Tag Archives: market research

Here Comes Gen Z: 10 Keys to Understanding Them

According to Open Mind Strategy
research, these are the top things to know about the new kids on the block Gen
1. Huge
Gen Zs make up more than
a third of the world’s population and comprise nearly a quarter of the US
population ‘ bigger than both Millennials and Baby Boomers ‘ and still being
2. The most diverse
generation ever
Gen Z will be the last
majority-White generation born in the United States. Already the white majority
is holding on by a thread, only 51% of Gen Z born into non-Hispanic White
This generation’s
diversity also extends to their sexuality and gender identity. More than
one-third of Gen Zs self-identify as bisexual to some degree; more than half
know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns.
3. They idolize
Influencers, not Celebrities
Most dedicate more time
to YouTube than any other social site and their view of celebrities isn’t limited
to movie stars and musicians, note the billions of views racked up by YouTube
stars RayWilliamJohnson and PewDiePie. They want to emulate self-made
Influencers who are just like them.
4. A plan to get paid
While Gen Zs are
certainly passion-driven, if they know their passions won’t lead to financial
stability, they have a plan for something that will. In everything from
entrepreneurship to sports, kids and teens are finding places to excel early
and focus their efforts in hopes of a payoff.
5. Having safe fun
Gen Zs are still
teenagers! They want to have a good time, but they don’t want to negatively
impact the successful future they are working to build. The teen pregnancy and
birth rate are at historic lows, as is the usage of cigarettes and heroin among
6. Caring about ‘cool’
Gen Z is snarky and very
image aware. With the ever-growing influence of social media, there is a
palpable return of ‘cool kids’ and ‘losers’ among Gen Z. They will quickly take
down a post that doesn’t receive enough likes for fear of someone seeing its
lack of attention.
7. Don’t share
everything online
Gen Z takes a crafted
and curated approach to posts. They are more aware of who they are sharing
their lives with and how it affects their identity, which is why platforms like
Snapchat are so appealing. They saw the devastating effects party pics had on
their sibling’s scholarship or job offer.
8. No Mo ‘Beta Boys’
Gen Z boys want to be
taken more seriously. To them, girls are certainly equal, but not better.
Gen Z boys want in on the partnership by taking themselves a bit more seriously
in school, work and relationships, but also embracing their sensitive side.
9. Mostly cynical
Gen Zs have realistic
expectations and are skeptical that the world will work in their favor. More
than eight in 10 Gen Zs were born after September 11. Growing up, conflicts
over issues like the economy, gun violence and climate change, have been
common. As a result, these teens have developed a valid claim to cynicism.
10. Still KIDS!
This generation is just
beginning to come of age, and as uptight as they may seem, they’re still kids
who haven’t quite figured it all out yet. They’re working hard and taking
themselves seriously, but they are still silly, young, fun and undeclared.
Open Mind Strategy, LLC, is a research and
brand strategy firm founded by Robin Hafitz, in 2010, with the mission of
providing ‘more human intelligence.’ OMS
(http://www.openmindstrategy.com/) provides
insight services, including qualitative and quantitative research, brand
studies, show and message testing, segmentation, and customized inquiries, as
well as strategic brand consulting and educational workshops. The O
team is proud to have worked with leading clients, such as A&E Networks,
AMC, Amazon, Clear Channel, Cond?? Nast, Gannett, Kao Brands, MTV, NBCUniversal,
Scripps Networks, Unilever, USA Today, Yahoo!, and many more.

Online Ad Effectiveness Research Grows Up

 This article is
brought to you by Survata.

The days of giving
digital a pass are over. It’s time to grow up.’- Marc
Pritchard, Chief Branding Officer, Procter & Gamble, January 2017
When the CBO of P&G tells us to grow up,
we listen. And after speaking with clients at last month’s Media Insights
Conference, it’s clear that there’s consensus: online advertising research
needs to get more sophisticated.
We’re here to help. IAB breaks research down into phases: design, recruitment & deployment, and
optimization. We’ll walk through each phase and determine what’s most in need
of ‘growing up.’ We’ll also include questions to ask your research partner to
help increase the sophistication of your ad effectiveness research.

