Kline Writes the Book on Insights

Oct 15, 2008  •  Post A Comment

One tough thing about coming up with consumer insights is that you’re never done.
Kathy Kline, senior VP and consumer context planning director at Starcom USA, says the process for finding insights into how consumer and media behavior mesh can involve primary research, surveys, syndicated research and even just hanging around and listening to consumers.
But during that process, “It’s not like you just do this sort of deep-dive exploration and gain this target understanding and then you’re done,” she says. “It got to be done for every new campaign and every new project.”
Context planning sounds complicated, but Ms. Kline says that, simply put, “It’s just trying to understand the human condition and what makes people tick in a broad sense. Then in a narrow sense it relates more specifically to our clients’ brands and their media behavior, and then taking all of that and distilling it into something meaningful to help us develop a media plan and contact idea.”
One tool Starcom uses to get to its insights is its Market Contact Audit, which asks a large number of people in a brand’s target audience about the influence of various contact points—anything from TV ads to signage.
“The bottom line is we’ll go anywhere we need to go to try to figure out something sort of unique and leveragable about the consumer,” she says.
Ms. Kline is assigned to Starcom’s Miller Brewing, Bank of America and Pet Smart accounts, but also pitches in on other products and new business. She also helped create the agency’s proprietary insights resource guide, dubbed “The INSIGHTclopedia.”
Ms. Kline says she developed her interest in what makes people tick when she spent a chunk of her childhood in Japan. Her father worked for a company that manufactured cameras in Japan, and she lived there from the time she was 6 until she was almost 13.
She returned to the Midwest and went to college at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, where she majored in advertising with a minor in psychology. She attended grad school at Northwestern.
She landed a job in the research department at Leo Burnett. After six years, Burnett turned from research to account planning. She did that for another eight years and then was looking for a change.
The change was 11 floors away as she made the switch to Starcom, which had recently founded its consumer context planning practice.
“It has been fascinating to me because I’m taking all the skills I learned as a researcher and account planner in terms of strategic thinking, consumer insights and research, and applying them in a completely different way than I’d ever applied them before,” she said.
Ms. Kline and her husband, a civil engineer, have an 8-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter.
She has been running for 22 years. Sometimes it allows her a personal mental and physical retreat. Other times she’s accompanied by her kids on their bike and the family dog.
Ms. Kline is also an avid reader. As a child, she read a book a day, a habit she wishes her kids would adopt. While not able to maintain that pace today, she says she reads every day and is now in the middle of “Run” by Ann Patchett.
She also does volunteer work.
Ms. Kline’s father died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, so she and her husband give their time to the Les Turner ALS Foundation in Chicago.
Ms. Kline also spends time on programs at her children’s school, including acting as chair of the foreign-language department.
“The studies show that learning a foreign language is so important to kids’ intellectual development, so I do that,” she said.
Who knew? Because she spent part of her childhood in Japan, Ms. Kline did some of her growing up without American TV. “I’ve only realized lately now that I have my own kids how unusual that is and how deeply that impacted me,” she says. “There’s a whole bunch of cartoon references that I don’t get.” Ironically, her family’s cockapoo is called “Scooby.” The name was picked by the breeder—it has litter-mates named Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Scrappy—and the kids wouldn’t let her change it. “I had much more sophisticated names like Oliver and Hugo picked out for the dog,” she says.


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