#10Q: The why of cognitive intelligence

Acceleration has appointed Virginia Alvarez to head up its new EMEA Cognitive Intelligence Practice.

Acceleration has appointed media and research agency veteran, Virginia Alvarez. to head up its new Cognitive Intelligence Practice in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). The Cognitive Intelligence Practice helps brands unravel people’s unconscious motivations, so they can create engaging, timely moments and content that builds emotional connections with consumers throughout the customer journey. It translates unconscious drivers of behaviour into data signals that enable brands to segment consumers in a new way, by motivation. Building on the experience and knowledge already developed in North America, the EMEA practice will help brands to develop a more empathetic and customer-centric audience strategy, based on a deep understanding of consumers changing motivational mindsets. Here, Alvarez unpacks Cognitive Intelligence and its value and benefit to brands, for Retailing Africa readers.

1. What is Cognitive Intelligence?

Cognitive Intelligence is the art and science of understanding the WHY behind the buy. Cognitive intelligence enables our clients to obtain greater consumer empathetic understanding. This is done by mapping out the why behind the buy and identifying the underlying emotions conveyed in consumers’ search to fulfil their needs. Brands that truly understand the reason behind the buy, beyond the functional benefits and put themselves in their customers’ shoes, will lay strong foundations that will enhance their brand equity and help ensure loyalty to their businesses in the future – both are key to business success in 2021 and beyond.

2. What will this new practice do?

Cognitive Intelligence brings a new dimension of marketing that pushes past functional understanding and capitalises on emotional relevance to design a more human experience. We help brands mature in their audience strategy, drive further differentiation by tapping into emotional needs, and designing more proactive experiences to boost content effectiveness and brand equity.

3. What is the impact you hope to have for brands?

Cognitive intelligence will enable brands to apply a more modern marketing approach by providing data signals that enable more emotionally relevant conversations. By capitalising on unconscious human needs, brands will not only define more receptive audiences, but further anticipate how to curate heightened relevancy among ‘like-minded’ audiences to best differentiate at a more emotional level its messaging, content, experience and, ultimately, influence behaviour.

4. How will you do this?

Currently, most companies depend heavily on demographic or behavioural data to understand their customers. This paints an incomplete picture of what really drives customers’ decisions. Brands may have CRM intelligence, which currently allows them to see what customers are buying or not buying;  but they have less insight into what drives the decision. Cognitive Intelligence uses psychological principles to identify consumers’ evolving motivations and leverages emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence to model how changing values, emotions and motivations shape customer choice. It adds an emotional dimension to the data that brands may already have about customers.

5. Tell us more about your strategy?

We help brands mature in their audience strategy, drive further differentiation by tapping into emotional needs, and designing more proactive experiences to boost content effectiveness and brand equity. For example, a cruise ship company asked us to better differentiate (and target) at each phase of the journey, and identify new offers and experiences that would resonate best with key mindsets. A luxury audio company asked us to help better manage its portfolio and differentiate product offerings by understanding sources of growth and key decision drivers.

6. The world has changed. How should brands be changing?

The pandemic is unprecedented. But many are welcoming the opportunity to hit the reset button by reflecting on which brands and categories they want to dedicate time to; and also to spend their money on. Value systems influencing human behaviour and shaping what people want are changing. The Wunderman Thompson values over valuables report from June 2020 shows that for many, values such as freedom, togetherness, respect and time spent with their loved ones started to trump socially oriented values like social status or materialism. As lockdowns ease across the globe, tapping into emotional equity will become paramount in a more competitive environment.

However, the resurgence of the cookieless world will be an opportunity for ambitious brands to demonstrate they are on their customers’ side. The path forward is not simply in first-party data, but in refocusing on the brand and the consumer media experience. Without a cookie to help direct ads to individuals, the placement of the ad (context) and the message of the brand (content) will be much more important. The overall consumer media experience will be what differentiates one brand from another in a post-cookie world. To create direct, valuable relationships that inspire growth and meaningful engagement will require more personal relevance without a reliance on personal data sharing.

7.  Who is the post-pandemic consumer?

The pandemic brought us a consumer with a fear of going out (FOGO) due to anxiety and movement restrictions. Others, with free work schedules and demanding social diaries now empty, started to embrace a new-found joy of missing out (JOMO) – free from the pressures that can sometimes come with busy lives. We are all different and have lived the pandemic differently across the world. What is certain, though, is that as we exit the pandemic and frustration is released, consumers will be seeking experiences. They will want to do something different and probably with others. This will lead to personalised experiences that are unique, fleeting and personal. For these audience, experiential purchases will therefore be more satisfying than material purchases. What I expect is that some target audiences will adopt a you-only-live-once (YOLO) mentality as they increasingly look to embrace fun in the moment.

Having said that, for others, the pandemic hit hard so their discretionary income is expected to come under intense pressure in the coming months. Their emphasis (and eyes) will likely be on watching the pennies. Their share of wallet for non-essential items will be immediately affected unless that non-essential item deciphers the desire code and becomes meaningful to them.

8. What will characterise our new world?

Since 2018, there has been a period of constant change when the three main forces driving this change were economic uncertainty, political tension, and the fourth industrial revolution. This caused a shift in how consumers perceive their future, developing feelings of vulnerability and anxiety, which became the norm. Consumers then acclimatised to this state of uncertainty with a predisposition to expect the unexpected. A year later, global mega trends such as consumer distrust, technological advancement, and environmental challenges began to have a profound effect on social and commercial life, with consumer attitudes, interests and aspirations evolving as a result. The main lesson we have learned from 2020 is that the future is unpredictable. Responsive, empathetic brands that put consumers at the core will thrive in this landscape.

9. Do you have a life philosophy?

Be passionate about everything you do. Be curious and try to learn from everyone, whether from their experience, opinion or attitude.

10. What is your superpower?

I wish I could have a superpower! I’ve been told there are two words that describe me well: tenacious and connected.


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