By Gabrielle Flinn

ESOMAR’s first UK meet-up of 2016, The Future, was focused on just that – predictions and speculation about the future of the industry, backed up with a healthy dose of research to provide factual evidence.

The first speaker was Ernest Collings, who created controversy and excitement with his presentation 20:20:20 – 20 predictions for 2020. At lightning speed, Ernie ran through a series of predictions on the short-term future of market research: he believes traditional market research agencies will be tough to find, and brand health and perception trackers completely nonexistent. Instead, Ernie suggested that big data (and Big Brother) will take over – people will be monitored, all the time, through voluntary chips that report their behaviour and neurological measurements directly to brands, media agencies and advertisers.

In contrast, Samantha Bond, the second speaker, presented a more positive (but equally disrupting) view of the future. Sam immersed herself in a qualitative project to map the views of millennial entrepreneurs – talking to some of her respondents for up to 2.5 hours! She found that millennial entrepreneurs were unusual compared to entrepreneurs from other generations – largely driven by morals instead of money, who focused on personality rather than academic qualifications when hiring, and who strived for a healthy balance of work-life integration rather than a 9-5 corporate position. She also provided some insight for larger organizations attempting to recruit new millennial talent: hire an inspirational CEO; reward action rather than age; and trust and empower millennials to do their job in their own time, without micromanaging.

(As an aside, I happen to work at a start-up founded by a millennial, and Sam is totally right about the culture – morality, individuality, and personality are king. It’s not uncommon to see the office empty at 10 am on Monday – but it’s also not uncommon to get together on weekends and thrash out a new project. We frequently go out for meals, movies or to sporting events together – it’s a true work-life integration and much more rewarding (for me, anyway) than a 9-5 role. What you accomplish is the most important thing – not how many hours it takes to do it.)

Finally, Jon Puleston presented work on a new kind of research – predicting the future using the wisdom of the crowd. Jon’s thesis is that there are some situations in which asking people to predict what others will do is more useful – and more predictive – than the traditional approach to surveys (asking a representative sample of the population what they, personally, would do, and then extrapolating this to the general population based on demographic factors). The key criteria for this to work is that respondents must have some knowledge about the issue (i.e. they can’t just be guessing), and they must be unbiased as a group (i.e. you probably don’t want to ask a bunch of Chelsea fans who is going to win the next football match against Manchester United). If you can achieve these two goals, crowd wisdom can be remarkably accurate. In fact, research indicates that some people are superpredictors – highly accurate when making predictions – and that a group of superpredictors can often significantly outperform political polls. The most famous example of a superpredictor is Nate Silver, who correctly predicted the outcome of all 52 states and territories in the 2012 US presidential election (Nate’s blog is For more information, Jon recommended reading Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip Tetlock.

The three speakers focused on very different aspects of the future, but all three agreed that the future is going to be exciting, disruptive and very difficult to imagine from where we’re currently sitting. Companies run by people who don’t care if you’re at your desk until 6pm every night? Morals over money? The disappearance of traditional market research firms and brand trackers? Asking people to predict what others will do, instead of their own opinion? These are all revolutionary ideas – ones that will change our world. Bring on the future!

Gabrielle Flinn,