Let’s start by acknowledging that
statistically sound online ad effectiveness research has not been easy to
implement at reasonable cost until recently. As IAB notes, ‘Questions around recruitment, sample bias and deployment are
hampering the validity of this research and undermining the industry as a
Just because perfect research design is
challenging to achieve doesn’t mean that advertisers should settle for studies
with debilitating flaws, leading to biased, unreliable results. In addition to
challenges inherent to good research design, most ad effectiveness research
partners have systematic biases due to the way they find respondents, which
must be accounted for in the design phase. There has been innovation in this
space within the past year using technology to reduce or eliminate systematic
bias in respondent recruitment. 
Assuming you’re able to address the systematic
bias of your research partner’s sampling, the major remaining challenge is how
you approach the control group. At Survata, we think about this as a hierarchy: 
Using a holdout group is best practice, but
implementing it requires spending some portion of your ad budget strictly on
the control group. In other words, some of your ad budget will be spent on
intentionally NOT showing people an ad. A small portion of people in the ad buy
will instead be shown public service announcements to establish the control
group. We love the purity of this approach, but we also understand the reality
of advertising budgets. We don’t view holdout as a requirement for sound online
ad effectiveness research. Smart design combined with technology can achieve
methodologically sound control groups without ‘wasting’ ad budget.
Along those lines, the Audience Segment
approach has become de facto best practice for many of our clients. Basically,
you create your control group from the same audience segment that you’re
targeting in the ad buy. This isn’t perfect, as there could be an underlying
reason that some people in the segment saw the ad but others didn’t (e.g., some
people very rarely go online, or to very few websites), but it’s still an excellent
approach. It’s the grown-up version of Demographic Matching.
Demographic Matching, in which the control
group is created by matching as many demographic variables as possible with the
exposed group (e.g., gender, age, income), is still a very common strategy.
It’s straightforward to accomplish even using old online research
methodologies. As online data has allowed us to learn far more useful
information about consumers than demographic traits, this approach is dated.
Simply sampling GenPop as a control is
undesirable. The results are much more likely to reveal the differences between
the exposed and control groups than the effectiveness of the advertising.
Questions for your research partner:
  • What are known biases among
    respondents due to recruitment strategy?
  • What is your total reach? What
    percentage of the target group is within your reach? Is it necessary to
    weight low-IR population respondents due to lack of scale?
  • What’s your approach to creating
    control groups for online ad effectiveness research?
  • For Demographic Matching, how do
    you determine which demographic characteristics are most important to
  • How do you accomplish Audience
    Segment matching?
Recruitment/ Deployment

Historically, there were four methods to recruit respondents / deploy the
survey: panels, intercepts, in-banner, or email list. To stomach these
methodologies, researchers had to ignore one of the following flaws:
non-response bias, misrepresentation, interruption of the customer experience
or email list atrophy. In our view, these methodologies are now dated since the
advent of the publisher network methodology.

The publisher network works by offering
consumers content, ad-free browsing, or other benefits (e.g. free Wi-Fi) in
exchange for taking a survey. The survey is completed as an alternative to
paying for the content or service after the consumer organically visits the
publisher. In addition to avoiding the flaws of the old methodologies, the
publisher network model provides dramatically increased accuracy, scale, and speed.
Questions for your research partner:
  • What incentives are offered in
    exchange for respondent participation?
  • What are the attitudinal,
    behavioral, and demographic differences between someone willing to be in a
    panel versus someone not interested in being in a panel?
  • What are the attitudinal,
    behavioral, and demographic differences between someone willing to take a
    site intercept survey versus someone not interested in taking a site
    intercept survey?
  • How much does non-response bias
    affect the data?
  • Are you integrated with the
    client’s DMP?
  • How long to get the survey into
    the field, and how long until completed?
  • How does the vendor ensure that
    exposure bias doesn’t occur?
  • How does the vendor account for
    straight-liners, speeders, and other typical data quality issues?

