Gerald Breatnach Q&A

Head of Strategic Insights UK, Google

Gerald's team brings together Google data analysis with new consumer research to provide insight on the challenges facing UK marketers. He sits on the IPA Effectiveness Advisory Board and is a regular speaker on marketing effectiveness and strategy. 

Hey Gerald! Could you give us a brief summary of what the 'messy middle' is and how it influences purchase behaviour and decision making?

The ‘messy middle’ is our way of describing the complexity between trigger and purchase, where people explore and evaluate categories. In our 2020 research, Decoding Decisions, we examined the messy middle in partnership with The Behavioural Architects, a specialist research company specialising in behavioural science approaches. Even before the pandemic, we were seeing interesting new behaviours as people navigated the enormous quantity of information available online, using rules of thumb to make choices. As more discovery behaviours have shifted online in the pandemic, these findings have become even more relevant.

Do you expect consumer behaviour to drastically change as lockdowns are lifted throughout the UK?

I think we’re likely to see the release of pent-up demand, mainly for socialising and recreational activities as we get to see our family and friends again. Footfall in retail areas will pick up again, but all the indicators suggest the jump in ecommerce and online research and discovery will stay at a greatly accelerated level versus pre-covid expectations. We’ve seen a huge acceleration in the use of digital across all age groups, and our research suggests convenience and choice will continue to drive ecommerce behaviours for many. Businesses have also now committed to building better digital capabilities, products and experiences, and that will be exciting to watch over the coming years.

Which digital marketing trend of the past few years have you enjoyed the most?

After working for many years on projects looking at the effectiveness of online video to build brands and drive sales, it has been great to see the acceleration of advertisers taking advantage. Both traditional brand advertisers and digital performance advertisers are learning how to leverage platforms like YouTube and think holistically about brand and performance goals. The creative potential is enormous.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned throughout this last year?

Ask me in another six months when we’re no longer working from hope is that we can get back some of the joy of working together physically that we’ve lost, while keeping some of the new practices we’ve learned that make us more productive and more available for our families. I suspect with a bit of distance, we will have learned a huge amount.

If you could give one piece of advice to your teenage self, regarding your career, what would it be?

Focus on working with great people on interesting problems, and don’t rush.

Who or what is your biggest daily inspiration?

One of the things I’ve found really helpful over the last year is using music to help manage my mindset. So while I should probably say my wife, I think I’ll go with Spotify.

Gerald is speaking at Digital Day Next on Thursday 22 April. Join us!


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