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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
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? 

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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 price point 

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.

This article was written by Sam Anderson from The Drum and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]


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