An optimal ad effectiveness campaign returns results quickly, so that immediate
and continuous adjustments can be made to replace poorly performing creative,
targeting, and placements with higher performing ones. We call this real-time
spend allocation. It’s analogous to real-time click-through rate optimization,
as it relies on solutions to the same math problem (known as the multi-armed bandit).

By integrating with DMPs, ad effectiveness
research can be cross-tabbed against even more datasets. The results will yield
additional insights about a company’s existing customers.
Questions for your research partner:
  • Are results reported real-time?
  • How much advertising budget is
    wasted due to non-optimization?
  • How can DMP data be incorporated
    to improve ad research?

Flawed research methodologies can’t grow up,
they can only continue to lower prices for increasingly suspect data. For
online ad effectiveness research to grow up, new methodologies must be adopted.

To learn more about
conducting your own ad effectiveness study, visit Survata

Must See Talks from KNect365′s Spring Insights 2017 Events

From former gang leaders, to cyborg anthropologists, to
biomimicry experts- KNect365′s Must See Talks will challenge you to look at
problems in a whole new way and become an ignitor of change for your organization.
‘The Centrality of a Detailed Understanding of your
Audience’ ‘ Haile Owusu, Chief Data Scientist, Mashable
Marketing Analytics & Data Science
April 3-5, 2017
San Francisco, CA
Use code MADS17LI for $100 off.
Buy tickets to see Haile: https://goo.gl/YqXZdx
‘The Consumer Influence ‘ and Impact ‘ of Virtual
Reality’ ‘ Jeremy Bailenson, Founding Director of Stanford University’s Virtual
Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University
TMRE in Focus
May 1-3, 2017
Chicago, IL
Use code FOCUS17LI for $100 off.
Buy tickets to see Jeremy: https://goo.gl/c2UdIv
‘Originals: How Non-Conformists Rule the World’ ‘ Adam
Grant, Professor, Author of Give and Take and Originals at The Wharton School
of Business at the University of Pennsylvania
June 20-22, 2017
Minneapolis, MN
Use code OMNI17LI for $100 off.
Buy tickets to see Adam: https://goo.gl/oUB85g
‘Underdogs, Misfits
& the Art of Battling Giants’ ‘ Malcom Gladwell, Best-Selling Author of
Outliers, The Tipping Point and David & Goliath
TMRE: The Market Research Event
October 22-25, 2017
Orlando, FL
Use code TMRE17LI for $100 off.
Buy tickets to see
We hope to see you this

The KNect 365 Event Team

The OmniShopper 2017 Full Keynote Lineup

You’ve already heard about some of the biggest changes we’ve
made to OmniShopper for 2017 ‘ moving the
event to June, away from your summer vacations and changing the location to
Minneapolis, home of the Mall of America, the retail mecca.
But, what you may not have heard about yet is the FULL
keynote lineup ‘ it’s completely different from what you’ve seen before.
Covering everything from marketing in the Trump era, the future of retail, the
human side of selling, data informed design and more:
Originals: How Non-Conformists Rule the World
Adam Grant, Professor, The Wharton School of Business at the University of
Pennsylvania, Author, Give and Take and Originals
Marketing in the Trump Age: New Rules for a New
Peter Horst, Former Chief Marketing Officer, The Hershey Company
Digital Humanism & Recoding Culture: Moving
Toward the End of Demographics, Evolution of
Psychographics and the Rise of the Individual
Edwin Wong, VP Research & Insights, Buzzfeed
CX Sells: How to Win with the Human Side of
Selling at Brick & Mortar
Bridget Brennan, CEO, Female Factor, Author, Why She Buys
Moments Matter… Make Yours Iconic
Soon Yu, Former Global Vice President of Innovation, VF Corp, Author, Iconic
Data Informed Design: How the Evolution of Data
Science Has Permeated into Product Vision & Design
Charlie Burgoyne, Principal Director of Data Science, Frog Design
Winning in Her Purse: How the Rise of Technology
has Caused Far-Reaching Disruption Even in the Most Ubiquitous Fashion and Life
Kelley Styring, Principal, InsightFarm
Panel: Shaping the Future of Retail with
Science, Technology & Consumers
Lakshmi Venkataramani, Senior Director,
Customer Insights & Analytics, Walmart eCommerce
J Lynn Martinez, Vice President & Team
Lead Kroger, Dr Pepper Snapple Group
Dr. Duane Varan, Chief Executive Officer,
View the OmniShopper
agenda for full session details:
Use exclusive
LinkedIn discount code OMNI17BL for $100 off the current rate:
Subscribe to our monthly insights newsletter, The Insighter:
We hope to see you in Minneapolis!
The OmniShopper Team


