Big brands’ insight innovations help level the playing field for everyone

Published: 01 Aug 2017 By Finn Raben

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The insight techniques used by the world’s biggest brands may seem unattainable, but their experimentation gives all companies something to learn from, says ESOMAR director general Finn Raben.

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Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Diageo, AOL, Microsoft. What do these brands – some of the biggest in the world – have in common? They all value the power of insights to drive growth. Not only do they value insights, but they are at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of how data can be collected, and how insight can be used to drive growth. What’s more, these brands celebrate the power of insights and data.

The research industry over the past decade has faced significant challenges, born out of an uncertain financial environment; we have seen budgets decrease, while marketing and advertising outputs have increased.

Faced with these challenges a brand has one of two options. It can simply reduce the amount of research it conducts, relying on gut feel and existing sector knowledge, which will save on research spend but will mean a higher chance of wasted marketing and development budgets when an advert or product is released. Or, alternatively, this reduction in budgets can swing the other way towards innovation.

Back in 2013, the knowledge and insights team at Coca-Cola Japan was testing fewer than half of its adverts before they went to market. For one of the world’s most recognised brands this was far from an ideal situation and it was recognised by senior management, which bought in the much publicised net promoter and a mandate to test 100% of creative. All creative now needed to reach a certain evaluation score in order to go to market, or it was shelved.

This new mandate represented a significant challenge for the team at Coke. Automation was the answer to their problems. At a market research conference, they stumbled across a small four-person startup named ZappiStore, who, using new advancements in automation, offered a way to test creative at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time of traditional ad testing. Unfortunately, at the time the startup only operated in a handful of English speaking markets. But seeing a solution to its challenge, Coca-Cola Japan invested a small cash sum and its own time to work with ZappiStore in creating a platform fit for the Japanese market.

By working in a close collaborative partnership with an innovative new supplier, the knowledge and insights team was able to revolutionise its pre-testing, make the creative testing phases more efficient, and redirect saved budget into discovery and product development stages.

Validating insight innovations

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Big brands will share their insight experiences at ESOMAR in September


Over at PepsiCo, the established challenges resulted in a different approach. PepsiCo, like many companies with a strong digital presence, has access to more customer data than ever before. So, the insights team had been charged with getting more out of these existing data sets, but scale has its own challenges in being able to mine that data for relevant insights.

In order to approach big data, Pepsi understood it needed to pioneer new approaches and techniques to extract value-enhancing insights from the data tidal wave. It created a brand-new, diverse team of researchers, big data scientists, social media experts and marketers with an open brief to explore and invent whatever it took to learn how to work with the data tidal wave, to extract insight and value for the business.

Now, I can imagine there are more than a few marketers reading this and thinking it’s all well and good for brands such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo – brands that, even with restricted funds, have insight budgets that dwarf the budgets available to most brands.

Both of them, together with other major brands, such as Unilever, P&G, and Diageo, have traditions of experimentation in gathering insights, and they also have strong traditions of sharing their knowledge within this area. As marketers, it is important to see what these trailblazing big brands are doing – companies that are undertaking the experimental leg-work so you don’t have to. The work in validating and establishing innovation in insights is easier and less risky for bigger brands, but in turn it allows smaller brands with more at stake to stand on the shoulders of giants and in turn use innovative new techniques to address the challenges they face with significantly less risk.

ESOMAR Congress, the flagship event for the global data, research and insights society, from 10-13 September in Amsterdam, will bring together insights professionals and marketers from around the world to learn from the world’s biggest brands on how they are putting insights first in order to drive growth. Whatever research challenge you may be facing in your company you’ll be sure to find the answer.

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