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2019 Yale Customer Insights Conference

Art & Science in Pursuit of Insights: Yale Customer Insights Conference 2019

Chadwick Martin Bailey
Chadwick Martin Bailey
Editorial Partner of the Yale Customer Insights Conference

Leaders from some of the largest CPG, media, and technology companies shared learnings that are shaping the future role of insights and marketing at the fourteenth annual Yale Center for Customer Insights Conference. Some of the key learnings that came to light were the importance of science as well as creativity, investing in people, and leveraging technology to make better business decisions.

The Value of Failure 

One of the key themes that arose during the conference was the importance of failing and learning quickly. Will Platt-Higgins, Vice President of Global Client Partnerships at Facebook, demonstrated how individuals and companies are using technology to disrupt markets: “Anyone with a smartphone can be a disruptor to your business.” Former Spotify Chief Marketing Officer Seth Farbman talked about the importance of following “irrational curiosity” in order to design new products and brand messaging. Companies can not only learn from failures and successes of disruptors, but they can test, fail, and re-learn to create value for their consumers. As Stan Sthanunathan, EVP of Consumer & Market Insights at Unilever, noted, “Companies should have the courage to create a hall of shame.” Failure is something to be celebrated, not shamed.

Investing in Your People  

Will Platt-Higgins, FacebookOne topic that is seldom discussed in the world of insights and marketing is the importance of investing in employees. Insights leaders from some of the largest CPG companies in the world emphasized the critical importance of creating buy-in from employees and investing in quality training. Stan Sthanunathan of Unilever asserted that if companies don’t properly train employees and get them invested in the company’s goals, “You will be cutting a tree with a blunt ax.” Laurence Bucher, Global VP of Consumer and Market Insights at Mars-Wrigley Confectionery, noted that it goes beyond training—it’s about trusting your people, being honest with them, and inspiring courage. It is more essential than ever to create an inspiring vision for your company and department—a vision that leaders and employees believe in. It is then up to the insights and marketing leaders to help equip employees with the right tools and training to execute on their goals. 

Leveraging Democratized Data     

Linda Schupack, AMC NetworksIn today’s digital age, companies have access to myriad data points that can help elucidate the vagaries that shape consumer behavior. Firms use a variety of technological tools to collect consumer data in order to predict trends, create innovative products and services, and design messaging and advertising. For example, CBS and AMC use tools like surveys, focus groups, biological and neural testing, eye tracking, and social listening to predict future trends and precisely forecast audience watching. 

Not only are CBS and AMC using a variety of data to predict future trends and better understand their consumers, but they are also using the data to become better marketers. Linda Schupack, President of Marketing at AMC Networks, provided an interesting example: viewership of the seventh season of The Walking Dead had dipped. AMC used Nielsen and other viewership data to understand who their viewers were and how to reach them. AMC created a simple, memorable Super Bowl ad that aired just a couple weeks before the new season— drawing nearly 800,000 additional viewers to its show, The Walking Dead. Linda explained that this ad was a testament to the power of “message, medium, and art & science.” There is no science without data, and no data without science. 

The Role and Power of AI in Marketing 

What is the role of artificial intelligence in employing efficient and impactful marketing and messaging strategies? Dan Goldstein, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, studied how to communicate the use of AI to garner consumer trust. In his latest research, he asked, “Do these interpretable AI models work and do users trust interpretable AI models more than black box models?” He provided an example of a simple two-factor model that decided whether a convicted person should wait in jail or at home before their sentencing. In some cases, the assessments of the simple AI model were more rational than the judges’ decisions. We can infer from these results that judges — like many individuals—may have been influenced by irrational biases when making their decisions. Even when using just a few factors, artificial intelligence can be a useful tool in decision-making in a variety of domains, from criminal justice to marketing. 

Radha Subramanyam, CBS TelevisionHow can we use artificial intelligence models to make decisions that drive company value? Can we make every decision data-driven? This is the question that Ari Sheinkin, VP of Marketing & Communications for Client Insights at IBM, has been asking in his work. IBM has created a multi-dimensional attribution analysis where they use countless data points to map out the importance of each touchpoint (or client/customer interaction/service) that creates value for IBM. Is there a way to attribute the value of a particular client phone call or the emotional tone of an email when it comes to creating company value? IBM has not only modeled who to target, when, and how, but they are also able to quantify the “marketing influence” of a variety of activities. The technology driving this multi-dimensional attribution analysis has the potential to enable IBM and other companies to be much more efficient with their marketing dollars, as well as justifying the cost of marketing to the larger leadership team. On the other hand, it may risk the over-mechanization of marketing activities, which may lead to a lack of authentic relationship-building with customers over the long term. 

The Importance of Brand & Creativity 

The predominant theme throughout the conference was the importance of blending art and science in order to create meaningful connections with consumers. Many speakers discussed the vital role of creativity in creating products and services that resonate with their audience. Seth Farbman of Spotify said, “Brand and creativity is more important today than it ever has been. You can’t forget the heart.” Many large brands are addicted to growth and will do whatever it takes to acquire more customers. But performance marketing that is not connected to a value proposition and brand that resonates with consumers will fail. Instead, Seth Farbman says  “brands to have a point of view of what is right--for the business, for the consumer, for the message.” Once brands are rooted in their mission and beliefs, they are in a position to create authentic and innovative messaging and products. He argues that this kind of marketing is what will create 10x revenue growth. 

How do marketers and insights teams create and employ art using science?  CMO Panel at Yale Customer Insights Conference 2019

Today’s Chief Marketing Officers are keenly aware of how art and science can be used in concert to forge meaningful connections with consumers. They discussed how they use the analysis of consumer data and social listening to inform brand and marketing strategies. Seth Farbman provided a powerful example: people using Spotify can create their own playlists, some of which the team at Spotify found to be absurd or comical. So Spotify crafted large billboard posters that uncovered a human truth—a truth told in a humorous tone—which created an authentic human touchpoint. One particularly amusing one was, “Avoid the ‘medical professionals’ who added these songs to operating room playlists: Stressed Out, Can’t Feel My Face, Stairway to Heaven, Say You Won’t Go.” This is a perfect example of the power of brand personality and messaging in creating consumer resonance and connection. 

Leveraging consumer data using advanced technology like AI is very important in the creation, communication, and distribution of art. However, it takes the creative and courageous minds and hearts who design and implement messaging, brand, and products to create company and consumer value. There is no art without science, but also no need for science without art. 

Conference Recap written by Zoë Lloyd Geller ‘17.