Image Recognition and the Future of Digital Analytics

This post was originally
on Kelton Global’s Blog.

The days of text-centric social feeds are officially long
gone. A whopping 1.8 billion images are uploaded to the Internet daily
and of those, 350 million are shared on Facebook. Instagram recently
surpassed 500 million active users, and Snapchat now has more active users than Twitter. The content that flows
into our social feeds is more heavily optimized than ever to deliver more of
what people want’less text and more visuals.
Brands have adapted their social content strategies
accordingly by delivering more visually immersive experiences. And while we’re
seeing significant shifts in branded content, this influx of visual content has
yet to herald a commensurate change in social analytics. Accordingly, few gains
have been made to measure and derive insights from the contents of images or
video. Social listening has historically focused on the challenges of text-based
analysis’specifically, the challenge of determining the context and meaning
behind posts. But as social media habits evolve, it’s clear that deriving
insights from pictures is an increasingly important aspect of understanding
consumers. That’s where image recognition comes into play.
Brands have adapted
their social content strategies accordingly by delivering more visually
immersive experiences.

Simply put, image recognition is the process of translating
images to data. Photos and images can reveal a wealth of data
points’demographics, purchases, personalities, and behaviors (just to name a
few). Through next generation image recognition, a mere selfie may reveal a
person’s gender, approximate age, location disposition, and even the clothing
brands that the person is wearing. As text-centric media takes a backseat to
image and video, the opportunity to understand the contents of these formats
grows. These insights represent a veritable treasure trove of actionable data
for brands.
Tools that analyze image and video-based content are still
in development, but increased investment in research is already impacting
commercial products and how they’re advertised. One example is brand logo
recognition’scanning images for brand logos, and flagging them with the
corresponding brand names. This tool is especially powerful considering that 80% of photos shared online depict a brand logo but don’t
explicitly call out the brand’s name.
 This fact points to a sizable
opportunity for companies to measure and understand the impact of these formerly
inaccessible data points.
Photos and images can
reveal a wealth of data points’demographics, purchases, personalities, and
behaviors (just to name a few).

As an example of how this applies to brands, Kelton’s
Digital Analytics team took a look at the scores of backyard BBQ photos that
flooded public forums, blogs, and social feeds over the recent 4th of July
holiday. We experimented to see which of two quintessentially American beverage
brands’Coca-Cola and Budweiser’netted more published images of
patriotically-themed bottles and cans (as well as other forms of branding) on
social media.

In the end, Coca-Cola branding was twice as prominent as
Budweiser’s. We found that Coke bottles and cans popped up in more diverse
settings such as public parks and inside motor vehicles, whereas Budweiser was
predominantly found in bars and house parties. Coke also aroused greater
sentiment around the theme of Americana, as many consumers
photographed vintage Coca-Cola gear and opted for bottles over cans. This might
explain why Coke captured a significantly greater share of social mentions than
This example illustrates several ways that brands can
leverage image recognition technology to build actionable insights:
Ethnographic data ‘ Identify where, when
and how often brands are showing up in people’s lives.
Updated brand health analysis ‘ We now have
a more comprehensive point of view of brands’ online footprint.
Sponsorship and Branding ROI ‘ Extend the
value of branding and sponsorships shared via online news, blogs and social
media through a multiplier effect.
Influencer identification ‘ Find authentic
brand advocates who consume and spotlight your merchandise.
Misuse use of brand iconography ‘ Surface
content that depicts improper usage of brand’s logo or other creative assets.

