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24 Admap September 2008 World Advertising Research Center 2008

not just arrived, it has well and truly
settled in. Traditional communica-
tions channels have mutated, fragmented
and diversified to create a spectrum of
media experiences that give consumers
unparalleled options and freedom of
Of paramount importance in this has
been the emergence of a new type of
media social media. Through the likes of
Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr,
and so on, anyone anywhere can create
and share content. Our virtual profiles
become an intrinsic part of our identities.
Relationships are born, lived and
destroyed in this new digital space.
Through our global emerging-media
research Wave, we at Universal McCann
have witnessed first-hand how quickly
this phenomenon has been embraced.
Our definition of social media has had
to evolve with each wave of research and
now incorporates any form of digital
technology that empowers the consumer.
During an average week, a typical fre-
quent internet user is now more likely to
be found instant messaging or watching
online videos than travelling on their
local bus (1).
And its not just the young, early
adopters who have welcomed social
media into their lives; its everyone. The
4554-year-old travel enthusiast who
relies on a whole host of holiday reviews
and blogs before planning their next
adventure is the norm rather than the
exception (see Figure 1).
The old world order of a few talking
to many, through prescribed means
and measures, has been turned on its
head. People can no longer be dictated
to by those in control; they will
consume content beyond what is fed to
them in a regulated fashion. The masses
have revolted and are now deciding
how, where and when they will engage
with you.
Social media have in essence become the
catalyst for a consumer metamorphosis
that has resulted in a seismic shift in
power. A new type of consumer has
emerged: one that holds sophisticated
views on content, products, marketing
and brands. This consumer wants to enter
into a two-way dialogue; one where they
will listen but, crucially, one where they
will be heard.
For marketers this means the telling
and interrupting model is all but over. We
now have to listen. The sounds of peers
reviewing content, products being rated
and online support forums have revolu-
tionised the way we understand what
makes people tick.
These developments have presented
an intriguing conundrum for communi-
cations strategists and planners. While
the digital era has uncovered a myriad of
communications channels, each comes
with its own set of possibilities and
How a new approach enables media researchers to involve consumers in forward-
looking media and product thinking. Cate Connolly, Universal McCann, explains
Communications planning in the
21st century
September 2008 Admap 25 World Advertising Research Center 2008
pitfalls, and not all are appropriate for
advertising. But the rules of how, when
and if at all to use social media channels
are determined not from within the
industry, but by the new gatekeepers: the
consumers. And if we cross the line,
theres an army of empowered consumers
who will not suffer silently.
In a world where consumers are think-
ing, interacting and behaving differently,
we need to evaluate their interests and
drivers in a whole new way. This puts
research under considerable pressure to
adjust to the demands of modern commu-
nications and media strategy and
planning. As innovation and creativity
assume prominence across all aspects of
marketing communications, the require-
ment for research to delve deeper and
produce more discerning insights into
consumer media attitudes and behaviour
has never been more acute.
What we did
We realised that in order for strategists and
planners to navigate the new landscape, to
blend traditional with social media and
deliver the type of outstanding communi-
cations solutions that we strive to provide
to our clients, there were two new key
questions we needed to investigate.
1. How are media, entertainment and
modern technologies incorporated into the
day-to-day activities of audience groups?
2. Given the plethora of communications
and media options available, what expec-
tations and motivations drive or could
drive consumers to engage with brands?
If we could provide solutions to these
questions we could take full advantage of
the possibilities with which the digital
era is presenting us without trepidation.
What was clear was that the answers did
not lie in our standard research tech-
niques and tools. While these are effective
for many aspects of communications
planning, the pace and nature of change
was beyond what they were designed
to capture.
It became clear that the key to uncov-
ering answers was at the heart of the
revolution itself. We would have to start
listening: we needed to find a research
technique that engaged and empowered
consumers. By working with participants,
not as customers of our clients or their
competitors products, but as informed
consumers of our product media, mar-
keting communications they could
ultimately help us create innovative rele-
vant marketing solutions.
