Coca-Cola Research Boss Bets On Passive Listening Over Response, Social Media Over Surveys


‘Research Insighter’ Interview Probes Call to Reinvent or Face Irrelevance

By Marc Dresner, IIR USA

Stan Sthanunathan believes market research’both as a profession and as an industry’may be on a collision course of potentially Titanic proportions with an iceberg called change, and he’s urging all hands on deck to help turn the ship around.

‘We all must accept one truth in life: Change is not optional, but acting or not acting is a choice we make’We either act or we will become irrelevant and maybe even perish,’ Sthanunathan said.

Coca-Cola’s global head of marketing strategy and insights has never been one to mince words or shy away from controversy, and his views may be unsettling in some research quarters.

In this exclusive podcast interview for ‘The Research Insighter’ series, Sthanunathan argues the industry urgently ‘needs to reinvent who we are, what we stand for and how we add value to business’ or risk losing out to a rising class of non-traditional competitors that will include the Facebooks and Googles of the world.

He predicts conventional response-based research will ‘probably be irrelevant in the next decade’ and that ‘social media services could potentially become the biggest insights generators in the industry.’

And, Sthanunathan pointed out, these emerging competitors have an advantage over traditional research providers and most client-side departments when it comes to attracting talent: They’re willing to pay more for a more diverse range of skill sets within a culture that encourages experimentation and provides the freedom to fail forward.

How can researchers compete in this environment?

Sthanunathan insists the time has come to focus on next practices’not best practices.

‘No driver has reached their destination by looking through the rearview mirror in a car,’ he observed.

‘If you focus on consumer insights, you will develop consumerist strategies,’ Sthanunathan said. ‘But if you focus on understanding the human condition, then you will understand people’s lives in totality and, therefore, probably have a much better chance of coming up with breakthrough ideas.’

Listen to the interview here.

Read the transcript here.

Editor’s note: If you’re intrigued by the issues raised in this podcast, you won’t want to miss TMRE 2011, because this year’s conference theme is ‘Leading in a New Direction: Revolutionizing an Industry in an Era of Transformation.’

For information or to register for The Market Research Event 2011, taking place November 7-9 in Orlando, Florida, please visit TheMarketResearchEvent.com.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR/INTERVIEWER
Marc Dresner is an IIR USA communication lead with a background in trade journalism and marketing. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the marketing research and consumer insights industry. He may be reached at mdresner@iirusa.com. Follow him @mdrezz.