In today’s ever-shifting social media landscape, it’s never
been more important for brands and their partners to stay aware of the new and
emerging capabilities that can help better understand consumers’ behavior
online. Image recognition is just the beginning. From AI startups to instant
objection recognition devices
, the mobilization and fusion of research,
tech, and capital is quickly reshaping the way we think about analytics. These
new tools will add even more contextual understanding to sentiment on social
platforms, empowering brands to understand consumers like never before.

Marketers and the Future of DMP Insights

By: Hannah Chapple
Advertisers, agencies, and publishers are swimming in data.
They have so many data points, from a variety of sources, that they are simply
overwhelmed by it all. Website (cookie data), social data, CRM data, you name
it, and they’ve likely got it. Sorting all of this data from various (often
siloed) sources, in a timely and efficient manner is a near impossible human
We all know that the role of a marketer is to reach the
right consumer, at the right time, with the right message. But to do this
effectively, marketers are challenged with interpreting their mass amounts
of data and uncovering actionable insight, at speed and scale.
Interpreting mass
amounts of data is no easy feat.
As the demand for digital marketing and
programmatic/real-time ad buying rises, marketers face more pressure than ever
to target audiences faster, and with laser-precise, data-driven insights. We
know that consumers will only respond to the messages that speak to their
interests, passions, wants, and needs. And in the world of real-time bidding,
technologies only have milliseconds to get that messaging right. And guess
what? These messages cannot be crafted with broad categorization methods like
demographics alone. Demographics as a stand alone are limiting and tell you
nothing about what an individual is interested in, passionate about, or value.
To fill this gap, we have seen marketers seek more and more
data resources. That’s why we see marketers not only trying to make sense of
their first-party data but also second party data (from partners) and purchased
third-party data. Can you understand why marketers are swimming in data? It’s
a vicious cycle. So again, we arrive at our original problem: how can
marketers turn mass amounts of data into actionable insight, at speed and scale?
Are DMP’s the magic
solution in the advertising ecosystem?
To better target potential consumers, many advertisers rely
on Data Management Platforms (DMP’s) to collect their mass amounts of disparate
audience data (including the first, second, and third-party data we spoke
about) and interpret it. In short, DMP’s are cloud-based warehouses used to
generate an audience segment(s) based on patterns and trends set within defined
parameters. The goal, of course, is to deliver high-quality, accurate audience
segments to marketers, and all other players in the advertising ecosystem, like
DSP’s. When placed into action, these audience segments (generated by the DMP)
should result in smarter optimized ads, efficient media spend, and less ad
waste. But is this actually the case?
Marketers are sitting on a wealth of data, with a goldmine
of potential insights to derive from that data. That’s why more and more
companies are investing in DMP’s for their business and are hiring
highly-qualified, expensive professionals to manage them. However, while DMP’s
are used to extract insights, there is still a lot of wasted potential in these
Here’s a quick DMP lesson: DMP’s operate on a ‘hypothesis’
basis. DMP users must set conditions or a query to break down the data sources
and form a specific audience segment they want. For a DMP to work properly
(with speed and accuracy) and know what data to segment or pair, a DMP user
must understand many factors including media, marketing, analytics and of
course data. The DMP will then do its best to match data and form an actionable
audience segment for the marketer to leverage.
For example, a marketer could leverage behavioural cookie
data to build an audience of males in Nova Scotia, over 30 who browsed a car
website on their mobile device. This audience can then be used for ad-buying,
media placement, etc. 
But marketers don’t
know, what they don’t know.
But what does this marketer really know about this audience?
What are their interests and passions, outside of cars, and how can they be
determined? This is why, despite the integration of DMP’s, marketers still
aren’t getting it right. While automated, there is still a human error in how
DMP’s select which data to process and interpret.
Don’t get me wrong; there is incredible value in DMP’s but
there is also an incredible opportunity present. Ultimately, the goal of
leveraging a DMP is to provide a personalized consumer experience by relating
to their interests and behaviours. But marketers are only grasping at the data
that they are currently able to understand. Like I said, DMP’s operate on a
hypothesis basis, contingent on the user’s understanding of the data.
We, as marketers, haven’t even scraped the surface of what
is possible with DMP data. Marketers need a solution that looks beyond
predetermined hypothesis and attributes. Instead, we need a solution that
interprets unsupervised data and can discover the hidden relations and insights
within audiences that marketers don’t yet know.
How do you foresee 2017 shaping up? How will DMP’s evolve?
Share what you think down below: [Read
more on the Affinio blog]