With this in mind, we developed
ImMEDIAte Futures (IF) to help uncover
the various paths to brand engagement
through communications. IF is funda-
mentally a qualitative tool that mixes
consumer ideation with ethnography to
reveal new perspectives on marketing
communications channels and how peo-
ple use or interact with these touchpoints,
a brand or category, and each other.
The methodology was developed by
Schuyler Brown of Skyelab and James
Mairs of Burnt Peaks, and adopted by us as
a means of generating strategic, action-
able insights into the communications
habits of specific target audiences.
Schuyler Browns background is in trend-
spotting and strategic planning, while
James Mairs is in television, market
research and reality-based programming.
Because Skyelab and Burnt Peaks were
often working with subcultures and
groups of consumers considered to be
influencers in their fields, they aban-
doned the tired constructs of traditional
research to create something much more
inspiring. The people they met were more
like characters than consumers. Through
trial and error and a lot of experimenta-
tion, they determined that people are
more real, more candid, more creative,
and more open when they believe they
have a role in helping you, the researcher,
tell better stories. As a result they began
incorporating the principles of story-
telling and gaming into their
ethnographic explorations.
Their work encompassed the same atti-
tude to consumer engagement and was
uncovering exactly the kind of insights
that we were hoping to embed in our
approach. We began to work in conjunc-
tion with them to develop IF as a
Thinking about using the internet, which of the following have you ever done?
Internet usage
Base: Active internet users
0 20 40 60 80 100
Subscribe to an RSS feed
Upload a video clip to
a video-sharing website
Start my own blog/weblog
Download a podcast
Leave a comment on a news site
Upload my photos to
a photo sharing website
Leave a comment on a blog
Manage a profile on
an existing social network
Visit a photo-sharing website
Read personal blogs/weblogs
Read blogs/weblogs
Watch video clips online 82.9
26 Admap September 2008 World Advertising Research Center 2008
technique that would incorporate the
learnings from working with these influ-
encers so that they could be used to solve
communications issues.
We have found that by using a variety
of tactics we can put consumers in situa-
tions where they can be creative and
innovative in their own use of media to
solve problems. By making the actions
and occasions for media usage more delib-
erate and conscious, we can engage in
conversations that might otherwise never
The core areas
IF deliberately does not use classic focus
groups. The full IF process employs an
array of qualitative techniques to max-
imise experiential learnings in a variety of
circumstances and settings. These not
only help unearth understandings and
insights, but allow us to probe and chal-
lenge key issues.
The first stage is to screen respondents
individually, using filmed mini-depth
interviews. It doesnt require the partici-
pants to be influencers within a category;
we just want them to be the particular tar-
get audience that our client is trying to
understand. Participants do, however,
have to be willing to engage fully with all
aspects of the process, be articulate and
have strong opinions on media, commu-
nications and marketing.
Once the right people have been iden-
tified, between 8 and 12 of them are
invited to take part in the next stage, and
the research proper can begin. Essentially
there are two constituent parts.
1. A group workshop or co-creation ses-
sion for all participants, during which the
group collectively creates and discusses
marketing communications solutions to
a challenge. The workshop singles out
views and motivations on media, enter-
tainment and technology.
IF allows for the unexpected by not
employing a heavily moderated process;
instead, we support communication plan-
ners and strategists to work directly with
participants in order to ensure they
understand any problems and challenges
being addressed. Participants can there-
fore assist in mapping out the tensions
that exist between the media and com-
munications they consume, and,
impressively, start to identify those they
think are appropriate to use for advertis-
ing and marketing.
A typical session would see them map-
ping their own communications
behaviours, debating their choices and
motivations with others. The maps and
issues raised can then be used in a group
activity, where they can create a product
within a given category and devise a
campaign to launch it.
2. Ethnographic studies or other tag-along
devices such as video diaries, SMS updates,
blogs, etc, where each participant is
observed, interviewed and filmed about
matters relevant to the clients communi-
cation challenge. This stage plays a dual
role. We benefit from spending an extend-
ed period of time with participants, taking
note of their considered responses to the
challenges we posed them, as well as the
spontaneous. In addition, by observing
them in their natural habitat, we are
able to validate the claims made in the
group sessions.
