increase a brand’s total user base? Ways which brands have not been using, because the construct of motivations has faded from marketing in the past half century? The gradual disappearance of the concept of motivations followed a promising early start provided by Dr. Ernest Dichter’s Motivational Research from the 1930s to the 1960s. At one point Dichter had become so solidly established that he was satirized in the hilarious 1969 movie Putney Swope, as a consultant who arrives by helicopter and gets paid a large sum for a brief summarization of the importance of sex in beer advertising. 

Why did motivations peter out? Possibly it had given all that it could give in that form, and with an obvious Freudian framework: How many times can you get paid for the same advice?

The RMT Motivations were empirically derived and contain 265 semantic variables fitted to sales effects via the Turner sponsored NCS study, presented at ARF in 2018 by Horst Stipp. This new approach is not limited to Freudian theory and although it was developed from the ground up without the restrictions of any theory, it bears resemblance to Maslow.

The 15 motivations tend to be positive human values which could someday become intrinsic to the creative in ads and brand content, and could do a better job than politically divisive "Purpose" approaches of the past two decades in earning the affinity of consumers while actually contributing to the mental health and happiness of the population.

Motivations also explain why people pay attention to some things and not others. If the stimulus seems relevant to our motivations, it engages our attention and our emotion, both of which are needed to change our predisposition toward buying that brand.

Motivations can get a consumer to realize that a given brand is on her/his side in the really important things in life.

And while most brands are accurately perceived as being in close parity range with other brands, that parity relates to relatively less important things in life, such as preventing perspiration or the softness of toilet tissues.

So advertising and brand content could see a substantial increase in efficacy by tying a brand to an important human value that has not yet become politically tainted.

Please take a look at the Vividata DRIVERS which are their embodiment of RMT Motivations. In the Canada market, brands can now test cradle-to-grave management of brand motivations, in creative, in media, and in thinking about product improvements and innovations of every kind. The black hole could turn out to be a more empowering construct than any of the black and white constructs of the past.

Posted at MediaVillage through the Thought Leadership self-publishing platform.

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