About the Author: Hannah
Chapple is the Marketing & Content Coordinator at Affinio, the marketing
intelligence platform. Hannah holds a Bachelor of Business Administration with
a major in Marketing from the F.C. Manning School of Business at Acadia

Sleep Loss in Teens Linked to Social Media

by Yamilex Batista

In this generation, teenagers are becoming so addicted and
obsessed with social media that it can potentially affect their ability to
focus in school. Instead of getting nine hours of sleep, most teenagers
dedicate their time to use social media during the night.
According to a recent article in Media Post, ‘Sleep
Loss in Teens Linked to Social Media
,’ a survey from the Wales Institute
for social & Economic Research revealed that one-fifth of 900 students,
ages 12 to 15 years old, reported to ‘almost always’ waking up during the
night. Moreover, the study found that teenage females were more likely to use
social media more often than teenage males during the night time. This
emphasizes that teenagers are developing a sleep disorder because of
uncontrollable social media use. As a result of this sleepless pattern,
students tend to feel tired and less motivated during class time, which negatively
affects their academic performance.
The article also links social media to sleep disruption by
referring to the study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
However, this survey aimed to target adults ages 19 to 32 within the United
States instead of middle school teenagers. Out of 1,788 adults surveyed in the
study about 30% pointed out to experience sleep disturbance. The study also
pointed out that adults who were constantly using social media tended to feel
three times more tired, compared to adults who use social media at a lower
However, studies in an article from the Medical Daily, ‘Sleep
and Social Media: New Study Finds Link Between Facebook Use and Lack of Sleep
aim to indicate people tend to check social media late at night as a result of
a previous sleep disturbance. The research demonstrated that sleep disruption does
not arise from social media use during the night. The study revealed that the
use of social media during the night is increasing because students tend to use
it to control their disrupted sleep schedules. Students believe that using
Facebook during the night might help them fall asleep faster. At the same time,
students developed the habit of constantly checking social media pages or
Facebook to stay informed and to relax their mind.
Overall, this research reveals one of the many outcomes and
factors contributing to uncontrollable social
use. Young people in the U.S. are devoted to spending most of their
time on social media, instead of focusing in school and the real-world
environment. High use of social media or Facebook can cause sleep disruption,
but at the same time, the lack of sleep can influence to the use of social
About the Author: Yamilex is currently a Marketing Intern at
Knect365 where she assists in social media research & management, blog
writing, and various marketing tasks. She is also a student at the Renaissance
Charter High School for Innovation. She hopes to attend the University
Pennsylvania or Boston College to major in communications with integrated

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with $200 Off an Insights Conference You Love!

Insights Community,
are red’
are blue’
Valentine’s Day’
here’s $200 off a conference just for you!
valued reader of our blog, in true Valentine’s Day
fashion, we want to share the love! So please take your pick of our 2017
conference lineup and take $100 off using the blog discount code, plus an
additional $100 just for Valentine’s Day:
1)      Marketing Analytics & Data Science
Data science and
marketing analytics are transforming every industry. There is a reason why it
is being called the sexiest job of the 21st century. Calling all professionals
that want to harness analytics and data science! Do you realize how critical
you are to the future of your organization?
April 3-5, 2017
San Francisco, CA
Use code
MADS17BL for an additional $100 off
Buy tickets: https://goo.gl/mqkbYk
2)      TMRE in Focus
Take Command of
Technologies Shaping the Future of Market Research. TMRE in Focus helps you
understand how technology can be used, together, with your traditional MR
skills, to deliver better insights, faster to your customers.
May 1-3, 2017
Chicago, IL
Use code
FOCUS17BL for an additional $100 off
Buy tickets: https://goo.gl/7lPOK5 

