If you want to beat your competitive set, you need to know where what you do works best, relative to all the others.

And what to do about it in a way that gives you competitive advantage.Marketing needs better understanding of people.

It requires the will to say that the vast banks of data sitting in the vaults of the major research houses are obsolete. Sure, that’s a big step. Invested infrastructures need to be declared redundant. But the time has come for normative data to be reset. It’s time for a positive disruption.

Using much more consumer-aligned, cultureattuned measures is completely tenable, today. Why would one persist in using a map, when we can use SatNav with dynamic traffic predictions?

In marketing terms, the old world worked on the theory of conversion funnels. Tell them the story, tell it good, tell it again and again, and it’ll stick.

Acquire. Transact. Retain. ‘We’ve got ‘em now!’ It relied upon broadcast-obedience. Today, it’s different. We have an Inclination to Interact, or not. Interactions happen at different points on the relationship journey. Our affections wax and wane, depending on the last interaction or shared anecdote. The tide endlessly moves. What was a predictable, linear conversion model has become a dynamic pinball of surges and withdrawals.

In the world of market research, where the chief purpose is to make marketing more effective, conversion has underpinned every model, for every decade of the industry’s existence. It’s no longer fit for purpose. It does not reflect real life. What is the point of evaluating ‘awareness’ or ‘advertising efficacy’ when you don’t know if the consumer feels an empathetic connection with the brand, perceives integrity in its purpose, or finds it possible to relate to the manner in which the brand conducts itself?

The future of the market research industry depends upon saying goodbye to the idea of conversion, and welcoming the meritocracy-based idea of ‘eXchange’. We need subtle, complex insights into human feelings – how we are being seduced one way, persuaded another.

Then there’s the challenge of data itself. Most insight is still gathered the old way: via ‘system 2’, post-rationalised questionnaires. That might have been ok, until Nobel Prize-winning Professor Daniel Kahneman made it clear through his neuro-scientific enquiries, that much of our decision-making in life is reflexive, rather than reflective.“At the heart of his… work is the idea that when we think, we use two systems.There is our “fast” system 1: automatic, effortless, intuitive, and capable of providing instant answers to simple questions like ‘2 + 2 =’ or ‘Do you love your mother?’ Then there is our ‘slow’ system 2, the back-up processor, which comes into operation when we need to stop and think about questions like ‘What’s 24 × 17?’ or ‘What’s the endgame in Crimea?’ (Thanks to Richard Godwin of the London Evening Standard for this summary.)

Despite complex language and higher-order cognitive function being part-definers of the sophistication of homo sapiens, our basic instincts still govern most of what we do. Instinctively we ‘know’. Really want a car? Spend ages poring over every report to justify it. Don’t like that woman you just met in an interview? Pore over her data to justify her exclusion from the candidate list.

Insights need to be measured by system 1-type, reflexive data-gathering.System 1 thinking is heartfelt, it makes us feel at ease with what we do, and how we behave. System 2 rationalises what we feel. Yet, with market research data, it’s been system 2 all the way, for decades. The industry has relied on self-analysis and linguistic reporting of careful thoughts in both qualitative and quantitative research.

Marketing has so long been the renegade function for CEOs to manage.Using better measures and better data (Seduction and Persuasion, via System 1) we are also able, finally, to separate the value of a brand’s propositional pull from its activation push.This makes it perfectly possible to identify how powerful the ‘DNA’ of a brand is, in terms of its correlation with value growth in its category, and therefore to make forensically guided investments in marketing activity to exploit that ‘brand value’.

And, while one is changing to eXchange, why not re-think the whole business model of the research industry? The advisory model is allpervasive. A bit of data is served up by battalions of people, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes lugubriously. Businesses like Uber have shown us we can revolutionise things, into a ‘software as a service’ model. The insight industry should invest in giving value through its IP: analysing powerful properties and opportunities in brands, and how clients can leverage those in a self-aware, empowered fashion, rather than perpetuating a cadre of craftspeople, variable in quality and subject to a host of system 2 flaws themselves, often prone to commentating rather than improving the odds of success.

So what is the future? Xchange, not conversion. system 1, not just system 2. Seduction and persuasion to unlock understanding of people’s inclination to interact. Pull to understand brand potential, Push to know how well it’s being activated.Commercially relevant correlated measures. A SaaS (software as a service) to drive down costs, and better serve brand-owners’ needs.

Does this work all around the world? Yes! Take a macro view: we used to believe them, they who stood on pedestals. The ‘pillars of society’. They were the wise, we were the willing. World leaders, banks, religions. Even FIFA! It was globally true that we liked authoritative figures in broadcast mode, telling us what to do. Then things changed. We discovered that talking to each other was generally as helpful as listening receiving ‘voices from on high’. Instead of waiting for our next lesson, we explored, taught ourselves, came to our own understanding.

Peer power reigns everywhere. Transparency through technology lets us know every facet of those with whom we deal. Using tin from illegal Indonesian tin mines? Not paying your corporate taxes? Or, for every pair of shoes sold, donating a pair to children in need. Everything a brand does is today weighed and measured as part of that ‘inclination to interact’. Broadcast-obedience has become meritocratic-eXchange. Worldwide, now, we see value through values.

If you’ve been feeling, as you read this, that it rings true… Stop thinking. Act! 


Nadim Sadek

Nadim Sadek is CEO of TransgressiveX, an insights agency that delivers brand planning, through system 1 measurements of brand-consumer eXchanges.



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