A View from the Upfront/Newfront

As we come out of the Upfront/Newfront season, now is the time to take stock of what is changing in the media world – especially since almost everything is changing. To get a 360° view, we spoke with senior executives who sit on all sides of the process: buyers, advertisers, networks, content providers and agencies. Some had attended all major upfronts, and some had cherry picked based upon their circumstance and need. Here is what they told us and what it may mean for you.

1) RISK VS. REWARDS. Advertisers yearn for innovative solutions more than ever. They hear about new developments such as virtual reality becoming more accessible and many want to be on the frontline to embrace it– especially those who represent brands whose loyalists expect this kind of early adoption. That said, the amount of innovation in the marketplace thus far is not nearly as robust as the appetite for it. Often this is due to logistical hurdles: what it takes to accomplish something truly new and different can be much harder than anticipated. Advertisers also hesitate when hypothetical possibilities “get real” and it is time to commit, backing off the risk due to not knowing what the payoff will be. In other words, it is all fine and good to be a pioneer when there are no other good alternatives. In the media world today, when things get risky, the tried and true—”spots and dots”–are still winning the day since they feel like the safer bet…despite a professed appetite for the new and different.

2) GROWING PAINS. As media efforts branch into new territories, all parties struggle with the unforeseen and with new element creation – most notably in digital production. It is no longer enough to create scrappy content for digital (though still appropriate in some cases), yet it is quite unclear who should pay for this new level of production. Our participants in this area varied immensely in terms of who pays, split among the content providers, the networks, the advertisers, or some combination of these. As you might guess, everyone who is paying currently would like to shift this cost elsewhere.

3) MULTI IS A MUST. One of the most notable shifts since last year is the frequency with which advertisers now specify multi-platform in their requests. They have grown much more savvy in this respect and are most often content providers themselves. They expect and overtly ask those creating content and partnerships for and with them to be ready to do so across all screens. Relevant to this ask, Time Inc. was notable for stepping far outside of its traditional box by showcasing all its content digitally across all screens. Our sources tell us there was not a single printed item in the building.

4) DATA IS KING. Certain media companies are distinguishing themselves as frontrunners in the data mining space. These pioneers analyze their data and overlay it with content consumption in order to enable increasingly more precise targeting. We say increasingly because this is not just a static data marriage but rather one of continual optimization. Fox and NBC Universal speak most specifically about these capabilities. If this all sounds a bit conceptual to you, you are not alone: some advertisers feel this way too, as no one in this group could explain exactly how it works and just how impactful it can be. That said, everyone is talking about it and everyone is interested. As online targeting has become incredibly precise and productive, buyers and advertisers are looking for similar capabilities in broadcast media. Many bet that big data is the answer.

5) ALL ABOUT MEOur last learning illustrates the truism that everything changes but in some ways, nothing changes. Advertisers continue to yearn for a tailored offering that will effectively reach their specific audiences to move product. Media companies continue to tout content and encourage advertisers to place their bets, but those spending the money are skeptical. Said another way, advertisers are weary of feeling it is all about the content when they want it to be all about them. Media offerings that meet this need with credibility will win. Youtube, now 10 years old, is offering “micro audiences” that have grown in size and stature and get a lot closer to fulfilling advertisers’ desires. Networks say the content is lacking, and while this may be true, some advertisers will live with that if they can get the right audience reach to meet their particular needs.

Methodology: Noetic Consultants conducted 15 interviews with senior buyers, advertisers, networks, content providers and agencies between May 18, 2015 and June 1, 2015.


Nancie Head Shot-Edit 200x300Noetic is a marketing consultancy specializing in brand strategy, research & training.

We are built upon an avid curiosity about varied businesses and their unique strategic challenges. We provide a fresh perspective and intelligent thinking without a rigid agenda that requires starting from scratch.

Our “I.D.E.A.” approach always starts with the vision our senior executive clients set. And our mission is to help our clients release their team’s full potential to achieve that vision.

Conducting Actionable Research: 5 Essential Ingredients

When you embark on a qualitative research project, the outcome needs to be worth the investment. While we all agree with this in theory, truly actionable research can be hard to achieve. Here are some key pitfalls to avoid that will help you achieve the ROI that you expect from your qualitative research efforts.

1) Start with WHO you will learn from, not HOW you will learn it. We all know the term, “don’t put the cart before the horse.” In the case of qualitative research, however, we are suggesting that you do indeed put the cart first – or, that is, the consumer who is in that cart. By starting with the consumer and not the method, you will focus upon understanding who you need to learn from and what their behaviors are. These facts should drive the methodology you choose. Are they young and highly digital? Be sure to leverage mobile and images in your methodology. Are they older and conservative by nature? Consider one-on-one interviews or grouped conversations in their homes. If you let the nature of your audience drive HOW you learn from them, you are most likely to get rich and honest learning.

2) Commit to one objective. Qualitative research by its nature enables fluid learning. This is a good thing, but not if you lack focus. As Brenda Stull of Element Marketing puts it: “By focusing on the most vital elements, we focus on what matters most. This enables you to get real answers to the most important questions you are asking.” To do so, often times it is best to go broad in the planning process and create a laundry list of things you could learn on the topic… then conduct the essential next step of narrowing to the ONE key objective you have. This will ensure actionability later.

3) Establish trust to earn honesty. We all know the importance of gaining authentic responses in research. But are we really doing what is necessary to get such responses? When we place participants in artificial environments and fail to provide context for the research, we shortchange the learning and compromise its legitimacy. One of the best ways we have found to gain authentic sharing in a qualitative environment is to help the participants know how they will benefit by sharing honestly and openly. This is the classic WIFM: What’s in it for me? Whether they are paid to participate or not, people will be most motivated to give it their all if they truly understand WHY they should. Find that reason and make it known to them.

4) Engage all of their senses. Research shows that people who are telling the truth are able to share an experience using all of their senses. When asked to recall these specifics, their feedback becomes deeper and richer.*  Help participants get to this rich place by asking them about the sight, sound, feel, and even smell and taste of a product experience, a customer service experience, a brand perception. Also consider how they can literally use their senses in the research experience itself: let them touch and feel the product; show them or have them find pictures that cue brand perceptions; have them listen to an audio recording of a store transaction. Visual stimulus is particularly powerful. As Marcel Just, Director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University puts it: “Our ability to gather important insights from visual data as researchers is immense. Developing a research design that takes advantage of the unique insights of visual content … allows researchers to access deeper levels of knowledge.”

5) Commit to Actionable Outcomes. As you design the effort, do not stop the design at the methodology, recruiting and execution. Think through how you will bring the learning back to the organization and, most importantly, what will be done with it. Similar to the planning for the research itself, here you will want to determine who needs to be informed, what learning will impact them and how you will deliver this learning into action plans. Planning for actionability as you plan for the research will result in much better outcomes.

**Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: William Morrow, 2005


Nancie Head Shot-Edit 200x300Noetic is a marketing consultancy specializing in brand strategy, research & training.

We are built upon an avid curiosity about varied businesses and their unique strategic challenges. We provide a fresh perspective and intelligent thinking without a rigid agenda that requires starting from scratch.

Our “I.D.E.A.” approach always starts with the vision our senior executive clients set. And our mission is to help our clients release their team’s full potential to achieve that vision.