This element can also be supplement-
ed by additional tasks; from keeping a
video diary of when they are chewing
gum through to creating a club night and
using webcams to keep track of young
socialites as they use communications to
create a buzz around the event and make
sure others attend. Each task ranges in
scale, but all are specifically designed to
generate a further layer of insight into a
specific communications challenge.
There is one final ingredient that helps
shape IF and differentiate it from other
approaches. Like other qualitative tech-
niques the entire process is filmed.
However the filming is not in any way an
additional element, it is in fact a crucial
part of the process. The results are present-
ed as a documentary, which has an impact
on the design of each individual project.
Essentially, IF helps us tell a story: from
individual recruitment to group ideation
session to ethnography. When you begin
to think about research as storytelling, you
are forced to re-evaluate many aspects of
the process. Recruiting becomes casting.
The process revolves around a mission or
exciting incident. The insights come from
what people say and do. The end result is a
product that is more engaging and more
useful to advertisers and brand stewards.
Why it works
Beyond the individual components of the
methodology, we believe IF is successful
at achieving its primary aim to under-
stand the real role channels and other
touchpoints play in a brands life from a
consumers perspective. By empowering,
observing and engaging with participants
in frank and open conversations about
communications channels, we have a
chance to consider their impassioned
responses and derive more meaningful
Transparency is vital to the success of IF.
Consumers are increasingly cynical about
marketing, and the cloak and dagger/big
reveal research approach does nothing to
assuage their misgivings. Participants are
made fully aware that the process is
designed to understand how they learn
about brands and how brands can invigor-
ate and excite the learning process through
communications channels.
The ideation tasks are structured in
such a way as to encourage interaction,
People can no
longer be dictated to
by those in control;
they will consume
content beyond
what is fed to them
in a regulated
fashion. The masses
have revolted and
are now deciding
how, where and
when they will
engage with you
September 2008 Admap 27 World Advertising Research Center 2008
and groups are allowed to form naturally
through common interests and attitudes,
rather than being determined by the mod-
erators. Participants are challenged to
think not just on a personal level but in
terms of their peers, to look for the simi-
larities and differences in behaviours and
attitudes that characterise them; to lay out
the rules of engagement with their partic-
ular tribe.
In terms of execution, the biggest chal-
lenge to a successful IF project is the
flexibility it requires to see it through.
Because IF is unconventional, it requires a
very hands on approach. It operates at a
higher level and has more moving parts
than a traditional qualitative project or a
traditional focus group. Moderators must
be flexible enough to be able to adapt to
the ideas generated, but strong enough to
navigate the group in such a way that it
does not become a fruitless task.
However, when conducted correctly,
the approach has a wide range of practical
applications. It is a great way to get
detailed and multi-dimensional answers
to tough communication questions. Since
it seeks to push consumers beyond the
obvious, it highlights media behaviours
and influences that the consumer might
not be immediately aware of. It is also a
good, effective way to invite the consumer
to get creative with you, so it can be
incredibly useful for cultivating and
developing launch strategies, and for
innovation projects.
Getting inside the media
But the greatest benefit of IF is that it goes
beyond just tracking media usage: it
allows us to get inside the media process
and to start putting the trends we see
around us to work.
We can learn more about consumers
by developing research that reflects the
world as they see it. It not only provides us
with a way of understanding media inno-
vation and landscape change, but also
affords us a detailed grasp of the way con-
sumers are changing in attitude and
behaviour, and an appreciation of the way
these attitudes and behaviours can be
influenced and formed over time.
Above all, it allows us to get beyond the
ways and means communications chan-
nels are used, to a place where we
understand when and where we can use
them to create next-generation marketing
1. Universal McCann Power to the People
Wave 3.
More on the media mix at
WARC Online
Cate Connolly is consumer
insights manager at Universal
McCann London.