Winning in the Age of Now – ESOMAR

September 11, 2014

Presentation Summary

Kevin Roberts returns to ESOMAR ‘What Inspires?’ Congress 2014 with an optimistic message about the role of Big Love amidst a sea of Big Data. Winning remains the #1 imperative of business, but in this hyper-connected and digitally enabled world, “winning” has a much broader meaning than coming first or beating expectations. Ideas, velocity and the ability to emotionally inspire people to participate in your brand conversation are at the heart of the new domain of creative leadership.

Winning in the Age of Now

I don’t usually get asked back… but 12 years… In 2002, your Congress was subtitled ‘from research to customer insight,’ with a focus on shifting from information and investigation to intelligence and innovation. Mainly hard-core stuff – and in Barcelona I called for a research reset. My ‘soft power’ message was Stop! In the name of Love. Think with your heart; step up to inspiration.

Your 2014 programme rocks. ‘What inspires?’ It’s the right question for this people-power era. Everything starts with knowing how people feel, because emotion leads to action – and research exists to activate.

Today people feel empowered and threatened. VUCA world – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous. The challenge is to reframe VUCA to SUPERVUCA – Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy, Astounding.

The context for winning in business is no longer ‘new.’ We live in the always-on, impulse-led, instant Age of Now. Life is digital, mobile and it goes down NOW. We can Tweet our thoughts, Google our quests, Amazon our wants, Snapchat our whims, Instagram our moments, Vine our personality,  Facebook our living, Uber our transit, Instacart our needs, Twitch our love of games, dashboard our fitness – all while we hang in a cloud!!

Thanks to data, robots and automation, consumers are easier to shoulder-tap than ever. But tapping is not swaying, converting or holding consumers to your cause in their ballistic cycle of: See it, Search it, Shop it, Share it.

To win love, to hold loyalty, a brand must move at the speed of culture. It must be live, inspiring people to participate in a conversation of real-time relevance, pulsing and connecting and growing each moment into a SUPERVUCA story.

Tui’s Catch a Million experiential cricket campaign invited punters to buy a crate, get a free branded t-shirt, a share of $1M for a one-handed catch. Result, a national event, 40% of the population watched the games, brand reaches 120 million people through the global media coverage.

Here’s inspiration in a commodity category. 23 million YouTube views off the power of one person’s inspirational story.

Traditional research, marketing and management can’t hack the pace SUPERVUCA demands. One thing drives SUPERVUCA – the unreasonable power of creativity.

The winning cultures in business produce one thing day after day. Ideas. Ideas that are executed. Ideas that win. For research to support the “effective decision making” in ESOMAR’s purpose, it must track closer to culture. This demands creativity – creative teams, creative methods, creative leaps to take us in closer and truer at warp speed.

As the lead researchers of agencies and brands, you must become Creative Leaders.

  • Creative Leadership is about getting ahead of the ‘smart’ consumer, so that brands can bring her into their story, and befriend her. Brands need better / bigger / faster responses to her priceless question: “How does this brand improve my life?”
  • Creative Leadership is about focusing on emotional fulfilment, because emotional demands on brands are rising. People like technology but people mostly really like people – being understood, touched, and involved. The currency of emotion is growing – and falling levels of brand loyalty in many categories simply reflects a failure on the part of marketers to meet rising emotional demands for involvement. Return on Involvement is the new ROI.

To win now, we need rapid-fire ideas that up the ante on measuring, understanding and predicting emotional quotients. Key question: ‘what does love feel like?

  • Creative Leadership is about aggressively “Ubering” your contexts, methodologies and formulas – evolving and revolutionizing techniques daily, turning ‘this taxi sucks’ into ‘this taxi inspires.’

Walmart is onto it. It became a champion for the Made in America movement, committing $50 billion to purchases of American-made products over the next 10 years, generating a 50% improvement in brand sentiment in just two weeks.

Here are three quick ways to be a Creative Leader, so that you drive winning decisions in the Age of Now.


