Published on February 22, 2014
AVERAGE IS SIMPLY NOT ENOUGH. Interview with Martina Olbertová for MediaGuru.cz March 2013
MediaGuru.cz March 23, 2013 by Kateřina Chobotová Martina Olbertová, author of Czech-based research study Clients & Agencies in creative advertising, talks about creativity in marketing research, global marketing trends and local products, her experience from international marketing conference in Morocco, (un)averageness of the Czech consumer and potential of using semiotics in marketing.
You have a slightly unusual position of a researcher – freelancer on the market. Why did you decide for such an atypical role? And can it really work? For me, it has been a matter of natural professional development. Over the last 7 years I’ve been gaining a lot of experience at various positions in media, sales, marketing, PR, even advertising to have finally come back to the corner stone of this whole cycle: market research. I guess all this time I had been searching for a niche for myself: something I would be really good at, it would be needed and at the same time not very many people offered it to the market. I worked with Jaroslav Cír at Perfect Crowd for 2 years and I had a chance to work there at many different projects ranging from marketing research through online consumer communities (MROCs) all the way to brand activation and engaging consumers at different stages of the brand creation process. During that time I realized that there were several gaps in the way market research was being done on this market and it would be good for someone to fill them in. So I said to myself, why not me? Of course, further evangelization will be needed as clients are too much conditioned in the system of cooperation that big agencies had been presenting them for years and do not know what are all the options marketing research can deliver and with what results.
So you’re aiming to define yourself against the big established market research agencies? I honestly don’t think I would be a competition for agencies such as TNS, Ipsos or Millward Brown. I just do a different kind of research. But the truth is that I actually don’t believe that clients would necessarily need a big agency for all types of research. To some extent it works similarly as in the creative business. What we’re already seeing today is that smaller independent agencies have in many aspects of operations undoubtful advantages over the big network ones whether it’s a less tied-up company culture, financial independence off of their mother agency abroad or more freedom and bigger space to create. All of this enables small agencies to design a project for the client that will be tailor-made, which can work exactly the same in market research. With this approach the research is much more reflecting client’s needs, the methodology can become more flexible, of course not at the expense of its validity, and in result the client will be much better prepared to identify with the data and prone to use them in his further strategic work because he was a part of the process himself. In my opinion, this trend will only go further. There will be more individuals in the future able to lead the client through the whole process from the beginning till the end. We already see a lot of talented freelancers on the market right now in areas such as graphic design, photography or IT. Times just favor cutting off the middlemen. And in market research it can work the same way. There is not reason why it would not be possible, especially if it creates an added value for the client.
What do you think is your biggest added value? Is it the role of a guide through the whole process? The role of a guide to me is rather an ideal way of cooperation than a final effect. I prefer this role because it allows me to be there for the client at all stages of the project from the initial brief to looking for the research implications and follow-up strategic work with the research data along with the client at the every end. However, I recognize 3 major points in this process, where client can really maximize the added value of research. Firstly, it is the art of interpretation. The second point is about a more constructive approach to research. Third point is about the increasing merger of research within creative work as a brand activation strategy.
1) First off, Art of interpretation. Clients today do not need the research agency for churning out the data, they need the agency to give them reliable information in an easily digestible way, based on which they can make a qualified decision. And that’s not only about the data, but especially about their interpretation. Today we are drowning in the data, it’s literally everywhere around. So the answer to this problem cannot be more data, but on the contrary their simplification, synthesis and interpretation, which would give them relevance and meaning. That’s why I strongly believe that providing a quality data interpretation, actively looking for new opportunities on the market and offering strategic research consulting does make a difference and brings a clear added value to the client.
2) More constructive approach to research. The frequent issue in market research is that (out of a low awareness possibly) the client perceives research as a tool to deliver a simple answer, and thus basically delegates his strategic decision to the consumer. This is, of course, wrong, but you would not believe how often this happens. Research is unfortunately still predominantly seen as a tool of validation only, which kills creative ideas in result if operated rigidly in this way. Research, however, is also a creative discipline. It can serve to generate inspiration for marketing and customer experience, topics for content management, as a tend hunter, or as an effective instrument of how to stay in touch with your consumers 24/7 via brand communities, generate insights from the market on an ongoing basis and form your brand advocates.
3) Merging research & creative as brand activation. As active consumers are forming now, the border in between research, marketing and creative gets more and more blurry. It has a lot to do with collaborative techniques. Consumers are increasingly indifferent to wherever the brand message had appeared in the first place, relevance of the message is now core of the equation. This is actually good news because it creates a more positive environment for mutual cooperation of agencies around the client and their direct involvement at all stages of the marketing communication. Sometimes one really good insight coming from a person at a focus group or workshop is enough to hold a whole campaign. And when the creative person involved and supports it with a great execution, you have a recipe for a winning campaign. Recently, this has worked really well with Fidorka for instance (a local chocolaty biscuit in Kraft Foods portfolio) unique by round shape of its product, as well as by its brand identity built around innocent pranking. As the communication shifts, advertising becomes more and more about authenticity today. So in my opinion the purpose of advertising today should not be to create monstrous original campaigns, but rather think of a simple way how to recast a relevant insight from the consumer into a functioning strategy.
