Modern Marketing Agency Culture Brand Strategy

‘All briefs will start with insights’: how researchers are changing the marketing industry

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By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

August 18, 2022 | 9 min read

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The Drum sits down with seven leading figures in the world of behavioral science, research and insights to ask one simple question: as their teams grow, how are they changing the world of marketing?

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How are research and human understanding functions changing the marketing industry? / Rishabh Dharmani via Unsplash

The talent base of research and human understanding departments in marketing companies has, historically, shifted regularly. For a while, cultural ethnographers will be in vogue – or ethicists, or anthropology grads, or hardcore quants. At this moment in history, those teams are big; their skillsets are varied; and, in many cases, they’re working across the entire marketing ecosystem, from pitch to wash-up. At a recent roundtable with leading figures from behavioral science, market research, planning and insight functions of marketing teams from The Drum Network, we asked: how is all of this changing the industry and the work it does?

Tara Austin, partner, behavioral science, Ogilvy UK: three new pillars: the universal, the cultural and the individual

The model is shifting. We’re going to need to triangulate more. That means that every brief is really going to bring together the universal, the cultural and the individual.

That means bringing in universal human truths; human, evolved insights. We’re just primates. What is it that’s true to all of us, wherever we are in the world? What is culturally conditioned? How do we understand those differences across markets and groups and tribes? And then: what is it that shapes an individual’s preferences? What is their personality profile on Ocean/Big Five, their cognitive worldview?

Every brief is going to require those three elements, but historically we’ve only really looked at one (and even then we haven’t gone very deep on that cultural piece; it’s been more about explicit responses). Now, we’re going to look at all of those things through the lens of what we are and how we can get more honest responses.

Simon Collister, director of the Human Understanding Lab, Unlimited: human understanding as a centrifugal force

Marketing and brand experience in the early 21st century are so complex; media is so fragmented; attention is so fragile that the only way to build successful marketing or advertising or comms strategies is to understand exactly what is making the consumer tick.

At the heart of that is to really understand that human, so all briefs will start with insights – regardless of whether it’s comms, advertising or digital. Really digging deep into the person, and building everything around that, is the way forward.

The function of human understanding has to gravitate towards the center of the business. It has to be the guiding north star for everything the agency does.

Emily Saunder-Madden, senior researcher, DRPG: audience understanding, at every pricepoint

What we’re going to have to do is work out how to scale all of this to every single client and every single business, whether they have $5k through to $5m. Whatever they’re looking to do, the audience understanding has to be the crux – whether it’s full-on neuroscience, because they’ve got the budget to do that, or whether it’s the insight that is available purely through digital listening, because that’s what the budget dictates. As long as we can apply it to everybody and everything, it will become so integral that people just can’t move without it.

Nina Brakel-Schutt, director of strategy and planning, The MX Group: the rise of intent and sentiment data

The customer journey is going to become more and more important, because of post-pandemic experiences in the market, and changing businesses and people understanding the value of the brand more than ever.

So intent data: what is the intent of customers as they go through the journey? And sentiment data: how are they feeling, and why, at every moment in the journey?

Where are you able to find those moments of truth that are going to translate into meaningful things that evolve into briefs and campaigns that are successful? We’re going to see intent data and sentiment data within the journey becoming more and more important as time goes on.

Laura Morris, director/joint head of brand and advertising, Trinity McQueen: the new talents

Things are going to get more complex as we access more and more data points at speed. It’ll be about having talent and ways to cut through that complexity, and make the complex simple.

I’m heartened by the talent that we have coming into the industry. We’re having people who are switching out of other careers; we’re having more and more young people with a psychology background, or who have studied behavioral science. If you want to understand marketing, don’t do a marketing degree. Do a psychology degree, or do a behavioral economics degree.

Fundamentally, understand humans. That should be your starting point. That’s going to take us to a better place.

Shelley Pisarra, executive vice-president (New York City), Wasserman: embracing the utopian possibilities of new experiences

The connection between the culture on the individual will continue to tighten up in our need to figure out what in the cultural is becoming the new context for the individual.

Look at what’s happening in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR); look at people’s frames of reference. Where are they spending their time? What’s their frame of reference; their own utopia? What do they see as their future ability to be themselves in a world that’s literally being created on a daily basis?

A lot of people aren’t experiencing it yet, but it’s there. And there’s delight in that, especially for folks who struggle in the world today. Finding a way to carry that context through, no matter the plane that someone is operating from, is going to be a big challenge. Also, to not jump the gun and go overboard – you’ll lose the masses. Getting those answers right will be important to us. Connecting culture to the individual even tighter so that we have that sharp context will be key.

Angela Seits, head of strategic planning and insights, PMG: humans after all

What makes me feel really optimistic about the future is that, now, the only way to really succeed in advertising is to stop treating people like consumers and start treating them like humans. In this cookieless future that we’re moving into, we’re moving away from some of the data signals that we had in the past. We’ll see more of a resurgence of qualitative research methods, really treating that as true data and gathering it alongside quantitative to have a deeper understanding of human motivations, even as our world gets more complex, to really start to center humans again.

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Wasserman

Wasserman is a global sports, entertainment, and lifestyle marketing agency with expertise in creating connections between brands, properties, talent, and consumers.

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Ogilvy UK

Ogilvy is all about depth and breadth - we have London's broadest and deepest skillset in communications our award-winning teams work fluidly across our core capabilities Advertising Brand & Content, Experience, PR and Influence. And we have the UK's largest dedicated team of award-winning behavioural scientists in-house.

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PMG

PMG is a global independent digital company that seeks to inspire people and brands that anything is possible. Driven by shared success, PMG uses strategy, creative, media, and insights, as well as its proprietary marketing intelligence platform Alli, to deliver Digital Made for Humans™. Our team is made up of over 500 employees globally, and our work for brands like Apple, Athleta, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Kohler, McDonald’s, Nike, Old Navy, Sephora and Shake Shack runs across 85+ countries and has received top industry recognition from Cannes Lions to Adweek Media Plan of the Year.Ranked by Deloitte, Inc., Entrepreneur, and Adweek as one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation, PMG has grown because of its commitment to continuous improvement, business integrity, cultivating dynamic relationships, and putting people first. Named 7X Ad Age's Best Places to Work, 3X Best Places for Working Parents, and among Fast Company's Best Workplaces for Innovators, PMG has also been named Adweek's Breakthrough Media Agency of the Year and MediaPost's Independent Agency of the Year.

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UNLIMITED

We are UNLIMITED. A fully integrated agency group with Human Understanding at the heart.

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DRPG

DRPG is one of the longest established, trusted and uniquely integrated communication and production specialists, famous for making anything possible as we connect people, build brands and help grow organisations worldwide.

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The Mx Group

The Mx Group is the second largest independent, integrated B2B marketing agency in the U.S. Our mission is to impact the marketplace for companies that impact the world. For over 30 years, we’ve created meaningful end-to-end buying experiences for B2B brands. Our clients are leaders and innovators in energy, utilities, manufacturing, hospitality, automotive, health care, technology and SaaS who rely on our expertise to influence and grow their businesses. Our relationships with our clients and people are why B2B Marketing recognized us as Agency of the Year. Our headquarters are in Chicago, but our reach is global. Whether a client is an established or startup B2B brand, we have the people and perspective to be a strong partner that makes a difference.

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Trinity McQueen

Our belief is that people are poor witnesses of their own behaviour. This informs everything we do, making our findings more insightful and powerful. The way we retrieve and interpret our data, we are never misled. We uncover a truer story and help make the right decision an easy one. Winners and finalists of the prestigious MRS and AURA national awards for the last 10 years.

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