Are you talking to the dead or the living?

By Dan Clay
Managing Partner,
Newgate Research UK

I recently went to the excellent Richmond Market Insight Forum where, in his keynote, Rory Sutherland (OgilvyOne) quipped that ‘anybody who’s highly predictable is rapidly dead because you can anticipate his behavior and game it.’  Humans have evolved to be unpredictable.  We’d be extinct as a species if we weren’t.  Now the behavioural sciences are not new.  System 1 and system 2 thinking, heuristics and biases, nudge theory and choice architecture are increasingly part of our vocabulary.  We’ve come to appreciate just how ‘messy’ and complicated people are.  Yet much marketing is still based on a reductionistic, rational way of understanding audiences.  It’s understandable.  It makes things much neater and more manageable.  At least in the short term.

Having established Newgate Research UK earlier this year, my imperative is to ensure that all strategic or tactical communications is:  (i) grounded in an understanding of audiences and the context in which a given message is going to land, and (ii) evaluated to ensure that we understand what works.  Communications is an art, not a science.  It is not possible to claim research can guarantee the impact of a campaign.  But it is necessary to unearth the nuggets and quirks on which impactful ideas, messages and propositions are developed.  Research is necessary to ensure that we understand how messages (and creative) land with people.  We’re instinctive creatures heavily influenced by the social and environmental context in which something is experienced.  Research is also necessary to provide a baseline understanding of awareness and attitudes.  That way we understand whether messages are landing with the target audience.  Given the money invested in public relations and marketing activity, surely we need to understand whether it is having the desired impact?

Barry Leggetter, of AMEC and PRCA fame chaired a brilliant breakfast event here at Newgate’s London offices recently.  I spoke alongside Distinguished Professor Jim Macnamara of the University Technology Sydney and Caitlin Connors, the Founder of the research consultancy Bright Harbour.  The focus was on evaluation, with a clear message that we need to move beyond measuring (and judging) communications agencies on the basis of their outputs (i.e. volume and reach).  Instead we need to judge the value that they add to their clients’ business objectives (e.g. trust, reputation, sales etc.).  The session was a mini-masterclass in evaluation models and considerations, as might be expected given Jim helped shape the AMEC and GCS evaluation frameworks – do get in touch if you want to hear more or see the slides from the event by the way.  But more than this, it highlighted to me how integral it is that research is recognised as a value-add, not an extra cost.  By spending money on insight and evaluation you actually save money on your marketing spend. And you simultaneously increase communication effectiveness on the metrics of importance to the C-suite and shareholders.  Or you could continue crossing your fingers and communicating with the deceased.  The choice is yours.



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