Notes from MRG Conference 2011

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a short session at the 2011 Media Research Group Conference, which took place in London. I took some notes during the day (mainly with the earlier speakers). They are below and in chronological order, though firstly a quick exec summary:

The four papers I enjoyed most were

Synthesising these talks, my key take-aways were:

  • Run lots of prototypes and versions
  • Ask audiences what they think, rather than just infer from behaviour
  • Set up the tests in such a way to drive people towards the behaviours/answers you desire
  • Be aware of contextual reasons that might provide counter-intuitive answers

And now for the detail…

 

Tim Harford – Problem Solving In a Complex World

Tim Harford, author of books such as The Undercover Economist) , initially walked through examples of problem solving such as

  • Archie Cochrane – a Prisoner of War who conducted experiments to find out what was making people ill in the camp
  • Thomas Thwaites – a student who took 9 months and spent over £1,000 to try and make a toaster from scratch and even when cheating largely failed
  • Cesar Hildago – who has mapped 5,000 product categories. But Wal-Mart has 100,000 types of product in a store, and in New York there are probably 10bn

His point was around the God Complex – the conviction that no matter how complex something is or how little data is available, you know the answer. It is dangerous and yet you see it everywhere.

We need to step away from the god complex as we can’t solve things in one step. Instead, we gradually learn over time through trial and error.

For instance, Unilever wanted to create a new nozzle through for their detergent production. They hired a mathematician who failed to sufficiently improve it. Instead, they created ten random computer generated models and picked the best. They then created ten variations of this. They repeated this process twenty times. Ultimately the nozzle was much improved, although they don’t know why.

Business successes are random processes – there is no silver bullet for the perfect CEO or strategy. However, instilling a start-up culture allows experimentation to see what is best. Google has a target failure rate of 80%, but this failure has to be quick, rather than being too big to fail. In order to do this, we have to overcome loss aversion.

In the BBC documentary about Fermat’s last theorem,  Goro Shimura said in reference to his colleague Yutaka Taniyama :

Taniyama was not a very careful person as a mathematician. He made a lot of mistakes, but he made mistakes in a good direction so eventually he got the right answers. I tried to imitate him but I found out that it is very difficult to make good mistakes.

Tim fielded a couple of questions relating to popular business books

  • Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence profiled many companies to see what made them successful, but three years after the book was published around one third of them were in trouble (e.g. Wang, Atari). Were they actually excellent, or is excellence fleeting?
  • James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds is often misunderstood as he himself said that it only works in specific situations – when expert judgement is no help and where the crowd can be polled independently (Duncan Watts has shown how randomness becomes important when things are dependent

Claire McAlpine – Mediacom – How are you integrating behavioural economic thinking into your work?

Inspired by thinkers such as Steven Johnson (Where Good Ideas Come From) and Chip & Dan Heath in addition to Thaler & Sunstein etc.

Hunches are where we collide ideas – these could be our ideas over time, or our ideas with other people’s. For instance, the Gutenberg printing press was inspired by the wine press.

We need to overcome cognitive biases (such as picking the second cheapest wine on the list) and recognise things such as information deficit and availability bias. We are more Homer Simpson than Spock – we are not rational agents. We may have good intentions but these can quickly be forgotten if we are in a “hot state”.

There are three stages to integrating behavioural economics

  • Identifying the behavioural context
  • Identifying the behavioural journey
  • Identifying choice context and ultimately creating choice architecture

Claire gave the example of Special Constable recruitment. By identifying two choice contexts – career and inspiration – Mediacom were able to frame their media strategy (both in terms of creative and placement) for two separate audiences

By understanding how behaviours differ, we can seek out how to encourage the desirable ones to be replicated. The ultimate goal is to be able to switch the default behaviour, which we often resort to as a mental shortcut.

 

Mark Barber (RAB) and Jamie Allsopp (Sparkler) – Media & the Mood of the Nation

Mark and Jamie went through the research findings of this research which covered 3,500 smartphone survey responses from 1,000 people, qualitative depth interviews and diaries and EEG brain scan experiments.

The research came about from the general move in advertising from systematic (logical) to heuristic (emotional) processing, and observations that advertising works better in mood-enhancing environments.

The findings were framed using James Russell’s Circumplex Model of Affect, which places results on two -5 to +5 scales of arousal (energy) and valence (happiness).

Radio was compared to both TV and online. While all displayed rises in happiness and energy, radio showed the highest average increases in total and across the most dayparts. While this may be caused by other activities people are doing while they listen to the radio, it nevertheless means that people are in a more receptive frame of mind when it comes to processing advertising messages.

