It feels like it’s time for a bit of a fresh start
Market researchers are anxiously looking over their shoulders at data scientists. Qualitative practitioners are hotly disputing the value of neuroscience. Media buyers and programmatic algorithms are competing for budgets. Econometricians are trying to elbow planners aside.
It feels as if everyone is defending their specialism as the only true path because they are desperate to hang on to their income. The long term future of marketing as an industry will be best served by remembering that we are here to facilitate markets. That is to say to allow sellers and buyers to come together in ways which maximise the interests of both.
With the growth in technology and the ability to reach people at more times and in more places and through more devices and with the massive growth in analysis power we are able to ‘target’ more efficiently. It therefore feels as if the power has swung towards the seller. That is only an illusion; because with power comes responsibility – the responsibility not to bombard buyers into submission with too many poorly thought out communications. Because that same technology in the hands of the buyers gives them the power to exclude marketing from their lives.
We need to remind ourselves what we have always known, but often forget in the excitement of new things: marketing is about understanding why people do things and predicting what they will do or what they will want next. It was well said that ‘we must make what sells and not sell what we make’.
And if we are to do that then ‘insight’ in its broadest possible definition will play a key role. The Behavioural Economics movement has played a vital part in reminding us that what people say is not always reflective of what they are thinking are rarely predictive of what they will do. So it is essential that we include behavioural metrics within our thinking. But behavioural analysis must lead us to better understanding and not merely to automated actions.
Human beings are complicated. We should not assume that one way of looking at them will give us all the answers. We need to start an intelligent debate between all the ways we have to understand people. Our best chance of improving the quality and speed of insight is to bring together quantitative and qualitative research with the analysis power of data scientists; we need to harness the skills of planners and futurists, neuroscientists and behavioural economists; we need to exploit econometrics as well as ethnography.
In short we need to start thinking cooperatively rather than competitively if we are to stand the best chance of making both buyers and sellers happy. We have more tools than ever to make the job of understanding the ‘what?, the ‘so what?’ and the ‘what next?’ more possible. Making sure that we are selling what people want to buy in the way they want to buy it is the best recipe for long term commercial success all round.