Finding Common Ground in a Marketplace Moving from Authenticity to Allegiances

Presented by  J. Walker Smith, Executive Chairman, Kantar Futures
to the League of Women Voters of North Carolina
April 5, 2017

Thanks very much for that generous introduction.  I am very pleased to be here tonight.

Let me start with thanks.  I appreciate this invitation from the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, especially Janet Hoy and the state board as well as Pam Oxendine.  Special thanks to Ruthie Horazeck, my colleague at Kantar Futures who recommended me to the League, and to Mary Swann Parry, who has given generously of her time.  And thanks to all of you for being here to support the League.

I confess to feeling a little bit like a fish out of water, and not because I am a three-­‐degree Tar Heel lost in Durham.  Rather, it’s because I am a marketer here tonight in a forum about politics.  So let me start by managing expectations.  I’m not going to focus on voters.  I’m going to focus on consumers, which I hope will help you focus on voters.

By way of background, Kantar Futures is part of the Kantar group of WPP, the world’s largest holding company of agencies and consultancies.  Kantar Futures was formed in 2008 through a merger of a firm in the U.K. called The Henley Centre and one in the U.S. you may have heard of called Yankelovich.  I was the president of Yankelovich at the time and I am the chairman of Kantar Futures today.  By virtue of a series of other deals too complicated to recount, our North American headquarters is in Chapel Hill.

Our specialty is change.  We advise our clients on change from a top-­‐down view of technology, demographics and the economy, and from a bottom-­‐up view of values, attitudes and lifestyles, or as I like to say, people’s definition of the good life.

We do the occasional political study, but our clients are Fortune 500 marketers.  Yet these days, their biggest issues are similar to those in politics.

Marketers come at these issues differently, though.  I think it is fair to say that as a general rule, and contrary to popular opinion, marketers prefer to follow not lead.  Marketers would much rather appeal to a value or a belief that people hold already than convert people to new beliefs or new values.  As a result, marketers are really good at finding common ground, something I think we would all agree is in short supply in politics these days.

In our digital age of hyper-­‐personalization, the notion that marketers are good at things people share in common might sound implausible.  Yet it’s true, and in fact more important than ever.

The overarching change among consumers today is something that, at Kantar Futures, we call a shift from authenticity to allegiances.  Which is to say, the growing importance of our social selves in shaping and defining our individual selves.  In other words, common ground is more important than ever.  I want to reflect on how marketers see this, and I want to share a little bit of what we say about this to our clients.

There are three ideas to take away tonight.  One, to a degree not seen for decades, people want to belong.  Two, belonging is based on an alignment of common interests, and this is the key to trust.  Three, most culture is common ground.  That’s what we tell our clients – common ground is everywhere.  So three ideas tonight:  Belonging.  Alignment.  Commonalities.

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