Have we forgotten the people behind the data?

P&G's Bethanie Butcher says the current measurement ecosystem is broken, and shares how it can be fixed.

Bethany_ButcherBy Bethanie Butcher 

The most successful brands and companies are those focused on the consumers they serve. Innovations in data, analytics and technology have created new ways of understanding and serving these consumers and we owe it to them to leverage these capabilities to enhance the experiences we deliver to them.

In analytics, you can codify and predict what has already happened, but you must conjecture and anticipate what hasn’t happened yet. The COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed the world is never entirely predictable and so we must move to a world where anticipatory research is the norm.

Anticipatory research recognizes the unpredictability of the world and focuses on agility over precision.

A data and measurement system that’s built around the consumer is required in order to do anticipatory research well. This is what P&G refers to as a “consumer centric measurement ecosystem.” As I look across the Canadian industry and our current data and measurement ecosystem, I see opportunity for the industry to do this better.

Consumer centric measurement starts with one fundamental truth: behind every data point we collect and analyze lies a consumer – a human being. All insights, all research, all analytics, all data is human.

Data does not just spontaneously generate out of nothing. Data is the product of a human being doing something. It may be a consumer viewing a digital ad delivered via a programmatic platform or a shopper buying a bottle of Tide at the local supermarket. By being on a website, you are generating data. Yet I’m sure you don’t think of yourself as data – you think of yourself as a person, and so do we.

When we think about data as being human, there are three areas where we, as an industry, could be working together to better serve our consumers.


If data is human, to be effective, it must also be representative. A survey is only as good as the sample behind it. A measurement panel is only as good as the completeness of the consumers and transactions it is covering. An algorithm is only as good as the data upon which it was trained. If the inputs are biased, the results will be biased.

Many of the survey panels I’ve seen from the industry do not represent the diversity of the Canadian consumers. There is often under-representation of Asian Canadians, Black Canadians, the LGBTQ+ community and others. In addition to not including certain consumer segments, some measurement panels are missing entire retail channels where many Canadians shop. For packaged goods companies like ours, there’s a huge gap in the data when it comes to key retailers like the warehouse club channel, Asian retailers, and the dollar channel. When the industry is confronted with these issues, we are told it will cost more to be “truly” representative.

This is clearly unacceptable given how core the concept of representation is to our business success. We need everybody examining their data sources to ensure they reflect the true diversity of Canada and we need new players who are committed to representation from the onset, not as an afterthought. Representation is the price of doing good market research.

Media measurement

When communication is done right, it’s an opportunity for brands to connect more meaningfully with their target audience. If not done right, it’s a big mess for our consumers. Compared to advancements we have seen in other areas of analytics and insights, media measurement continues be a challenge.

The Association of Canadian Advertisers’ (ACA) Cross Media Measurement committee is aiming to bring clarity to the messy media measurement space. Its goal is to drive the industry to bring together data from broadcasters and digital publishers in a privacy compliant manner in order to allow advertisers to place ads with the right consumers at the right time, while also managing annoying ad frequency.

We need a cross media measurement system that is objective, independent, transparent and complete. It must follow industry standards that enable comparability. And, to ensure all this, it needs to be wide open to Media Ratings Council accreditation.

Consumer privacy

The final area is consumer privacy, because it is the foundation of our “all data is human” concept and has led us to a few guiding principles. We provide value to consumers by using the data we collect to develop products and serve content that meets their needs. For example, we want to make sure Always menstrual product ads and Always adult incontinence ads are served to the right people.

The data we collect involves asking for consent and providing transparency on who is asking for their data, how it will be used and if it will be shared with another party. Finally, the data must be acquired with a purpose (not just for the sake of it) and proportional to the value we aim to provide.

As an industry, I fully believe that, together, we can achieve everything I’ve set out above. In fact, we must.

Bethanie Butcher is the VP, marketing, analytics and insights at P&G Canada