 

Becky McQuade (Sky) and Anne Mollen (Cranfield School of Management) – Online Engagment: We might be getting there

Anne said that there are two schools of thought with engagement

  • It is bankrupt as it is not a metric since it is too abstract and not credible (unlike retention and acquisition)
  • It is viable (she is in this camp)

The academic studies in this area have been focused on perceived interactivity and telepresence (her paper is here), but it hasn’t as yet properly been joined up to commercial requirements.

Her definition of engagement is “cognitive and affective commitment to an active relationship” and requires

  • Utility/relevance
  • Pleasure/enjoyment
  • Dynamic and sustained cognitive process

Using Survey Interactive, they ran an online pop-up survey with 60 engagement statements (reduced from an original list of 150) on 12 point scales across 14 Sky websites (and on a NetMums panel), resulting in over 12,000 responses. This found four drivers of correlation. From the largest to smallest, these are:

  • Cognitive processing e.g. enjoyment
  • Temporal needs e.g. hedonic and utilitarian value (what we need and want)
  • Self-congruence (identity with the brand)
  • Social identity (context, environment, peer to peer communication)

Conversely, engagement isn’t

  • A measure of human behaviour – there was low correlation between engagement and time spent, frequency and recency
  • Behavioural footprints (actions such as subscriptions or likes) – there was only a small positive correlation among a subset of those engaged
  • Activism (such as loyalty) – engagement is context dependent and not a behavioural type

The study was specific to advertising, and found those engaged had higher ad recall, improved core message delivery, more favourable opinions towards the brand and a higher likelihood to purchase (but not higher purchase intent).

Becky and Anne closed by saying for engagement to be viable it has to have a close relation to ROI and KPIs. Their NetMums study showed engagement has an impact on trust, satisfaction, loyalty and add responsiveness and has a high positive correlation with the Net Promoter Score.

Anne isn’t linked exclusively to Sky and will talk to others on a confidential basis around her engagement scale, but given academic competition to publish there is only a limited amount she can say publicly.

 

Stuart McDonald (News International) and Euan Mackay (Kantar Media) – Show Me the Money: Proving the value of tablets

Given that the results of the research are being used to inform News International’s commercial strategy, they didn’t really go into how value was proved. The research was conducted among News International’s subscriber base, and tested interactive advertising on a beta app (The Times app doesn’t yet have advertising) against a premium engagement index, comprising of perceptions of an ad being

  • Memorable
  • Relevant
  • Engaging
  • Trustworthy
  • Premium

 

Richard Curling (Google) – YouTube Skippable Pre-Rolls: Measuring the power of choice

Given “Hurry sickness” – the malaise where people feel short of time so perform tasks faster and get flustered by any delays – we’re increasingly looking for shortcuts.

YouTube “true view” means that users get to choose their adverts – if they don’t like an advert, they can skip it. Advertisers only pay for adverts that are viewed all the way through. Google interpret a high view rate as a high quality score, and this will factor in alongside price when bidding in an auction for advertising space. Thus, high quality ads are rewarded (though arguably very low quality advertising can benefit from a lot of free, interrupted views).

Using Ipsos MediaCT, Google tested the effectiveness of these ads using biometrics (heart rate, respiratory rate, skin conductance, motion- via Innerscope), depth interviews and eye-tracking. These found that both skipped and “true view” ads scores higher on their engagement metrics, though the true view ads scored highest. However, this wasn’t as clear-cut as you might expect – people opting in might have higher expectations and so could be harder to please. Conversely, the engagement of people forced to watch an ad might pick up towards the end as they get ready for their content to start

Richard’s recommendations for advertisers were to

  • Entertain the user, since you are the content
  • Be clear, and support user choice
  • Embrace “natural” targeting

 

Afternoon sessions

I was paying less attention to these, since I was mentally rehearsing my speech

  • Ross Williams and Becky from Ipsos MediaCT presented their “Big Brother Research – Who’s Watching Who?”, which combined social media monitoring of Big Brother properties. with Facebook polls. While Big Brother wasn’t as big as other properties, it had a 80-20 proportion of comments to likes on Facebook (indicating an engaged audiences), while alternative programmes had the opposite ratio
  • Steve Cox of JC Decaux presented “Airport Live” – following a small number of passengers at both their departure and arrival airports to see what they were noticing
  • Matthew Dodds of Nielsen and Nick Metcalfe of the Telegraph presented “Telegraph Print + Net Online Multiplier study” which took 5 groups of people (Telegraph print readers, Telegraph online readers, readers of both, non-print readers with matched demographics, non online readers with matched demographics) from UKOM to test uplift in advertising measures
  • The Good The Bad & The Ugly of Media Research was hosted by Max Willey and featured myself, Dave Brennan, David Fletcher, John Fryer, Stef Hrycyszyn and Loraine Cordery talking about whatever we wanted to for three minutes. David Fletcher won the prize, for his tale of why people think they want online dashboards but don’t

