MEC’s Damian Thompson on the Highlights of MEC Momentum

Damian_Thompson_Damian Thompson is the Global Head of Consumer Insight at MEC one of the world’s leading media agency networks. MEC features over 4,500 highly talented and motivated people working with domestic and international clients in 84 countries, and manages more international media assignments than any other network. The Makegood recently spoke with Damian about MEC Momentum, a new project.

The Makegood: Congratulations on your recent launch. Can you explain the thought process that went in to starting this project? What were you trying to achieve?

Thank you!  We’ve been researching the consumer journey since 2005.The creation of MEC Momentum is a huge extension of our previous work, and our main objective is to provide genuinely useful insights for our clients in order to grow their business.

Understanding the decision journey is becoming more complex in a rapidly evolving digital world, and we wanted a research approach that reflected that complexity, with complicating things further. We also felt it was important to reflect the wealth of research into the psychology of choice and decision-making that’s now available.

Above all, though, we had a sense that many of the existing approaches  for understanding the purchase journey – including our own – weren’t up to the job, and we had a responsibility to better understand the process people go through, so that we could plan our clients’ communication accordingly.

The Makegood: How will the data gathered from MEC Momentum directly benefit your clients?

The data benefits our clients in many ways, giving them a more detailed, connected understanding of their consumers’ behavior during the purchase journey.  By connected, we mean that you can see the relationship between people’s behavior, their attitudes, and the brand & media touchpoints they use.  It’s very rare to be able to see that relationship – to be able to see how a consumer’s attitudes affect their behavior and their media use, for example.

MEC Momentum gives our clients an enormous breadth of information taken from over 100,000 consumers in 12 markets and 21 brand categories so far; and because each study is run for a single country and single category, it allows us to dig deeply into people’s behavior, to deal with very specific challenges facing individual brands on a market-by-market basis.

It’s not easy to orchestrate a brand’s communication so that it can help or influence a consumer at exactly the right part of their journey, but MEC Momentum really helps  simplify the process by cutting the journey into four distinct stages: passive stage, active stage, trigger stage and purchase. We then look at people’s behavior and touchpoint use throughout the stages, identifying the particular needs that can be addressed by brand through their messaging and behavior.

That four-stage framework for describing the journey is deliberately simple.  Something we realized early on in the development process was that the most important thing was not how you describe the journey; too many people get hung up on trying to find a new metaphor to describe the process people go through.  The really important thing is to understand what people are doing and thinking, the opportunities to influence and engage them, and the relationship between their behavior, attitudes, and media use.

That focus on understanding the detail of the process has taught us a lot.  One of the most interesting findings has been the effect of what we call ‘passive stage bias’ – the unconscious bias that develops towards a brand during daily life, while we’re not actively thinking about buying something.  People with high levels of passive stage bias towards a brand are much less likely to compare prices once they get in-store; they spend less time making their choice; and they do fewer things to help them make a decision.

We can also identify the best prospects for increasing market share, by finding the people who should have bought your brand this time(based on their passive stage bias), but were diverted by a competitor during the active stage .   We can see who these people are, which brand they actually bought, why they didn’t buy your brand, their attitudes towards your brand and your competitors, and the touchpoints that they used to help them make their decision.  In short, a complete picture of their behavior that you can use to get them to buy your brand next time.

We’ve also seen that touch points have much broader roles than we have previously assumed, and that those roles will differ according to when and where they are used by consumers within their purchase journeys.  We can measure the performance of individual touchpoints, using our touchpoint power scores.  For instance, in the moisturizer category, a branded bottle on a shelf has the highest Touchpoint Power Score in both the Passive and Active Stage of any paid, owned or earned touchpoint.  Among soft-drinks buyers, three out of the top five most influential touchpoints for building Passive Stage Bias are in-store; among yogurt buyers, it’s three out of the top six.

The Makegood: Can you talk a bit about the process of gathering all of this data? What were some of the challenges? Were there any changes made to the project during its activity?

It’s important to state that MEC Momentum studies are not created in isolation from either our own or our client’s existing research. MEC Momentum is designed to be complementary to whatever current data our clients use.  We use a two stage research process; beginning with qualitative research to identify people’s buying behavior, followed by a custom-designed online quantitative questionnaire that looks at a single category and country in detail.

The research is designed to reflect the latest studies on the psychology of choice, including automatic and reflective thinking, confirmation bias, mental availability, brand distinctiveness, and heuristics.

The development process took two years, with numerous pilot projects that allowed us to test our hypotheses and allow new ones to form; and with each new study, the questionnaire and the outputs were refined.  While we were testing and developing the quantitative elements of the methodology, we were running qualitative studies for future projects, and these had a big influence on MEC Momentum’s final content.  Sometimes there’s nothing better than just observing people in-store, or at home when you want to understand their behavior.  You’ve no idea how important smelling the moisturizer in the bottle really is until you’ve watched people doing it in a supermarket, again and again and again…!

The Makegood: What are some of the important findings from MEC Momentum that you think will become important parts of how MEC does business in the future?

One of the most important findings was that passive stage bias matters, and that understanding the passive stage of the journey – before people are actively thinking about making a purchase – is extremely important. If over 50 percent of your buyers already have a strong idea of which brand they will purchase before they start the buying process, , you need to know how they’re being influenced.

Consumers are always receiving messages and information without even knowing it; brands, in turn, must also be “on” constantly to make the most of this.   The idea of a consumer being ‘out of market’ should be laid to rest for good.

The Makegood: Are you planning on expanding on this study further? If not, are there any future studies that we should be looking forward to?

Absolutely, this is not just a research study, it’s a new approach for planning brand strategy and communication, so we are going to be using it more and more across different market sectors and global regions. Since its official launch in June, we’ve already researched nine additional categories. We are developing benchmarks across categories and markets as we proceed, and our clients are already seeing the effect on their communication strategies.

The real value of all the work MEC has put into MEC Momentum is that we have such a breadth of information that you use to look at the challenges facing an individual brand within the context of its category—looking at who your customers are, what they think about you and what they actually do. This research is bringing those things together like never before.

The Makegood: Thank you, Damian