Last fall, you conducted a Czech-based research study on mutual relationship of clients and creative agencies. Results showed that clients want big ideas and reliability while agencies expect clear client vision and quality briefs. Why do you think it is that clients and agencies just don’t understand each other? THEY CAN’T COMMUNICATE . In my opinion, it is because both sides expect something that they’re just not capable of giving each other. Of course an agency will demand a quality brief and a clear vision of where the brand is going, while clients will expect big creative ideas. In this way the research study hasn’t really brought anything new. The real problem is somewhere else, and it is that both clients and agencies cannot effectively communicate with one another, which considering we’re talking about the communication business is at least a bit paradoxical. The evangelization will just need to happen on both sides, unfortunately. LIVING IN LAND OF CONSTANT NON-INSPIRATION. This was another result of the study for instance – that neither agencies nor clients follow news from the industry in any significant number, or are actively seeking inspiration from their professions to stay up-to-date with recent trends. This of course is not a sustainable strategy as communication is constantly evolving. And what else is advertising than communication?
CREATIVITY IS NOT ORIGINALITY. THIS LEADS TO MEDIOCRE WORK. Another important issue that the study has brought is that from some reason creativity in the Czech Republic is repeatedly confused with originality. Advertising then suffers from an idea that it should necessarily posses an artistic value. But creativity does not have to mean only big creative ideas, which no one has ever seen before. This notion paradoxically encycles advertising in mediocrity, which is a constant issue with Czech advertising. Creativity in advertising, however, should be dealt with much more on the strategic level than on an artistic level meaning simply that it should embody an idea interesting for the consumer that is at the same time brand relevant and in tune with the brand’s vision. In this sense, I don’t see a reason why creative agencies in cooperation with clients could not get inspired by something that they already know will work. CONSUMER IS NOT AN IDIOT. AVERAGE ADVERTISING IS NOT ENOUGH. Last big point of the study was that Czech advertising treats consumers like they were complete idiots and that averageness is simply not enough for Czech consumers. Well, of course it isn’t. Why should it be enough? Czech consumer is not of any less quality than any other consumer. Czech consumers are just used to current advertising, which does not mean they wouldn’t welcome ads to be more creative, challenging and engaging them more in the process of brand activation.
You recently came back from conference International Days of Marketing in Marrakech. What was the conference about and what did you find most interesting? It was about better marketing of local products worldwide. The conference serves as a platform for promotion of local products of South Moroccan region and supporting its share to the country’s economy. It was a great experience, it’s not very often that you meet 400 people from 50 countries around the world and get a chance to form global friendships. In this sense it is really a remarkable event. It is organized annually by Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech and Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries under the patronage of the King of Morocco. Each of the delegates was asked to choose one local product from their home country and speak about how they promote it on their domestic market. There were various presentations from marketing of bananas in Costa Rica, beefsteaks in Australia or maniocs in Senegal, there was a Serbian case study of Eurocrem successfully competing with Nutella on the Balkan market, or we also heard a story from Bosnia and Herzegovina about their mineral water superbrand Sarajevski Kiseljak. The most interesting presentation to me was the one of my Serbian friend Mitar Božić, currently researching the topic of CSR at the University of Vienna, who spoke about his recently published article on adding the sixth P “Planet” to the 5P’s of marketing mix. I think especially today with the rise of conscious business this is very fitting and might be of interest to a broader audience.
What was the topic of your presentation? My topic was about how global trends can contribute to better marketing of local products. I wanted to bring in a slightly different perspective. The paradigm of global communication is changing rapidly and it becomes necessary for local markets to address these changes if they want to succeed in the global competition of imported products. Right now communication is increasingly shifting away from advertising towards branding and from brand attributes towards inner brand values that the consumer should identify with. According to one recent US study conducted on the sample of 1,600 adult consumers, whole 68% of the respondents indicated that shopping starts to be “much more about me” than “about the products themselves”, which is essentially nothing else that the moment of identification with inner brand values. On the Czech market, Kofola I think greatly embodies this as an example, that’s why I also chose it as my case study for the presentation. Kofola, traditional Czech cola-based drink, has built its marketing primarily around branding and brand values. I really like how Kofola as a brand plays with the feeling of childhood nostalgia and how it emphasizes greatness of the little life moments so typicala for the Czech mentality. For instance, you can see Kofola’s uniqueness as a brand very well in comparison with its American counterpart Coca-Cola. They both share the same brand message of “togetherness” and the importance of sharing joy with others, but on the formal scheme Coca-Cola is about big pompous milestone moments shared with the world, while Kofola plays on a more timid note accentuating the intimacy, simplicity and greatness of little life moments shared with the circle of your closest ones. This is the difference of the two.