 

Industry Updates

  • BARB is looking into a non-linear database that would report on archive programmes on demand, and catch-up from longer than seven days after transmission. They will also evaluate, and possibly publish topline results of, the TV+online data
  • POSTAR – now have tube and bus data, and are looking at GPS devices to see how people move around. This is being validated and they hope to get it into a reporting system soon
  • NRS – concentrating on fusion with UKOM data, but hope to get more granular data and move online in future
  • RAJAR – moving the diary online, and continuing to explore the viability of passive meters
  • IPA – bedding down touchpoints. Touchpoints 3 included word of mouth, mobile internet, social media, gaming and on-demand. Touchpoints 4 will bring in tablets and apps, and change from a device-first structure to a content-first structure. It now has 60 subscribers (including each of the top 20 agencies) and has launched in the US. They are also piloting an app to go alongside the diaries
  • UKOM – the past year has been about stabilisation after some data issues. The contract is currently out to tender and whomever is successful (they would take over in January 2013) would look to measure all devices and locations (ie beyond home/work fixed internet to include mobile and video)

sk

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Download the award-winning Brandheld presentation

As mentioned in my previous post, I had quite a successful experience at the Media Research Group conference in Malta.

My presentation on Brandheld: Unlocking the potential value* of the mobile internet, which won the IPA/Simon Broadbent award for Best Paper can now be viewed and downloaded on Slideshare. I’ve even included an amended version of my speaker notes, although due to the terms and conditions our research participants agreed to I am unable to show the three (frankly awesome) videos we produced.

The presentation is embedded below (RSS readers might need to click through to see it)

Additionally, most of the other presentations from the conference can be downloaded from the MRG website. It’s definitely worth checking out, though the presentations that were speech accompaniments rather than slides/handouts don’t make a lot of sense without the accompanying notes.

Any feedback or (constructive) criticism would be appreciated. My contact details are on the final slide, or on the “About the blog” page if you don’t want to do so publicly.

sk

* The title occasionally switches between “potential value” and “value potential” – the former comes to me more naturally but the latter is probably better

MRG Malta 2010 Conference

The IPA/Simon Broadbent Award for Best PaperI now have my first conference presentation behind me. And my first (I’m hoping there will be more) conference win.

The event was the Media Research Group 2010 conference, held in Malta.

The presentation was on Brandheld: Unlocking the Potential Value of the Mobile Internet (go here and here for more information on the project).

And the win was the IPA/Simon Broadbent Award for the best conference paper. The award is pictured to the right (photographed under a light – it is actually silver) – I get to parade it around for a couple of days before sending it back to Lynne Robinson at the IPA to have it engraved.

Winning this award was particularly satisfying as it was voted for by the conference delegates. I’m very appreciative of all of the nice comments I’ve received over the past couple of days.

On reflection, I think there were three key reasons behind Brandheld winning:

  1. Flattery – I started my presentation by taking a photo of the audience, and called them beautiful (they were, and still are)
  2. Subconscious Suggestion – I spoke to a fair number of people in a restaurant and bar the night before the voting. Since no-one can really say anything bad to my face, I received a lot of nice compliments. As the night wore on, memories of the conversation, and indeed my presentation, would become fuzzier, with people only remembering that they mentioned that the presentation was good.
  3. A fantastic project – the award is for best paper, not presentation. Brandheld is unquestionably the most interesting, challenging and rewarding project I’ve worked on. As such, it is a team award with Alex, Kat, Daniel, Carolina, Rebecca and Lee-Ann all deserving of recognition for their massive contribution

As for the conference itself, I had a good time and met some really interesting, friendly people – some of whom I knew already, some who I knew “virtually” and some I didn’t.

I’d never been to a foreign conference before. Prior to attending, I was quite against the idea, since the cost makes it more difficult for smaller companies such as Essential to attend. After attending, I’m more ambivalent, if not totally sold on the idea, as there are clearly some advantages to holding the conference abroad

  • Few people had any reason to do any socialising outside of the conference group. Even if the event were held in Cornwall, the Highlands or another far-flung UK location, there would be more excuses to temporarily leave
  • A totally new city/resort encourages exploration and additional socialising among attendees
  • Continental bars are open later than British pubs during the week (and the warm weather means everyone can stand outside)

While I felt I got involved in the networking with vim and gusto, I didn’t make many notes for the sessions I attended. The reasons being

  • Prior to my presentation, I was making last-minute amendments in my head. As much as I tried paying attention to the speakers, I ended up getting distracted
  • Immediately after my presentation, I was primarily relieved but also going through things I should have said, particularly with the Q&A
  • My subconscious suggesting went on for longer than it probably should have done, which meant I missed the early speakers on Friday