3)      OmniShopper
At OmniShopper
brand & retail leaders reveal the latest insights and activation strategies
to Dominate at Retail. It’s time to throw out the traditional shopper
“rule book” out the window. Hear from those who’ve mastered
end-to-end omnichannel strategies to deliver seamless shopper experiences.
June 20-22, 2017
Minneapolis, MN
Use code
OMNI17BL for an additional $100 off
Buy tickets: https://goo.gl/zO6nd4
4)      TMRE: The Market Research Event
Insights is under
pressure. Pressure to reduce cost. Pressure to cut timelines. Pressure to not
only produce numbers, but a story that can be sold into the business. TMRE
helps you exploit insights as a vehicle for influence. The best in the industry
will converge to talk technology, disruptive trends, professional skill
development, hot new sectors, and the future customer.
October 22-25, 2017
Use code
TMRE17BL for an additional $100 off
Buy tickets: https://goo.gl/lp4c1z
The KNect365
Marketing, Insights & Innovation Team

The Media Research Industry has More Opportunities Than Ever Before

Insights have become a vehicle for influencing marketing and
ultimately, the world. That’s why next in our Insights as a Vehicle for
Influence interview series, we sat down with Sam Ford, a media executive,
consultant, and research affiliate with MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing. In
our conversation, he shed some light on how the media industry has changed and
how media companies can do a better job at reaching the ‘new age’ consumer.
What is the state of
the media research industry in 2017?
Media research is in an interesting state at the moment. On
the one hand, there’s more to potentially research than ever before. Quantitatively,
there’s more to research than ever before, and organizations are finding new
ways to collect, synthesize, and make sense of all the data they are bringing
However, with that influx of data, there still remains a
certain surety in what it’s saying, without necessarily enough questioning of
whether we’re asking the right questions. I feel like we’ve spent a lot of time
in the media industries gathering the data that is easiest to gather, or that
feels the most similar to what we’ve always gathered, leading organizations to
continue to be driven by impressions-and-reach-based models, when they may
often not be serving the needs of media companies, advertisers, or audiences
all that well.
Meanwhile, there are more opportunities than ever to do
great qualitative research, from audience experience projects to netnography,
but organizations often have not prioritized/invested in these methods. Many
organizations are making deeper investments into digital research, but all too
often the teams aren’t connected in the ways they should be to maximize
effectiveness and minimize redundancy. And, most importantly of all, the sort
of pattern recognition most important for good insights work may not be
positioned in many media companies in a way that allows it to contribute all it
can. After all, gathering data, qualitative insights, benchmarking, and
thoughts about future trends are all only useful if there are ways all of this
is being synthesized, analyzed, and brought to the table for key decisions being
made across the organization.
What have been the
biggest changes in the industry since you started your career?
I’ve spent years on different sides of these questions. I
began my career as a journalist. For the past 12 years, I’ve tackled these
questions most consistently from an academic’s perspective, looking at these
questions from outside the day-to-day needs of a particular media organization.
I have spent many years consulting with big brands from a marketing and PR
standpoint. And I spent much of the past two years working at a media company
operating in the network television, cable television, digital publishing, and
digital video distribution spaces.
Across all those vantage points, I’ve seen an industry
weathering a prolonged period of massive change, largely by finding ways to
hold as closely as it can to an ongoing semblance of normalcy’which is to be
expected in an industry where businesses can never truly close up shop. We’ve
seen an acceptance that you can’t fight change throughout the media industries,
but it has come along with a desire to cling to the broadcast model.