In your work, you also practice semiotics, the science of signs. What are its major benefits for marketing? Semiotics is my big love, but professionally on the Czech market it is still rather “music of the future” so to speak. As a method for marketing analysis it is so far fully developed maybe only in the UK, where it had established a solid background for itself as a method of cultural texts analysis largely thanks to the ethnographic shift in 1970’s. Semiotics might never be a mainstream analytical method used in marketing, if not for anything else than because the entry requirements for analysts to practice semiotics are quite high. That’s why for instance analyzing codes of different cultures than your native one is very complicated because you are not aware of the signs relevance within that particular culture. On the other hand, the better you can practice it in your local environment, where you are familiar with its semiotic space because you’re rooted in that culture yourself. Semiotics gets sometimes mistakenly included within qualitative research, which is heavily related to the person who performed the research and as such is more problematic in its replication. Semiotics, on the other hand, is an intersubjective approach, which means that the meanings are inscribed in the signs. It is not possible for the person to decode meanings based on their free will, otherwise there couldn’t exist any consensus of meaning within the society. This also serves as a powerful argument, which disproves the prevalent thesis that semioticians are sucking the signs out of their thumbs.
MARKETING SEMIOTICS. From the marketing point of view, semiotics to me offers a great deal of analytical use because you are basically getting your hands dirty with digging into the very process of meaning creation within that particular culture. You can unlock important insights for e.g. brand values and brand essence, consumer understanding to these brands and to their meanings, execution of brand values in advertising etc. CONSUMERS DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS. SORRY. Semiotics can also go further, respectively higher, and study value systems of the society for instance through the analysis of prevalent meanings within the culture, its dominant ideology or presence of value myths aka mythologies as described by Roland Barthes. This means that you don’t have to ask the consumers what they think, but instead you go right to the source. Majority of answers, especially to the “why” questions, you won’t find by asking the consumers. These answers are mostly dealt with on the subconscious level. Consumers will not tell you why because they simply don’t know why. They don’t have all the answers. The answers are not in consumers’ minds, but in the fog of meanings and ideologies above them, which influence their decision-making and purchase behavior even without them realizing. With a bit of craft it is possible to extract relevant insights from all these levels of meanings present in our culture also for marketing communications.
Where can you apply semiotic approach? You can apply it very well on FMCG for instance because their products are tangible and as such are easier to grasp with signs. But you can work this way also with meanings in the banking and financial segment as well, after all our approach to finances is one of the fundaments of our culture essential to our lifestyle. The semiotic space of finances tends to be very rich in signs from the meaning point of view. You could also work this approach into researching technologies sector, medical institutions or other services. I can’t think of a reason why it wouldn’t be possible. The biggest stumbling block here is not the approach itself but the fact that semiotics for its extremely abstract nature, of course, requires an enlightened client, who understands that it is a fully legitimate method that can represent an added value to their business and a future strategy of their brand. As always, here as well, it is mostly about the mutual trust, good relationship with the client and a sort of the same wavelength, as in all relationships. It’s funny though because just in the last week I got contacted by 2 agencies about semiotic consultancy for their clients so it might not be so difficult to find an enlightened client after all!
What are the biggest current marketing trends that you would emphasize? Well, the clear shift today is the importance of customer experience. In this sense, Czech Republic is finally catching up with the West and reaching the point, which has been part of their marketing mainstream for over decades now. Marketing is no longer the company’s marketing department only, but the whole company as such along with all its employees and current and potential clients out there. All these people are marketing now and all these people manage good reputation of the company. As this trend continues, the more essential it becomes for the companies to communicate with all its interest groups, constantly provide them with relevant information and monitor their needs. To remain constantly a one step ahead, you know. From the research perspective, the most significant shift now is in my opinion the ongoing merger of research with brand activation and engaging active consumers in the process of creating brand identity. This comprises all the activities such as crowdsourcing or co-creation. One more step ahead is another trend actually, which has still some time to get to the Czech market, and that is using co-researchers for creating a sustainable research strategy. Co-researchers are essentially nothing else than active consumers recruited from particular segments of the market, who cooperate with researchers during the process and serve as so-called “pillars” correcting the course of research, giving continuous feedback from the field and ensuring relevance of insights generated. But this will take a while for it to get to the Czech Republic, we’re not this far as a market yet.
About Martina Olbertová Her consulting practice Martina Olbertova Consultancy focuses on marketing research, strategic research consulting, creative data interpretation, brand activation, online communities and semiotics. Martina strives to use research as a strategic tool for searching new opportunities on the market to maximize its potential for marketing and PR. She holds PhDr. degree in Media Studies from Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. She also studied Political Journalism at Georgetown University in Washington, DC or Media, Communication & Consumer Cultures at Cardiff School of Creative & Cultural Industries of University of Glamorgan in the UK. She likes to travel, photograph and learn about different cultures in her free time. She can be contacted at email@example.com or her website at www.martinaolbertova.com
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