Some of the things I did jot down include

  • Nigel Walley from Decipher made some interesting references to issues with the continuing convergence of the web and TV. The first was that device manufacturers such as Sony and Samsung are generally terrible at services, since their business models are based around replacement devices. Without things such as backwards compatibility, their web TVs become obsolete very quickly. And secondly, the fragmentation of innovation in this area is making it hard for media agencies to plan campaigns – for instance, should they go for a platform campaign (all of the different ad formats on Virgin) or a channel campaign (VOD formats on all platforms)
  • Guy Holcroft from GfK NOP (disclosure: a former line manager of mine) said that we are spending roughly half of our waking hours (7 hours and 5 minutes actual but 8 hours 48 minutes when deduplicating simultaneous consumption) per day on media or communications
  • Richard Maryniak from the Conspiracy Group channeled David Ogilvy to say that the pirate is not a thief; she is your girlfriend and that, ultimately, piracy is about sharing
  • James Myring of BDRC Continental drew the distinction between primary (using p2p or streaming sites) pirates and secondary pirates (via mixtapes/shared drives) and said that ethics weren’t really a barrier to people pirating. Instead it is IT issues – concerns over viruses or a lack of knowledge on how to find the relevant materials. It was probably missing because it is too hard to find people who admit to it, but it would have been good to have seen primary pirates split out into uploaders, seeders and downloaders.
  • There was supposed to be a big debate on piracy but sadly, there wasn’t much heated discussion as researchers at media owners were either unwilling to go on the record or unsure of their company’s position with regards to piracy, and so the conversation remained polite
  • Charlie Gordon from TNS Kantar Media said that the most tweeted game of the World Cup was Japan-Denmark, but that he has been unable to rationalise the reason why
  • David Hulbert of Ravensbeck said that researchers shouldn’t look to explain the past but to predict the future. Researchers should seek to redefine the problems businesses face, and position themselves as people able to provide decision-making under uncertainty
  • Paul Goode from Comscore advocated panels over site metrics, since cookie deletion meant that site metrics are too over-inflated. He said site metrics can be fine for single day campaigns, but unfortunately there aren’t many single day campaigns

For more details, go to Robert Bain‘s updates on the Research website

In sum, it was an enjoyable couple of days and it will probably take me an equal amount of time to fully recover. The conference programme ran without a (noticeable) hitch so big congratulations to Stuart McDonald and Neil Mortensen for an event that clearly required a lot of blood, sweat and tears to put on.

Thank you once again to the people who voted for me. And congratulations to the other award winners – MediaCom for Best Media Agency, BSkyB for Best Media Owner, Ipsos MediaCT for Best Research Supplier and The Guardian for best research initiative.

I hope to upload a “Director’s Cut” of the presentation within the next week (without the 20 minute restriction, I can expand on a few areas I had to gloss over, and I should also remove some of my bad jokes).

I’m not yet sure what is happening with the videos of the event, but if they are put online I will link to them.

sk

Recommended reading – 28th May 2010

I have an exam on the 8th June, so this blog’s relative lack of activity will continue for a couple more weeks. In the meantime, here are some things to read:

sk

Ubiquity is not a strategy

Ubiquity is not a strategy.

A great quote from a talk I saw earlier by Martin Thomas from Snapper Communications at an MRG/IPA event, the originator of whom I missed.

Brands like Crazy Frog, PC World and Cillit Bang may bludgeon us into submission with a massive, ongoing campaign, but something has got to give. Once the optimal point of investment has been surpassed, minimal increments in coverage and frequency of eyeballs are being exchanged for annoyance and dread among those that have been exposed to the same advert 30+ times.

This is why careful targeting works. Find a value, or a pursuit, or a space, or a time, and own it.

Some examples Martin gave:

  • Stella Artois focused purely on film for 13 years. Their move away from this strategy has coincided with Carlsberg overtaking it to be the largest selling beer brand
  • Absolut centred their creatives around art and fashion. From people laughing at a Swedish vodka to being sold for nearly $10bn in the space of a couple of decades
  • Lynx/Axe have the central theme of men being irresistible to (objectified) women worldwide, though the specific creatives are different in each territory

Ubiquity means nothing if there are no associations. Identification is what is needed.

Incidentally, he also mentioned that for all the technological advancements in toothbrushes, they are redundant as people are unwilling to decode all of this information and make their choices in simpler terms – the colour, or the price, for instance.

This got me thinking. If a dental hygiene company offered a web service where I could sign up, give my preferences and be sent a new toothbrush every 3 months, I would definitely sign up.

I don’t think I’ll be quitting the day job just yet though.

sk