Have the influx of
social media and mobile made your job easier or harder?
Media companies, and advertisers, used to have very few
methods to really understand and listen to their audiences. We have all sorts
of new methods to be able to do that now. So, rather than having to create
aggregate stand-ins like customer segmentation profiles for our audience, we
have more access to those real people than ever before.
However, with that overabundance of information, we’ve
strangely found ourselves in a similar position as when we didn’t have enough
information’relying too often on ways of understanding audiences that may not
be the most insightful. In this case, it’s what’s easiest to collect or feel
concrete about, in a world where the overabundance of potential information
gives us the feeling of chaos.
How has the media
consumer changed in the past few years?
I don’t suppose people have changed all that much, in the
sense that the way audiences are using technology often mirrors things people
have always wanted to do but couldn’t necessarily do so as easily, or’if they
did’happened in ways that media companies or advertisers couldn’t easily
detect. People want to keep media content. People want to share media content.
People want to talk back to media content. People like to have as much control
as they can over their choices. Now that those options are becoming easier,
viewers have to think even more deeply about how they want to engage with
different types of programming.
If I can watch a series at my own pace, what do I want that
pace to be? Do I watch different types of programming at different types of
paces? When do I want to engage more deeply with media content, versus when do
I want to engage more passively? As media organizations put more effort into
engaging active audiences, it leaves those audiences to think about when,
where, and how they want to participate.

How can media companies do a better job
reaching the new age consumer?
I think we are only scratching the surface of what we can do
to really resonate with audiences. Most importantly, I believe, is finding as
many ways as possible to put ourselves in the shoes of the audience members who
are coming to us on purpose. As we get away from reach metrics as the
cornerstone of our business models, it allows us to think about how we as an
industry build around the sort of CRM models that drive subscription-based businesses’that
lead to fostering an active audience base engaging with you on purpose, and
with purpose.
No matter what type of media company you are, it seems that
this is the most important, stable, and lucrative part of the audience, but the
one that business models have all too often driven companies to neglect and
take for granted. When we are imagining each month’s digital traffic goals or
viewership goals as tabula rasa, then everything becomes focused on driving as
much general-audience interest as possible in what we do.
And for those organizations that do, for instance,
serialized programming or subscription models, there’s still a lot of work to
be done to really understand and think about everything the media company does
from the shoes of that active audience. How do they want to engage with the
content? What else do they want from the media brand? Why do they become
proselytizers? How do you identify audiences already engaged in similar content
but who haven’t yet found their way to you? In such a cluttered media landscape
as we have today, we can’t take for granted that people will quickly find us.
What is the biggest
challenge in the media industry today?
We have machines built around pushing what’s on/coming out
now, not for maintaining the longevity of content that has the potential for a
long shelf-life. In an era where a good portion of media content is available
for on-demand engagement later, we have to think about how we support machines
that are much better at monetizing media products over time, thinking about
investments in content for which the ROI may come slowly but which may continue
on for years, if supported in the right way.
We see glimpses of this in how subscription services think
about investment in original content production’and I recommend everyone read
Amanda Lotz’s new treatise Portals as
a way to dig more deeply into these questions. But media businesses, and the
research teams that support them, have to think about how to recalibrate the
machines we’ve built over the last few decades to these new types of questions.
Where do you see
media research moving in 5 years?
I hope to see media researchers continue to make great
strides in helping organizations create meaningful media texts which
demonstrate an understanding of what audiences want and how audiences want to
engage them. I hope to see research and insights work, as a function, taken
increasingly serious by corporate decision-makers who need the expertise that
the best of the research & insights field have to offer.
In an era where so much remains up in the air about the
media industries, and where trust in media companies has been a topic of common
popular discussion, it’s up to media researchers to think about the role they
can play as catalysts for a discussion about how we build models that serve
content producers, media companies, advertisers, and audiences better than what
we have right now. If we don’t take advantage of the current liminal moment for
the television industry (See M.J. Robinson’s work on this in the forthcoming
book, Television
on Demand
), then I don’t know what will make us seriously tackle these
questions until models start falling apart.

Sam Ford is a media
executive, consultant, and research affiliate with MIT Comparative Media
Studies/Writing. He also teaches in the Popular Culture Studies Program at
Western Kentucky University. In 2015-2016, he founded and ran the
Univision/Fusion Media Group Center for Innovation and Engagement, as VP,
Innovation & Engagement, for Fusion. He is also co-author of the 2013 book, Spreadable
Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. More on his
work here.