CMO’s Notebook: Emerging Tech Frees ‘Insights People To Think’

Execs at IIeX 2016 called for customer-centricity, using mobile for research purposes, and taking sci-fi-like risks.

CMO’s Notebook: Emerging Tech Frees ‘Insights People To Think’ was once again in attendance at the fourth annual IIeX 2016 global conference, held in Atlanta, where more than 200 marquee speakers delivered 142 TED-like talks to 800-plus attendees hailing from research houses, Fortune 500 companies, and technology providers. caught up with IIeX chairman and executive producer Leonard “Lenny” Murphy, who is also the editor-in-chief of several GreenBook publications. In addition, he is senior partner at strategic consultancy Gen2 Advisors, is involved with the Advertising Research Foundation and New York American Marketing Association, and serves on the boards of several companies and universities. Since we talked at IIeX 2015, we’ve seen commercialization of the IoT accelerate and new tech, like virtual reality, explode. As a result, what are the key changes and breakthroughs you’ve seen in the consumer and brand insights field in the past year, and what are the implications for CMOs?

Murphy: First is the drive toward automation and using algorithms, where researchers are rethinking what a machine can do versus what a human can do, such as being able to streamline processes like blockchain, to reduce costs, improve efficiency, automate the mundane, repetitive, nonvalue-adding work from humans and give that work to machines, and get improved data. These are early stages of AI and machine learning. This frees up research and insights people to think, and therefore to deliver greater value to clients.

Brand clients love automation because automation enables them to shift their budgets to higher value work. If a brand marketer can get 80% of the value for 20% of the research cost, why would they not move to automation?

One outgrowth of the move to automation is that we are seeing traditional research firms now build professional services practices. On the client side, we heard this morning the global director of consumer insights at Harley-Davidson tell the audience, “Don’t come to me unless you can offer me thinking and thought-ware, something different yet relevant. I don’t want to buy tools and commodity services.”

Second, in the past 12 months we have seen brands massively accelerate their adoption of new enabling tech for research, like using mobile to gather insights; for example, moving from the traditional 30-minute brand tracker done on a PC and shifting to a five-minute mobile survey is a big deal. In a keynote from Research Now, we heard that in the past 12 months, more research is now being done on mobiles then on PCs.

Third, the IoT world that we now live in will continue to further enable researchers to ask questions. As you link this at an individual consumer level, we will be able to deliver things to consumers before they even know they need it—think “Minority Report.” IoT will allow us to ask even more relevant questions and to also deliver value when we are talking with consumers. IoT, along with brand algorithms, will allow us to fill in information gaps at a scaled, personalized level. I also believe VR will be the next computing platform that will deliver new benefits for insights. What are your calls to action to CMOs and their teams?

Murphy: First, become customer-centric. Importantly, you need to understand the “why.” We will be focusing more on nonconscious measurement, neuroscience. You need to understand the levers and switches that happen in our bodies and brains that prompt our decision making and choices at an unconscious level. Behavioral science has proved that humans are not rational decision makers. Humans use emotion to make most decisions, and emotions happen in microseconds. We need to learn how to capture these biological signals.

So my second call to action is to invest in and experiment with new tech to figure out how it can improve insights gathering and implications application.

Third, think about foresight. Predict behavior.

Lastly, even with all of this new technology, don’t lose or ignore your intuition. Tech won’t solve all of your issues. Get out of your silo and look at things holistically and contextually. Look at the human experience. Look for patterns. This is the future. also spoke to Ari Popper, founder and CEO of SciFutures, who delivered the opening keynote, “Science Faction: Tomorrowland Is Here Now.” Popper is also one of the contributing writers of “SciFutures Presents The City of the Future.” Ari, tell us more what SciFutures does and about your background.

Popper: My background is in market research and consumer insights. I’ve always enjoyed science fiction, and I write sci-fi as well. I got the idea in 2012, during a UCLA science-fiction writing class, that I could combine my consumer insights and science-fiction passions to create a new business tool to help companies better imagine their futures. I considered how we can use data to tell stories about the future. So for the past four years I’ve been building SciFutures, an innovation company, where a team of strategists, futurists, creatives, engineers, developers, producers, and 100 published sci-fi writers imagine futures and write stories using consumer insights, data, science, and emerging breakthrough trends. We then workshop these stories with our clients … and help them take action on these stories. You opened your keynote with this slide saying we live in an “Exponential Age.” What do you mean by this?

Popper: When we talk with CMOs and CEOs, they tell us that the world is being disrupted and changing so quickly that they can’t keep up with all of that change. This is what I mean by the “Exponential Age.” There are companies that are leveraging the power of the times we live in and harnessing emerging tech. Think Tesla, Uber, Airbnb, Square, Nest, Spotify. These types of companies are on the exponential curve.

To put the rapid change we are living in into perspective, I love the quote by author Thomas Friedman: “When I sat down to write ‘The World is Flat’ in 2004, Facebook didn’t exist, Twitter was still a sound, the cloud was still in the sky, 4G was a parking place, LinkedIn was a prison, applications were what you sent to college, and Skype was a typo. That all happened in six years.” What are the implications for CMOs, and what are your calls to action to them and their teams?

Popper: CMOs need to take more risks. They need to create a culture of trying the impossible audacious projects. Even if you don’t reach the goal, the learning will be incredibly valuable, and it will pull you along. They need to stretch their teams. Carve out a sandpit to take risks and fail forward.

I’ve learned that there is a lot of passion inside organizations—people with great ideas begging to be released. These are smart, maverick individuals who are excited about the future and embrace disruption. They are begging for an outlet. Give it to them.

Finally, think about this quote from Google co-founder Sergey Brin: “If what you are doing is not seen by some people as science fiction, it’s probably not transformative enough.”