It’s the best of times to be in market research, because the capability to get to superVUCA was never greater.

Big Data is a gorgeous sexy beast. You must ride it, crunch it, work it towards the Holy Grail – ‘one-to-one marketing.’

Do not fall for Big Data because its big brain will never get Big Love, and the mystery, sensuality, intimacy that rules decisions.

Big Data will never read and respond to humans – the way humans do. It can turn up on time, but it can’t feel the empathy or dream the magic that builds loved brands.

Work with data but work back from love, from emotional frameworks, because at its best inspiration is about relationships and love. Intimacy is why messaging systems like WhatsApp and WeChat are exploding.

People love to connect, create and care. Lead each project with your inspired heart; steer with your head – ideally using your right supramarginal gyrus, which produces empathy!

Here’s how creativity is the differentiator. We had a brief to move 40,000 cars without any TV or print, online video only. The challenge was that the car was significantly lacking in features other models in the category had.

We reach 80% of the sales target in three months. All it took was one creative director and a bottle of whisky to crack the idea.

The wins ahead lie hidden in the alchemy of love and data, head and heart, art and science.

Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull says: “Art is about learning to see and to observe. And the sciences are about seeing and observing.” Saatchi & Saatchi’s planners department activates Leonardo da Vinci’s Sapere Vedere: ‘knowing how to see.”

We’ve experimented with several ways of measuring love as it applies to creating communications that move hearts and product. There’s the original Lovemarker from QiQ International developed after I spoke here in 2002.

There is the Lovemarks Snapshot by Ablemarle in the UK that has completed 600 studies in 100 categories across 50 countries – and found that less than 5% of brands made it into the Lovemarks quadrant of the Love Respect Axis.

We work with Hotspex in Toronto with their heatmap-based Emotional Measurement Technology to find the emotional space a brand will grow in and to get an emotional balance sheet to see strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and paths to avoid.

And with Protobrand in Boston we have just developed Lovemarker 2.0 which has identified the eight critical factors that lead to brand respect, for example competence, innovation and social and environmental responsibility, and the seven critical factors that lead to brand love, for example desire, connection, devotion and exclusivity.


With love in your sights, you need the environment, the organizational platform for Creative Leadership. There are four fuels a creative organization runs on, try them in your company. In equal measure, each day, give your people:  > Responsibility > Learning > Recognition > Joy.

 To raise the platform, inspire the team towards a dream. MLK did not say “I have a strategy.” Where to begin? Revolution begins with language: CEO – Chief Excitement Officer; CMO – Chief Magic Officer….

Should we be surprised that some retailers (Starbucks, now Tesco) have a Chief Creative Officer? The customer won’t wait to be inspired, nor will today’s young talent.

Creative Leaders invent their own language, a system of meaning, a unique vocabulary that binds the group or the place together.

Your physical spaces should fire creativity, inspiration, personalization and intellectual collisions. You want a space that people love hanging out in. You don’t want to look like this guy…


Creative Leadership has four components: IQ+EQ+TQ+BQ.

Intelligence Quotient + Emotion Quotient + Technology Quotient + Bloody Quick!

The keys to velocity are:

  1.  Have lots of small ideas, continuously.
  1. Fail Fast / Learn Fast /Fix Fast.
  1. Go to the Edge, Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of evolutionary biology called Punctuated Equilibrium tells us change comes from the edge of the species. Better worlds are created from the edge, not the center. Start from the outside and work your way in. Insights come from the center. Revelations come from the edge. The edge consumer’s perspective has serious cut through.
  1. Reframe constantly – e.g. are auto industry recalls business problems or consumer marketing? We got a defect, you come to the dealership, we then renew the relationship, trade you up to a brand new reliable model, and everyone’s a winner.
  1. Let emotion rip. Make it your mission to create a Lovemark, owned by the audience. Lovemarks are bigger than brands because they create Loyalty Beyond Reason. They are irresistible.

Thanks, and get your hands on the Saatchi & Saatchi Red Paper ‘Brand Loyalty Reloaded,’ hot off the press.

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