Highlights from ESOMAR Congress: Day 2, morning. Covered by Erika Harriford-McLaren and bloggers Chris Wallbridge and Kyle Nel.

Parallel 1. Celebrating Business, Going for Growth. - Chris Wallbridge

Another day in sunny Atlanta, and what better way could there be to start it than sitting inside a conference room? It is the day after the great success (I might be biased being on the Board, but seriously it was great fun) that was the 2012 Fringe Factory Event … and all the parties that followed … Fred John of MasterCard Worldwide was our chair for the session that included an impromptu talk from the WIN Network on what would happen if the entire world was able to vote in the U.S election. It turns out that Obama would receive over half the vote, with Romney gaining just twelve per cent. Oh dear Mitt! But the most interesting stat is that 42% of the world outside of the US believes they should have the right to vote in the US election! How spectacularly empowered we all must be! Or slightly deluded, perhaps?

After that was Ana Alvarez, of PepsiCo Latam, and Fiona Blades, Chief Experience Officer at MESH Planning, presenting “From Rio the Rest of the World”. Now I know there is quite a lot of text below, so do bear with me, but it is important to reflect upon Latam and consider the markets and opportunities in-depth rather than just the acknowledgement that they exist. People often like to talk about Latam, and Asia too, as the next big thing; where the money is, where the growth is. Yes, thank-you, we know – this is all true. But all too often we hear these simplistic comments regurgitated with no real depth behind them; no real explanation of how to get at said growth and money. Therefore it was refreshing that before we got into the ‘research part’ of the presentation we heard from Ana and Fiona about Latam, and Brazil in particular, to provide some actual context. We were reminded that Latam is not all the same; I mean Brazil is bigger than Europe, and who would consider the English, the French, the Italians, etc. as a homogenous set? It is not good enough to consider Brazil as ‘one place’, let alone the whole of Latin America. The North East of Brazil is very different from the South, and these were all well-made points from Ana and Fiona. Another interesting fact, new to me, is that it is the low-income, not the emerging (but overstretched apparently) middle-class we hear so much about, driving growth in Latam markets. This is fascinating since, to me at least, it means that to benefit from growth in the short-to-medium term we need a strategy for capitalising on the opportunity the low-income bracket represents; but we will need a distinct strategy beyond that for the middle-class once they are able to spend above and beyond the mortgage repayments. It is interesting to consider how a brand delivers in the now, and in the future, taking all groups with it. That’s a slight aside…

After the introduction Ana did lament that despite all the talk about the opportunity of Latam, many MR firms are strikingly dull and non-responsive in forming innovative approaches. Hence why, for a Gatorade launch in Mexico, the MESH Experience Tracker was deployed, a methodology that captures all brand experiences above, through and below the line. This was critical in Mexico since Gatorade had identified the importance of, and then heavily invested in, the more experiential touchpoints rather than only focussing on more traditional channels, e.g. TV. This paid off since the experiential touchpoints were delivering double the impact of TV, and a channel efficiency analysis showed that true media weight optimisation could be achieved through carefully shifting some, not all obviously, spend from TV into various experiential touchpoints to varying degrees. And the best thing is that, when presented with these findings, PepsiCo acted on these recommendations. It shouldn’t feel this refreshing to hear a client altering media strategy based on market research findings, but sadly it is.

Next up we had “From the bottom of the heart!” from Jaisy Desai of Ipsos Marketing India and Michael Sack of Ipsos USA. This session was all about how a visual language methodology is able to probe far into the deep subconscious. I knew that as a man more pre-disposed to quant analysis I would have to concentrate to follow this one! Essentially, however, we were given an introduction to a way of understanding why individuals behave and think in certain ways, when they themselves would not be able to rationalise it. Now I must admit at first I was slightly confused when Michael tried to convince me that a picture of a house was in fact a stove top, but assuming I’d missed the point somewhat I listened closer. The point is that when you deconstruct visual images you can find the hidden symbolism inherent; when participants select certain images, they unwittingly are passing the researcher coded data built into the images on how they feel and what they think. We were left with one final thought; “In life we seek meaning and truth; in research we seek meaning and truth behind consumption of brands”.

The final talk of the session was one of those that makes you think in a way you had not considered before. You then wonder why you had never done so, since it is so obvious. Well that’s what this talk did for me. “Focusing on the flow of enthusiasm” from Arne van de Wijdeven of Phillips International, and Rijn Vogelaar of Blauw Research, questioned, why is it that brands always focus on the dissatisfied customers or trying to capture new ones? Since I enjoyed this so much I will plug Rijn’s book – The Superpromoter: The Power of Enthusiasm. In it, I would assume is the philosophy of our aforementioned presenters that catering to the “superpromoter” is an effective way to grow a brand (sustainable and long-term growth would be my added interpretation). The superpromoter is a customer with enthusiasm, who shares that enthusiasm with contacts, and has the ability to influence their networks. Brands are not giving their customers enough opportunities to share their enthusiasm; they suffer from superpromoter blindness. This is what I mean when I said that this talk was one that makes you wonder why you had never realised these truths before. Of course, when you think about it, brands focus on the negatives without capitalising fully in leveraging those individuals passionate about them. Our presenters continued with yet more revelations! Managers are problem solvers (without problems they would be out of a job they claim) and customer sat research is actually customer dissatisfaction research. Superpromoters are standing in front of an empty stage, not being catered for. To sum up, since that is my job here: study the superpromoter of your brand, don’t focus on the negatives, focus on why some love your brand, and when you uncover that, you will be able to spread this enthusiasm. It is not naïve to believe in enthusiasm.


Parallel 2. The Talent Contest: ESOMAR Young Researcher of the Year Award Finals. - Erika Harriford-McLaren

For the past four years ESOMAR has recognised exceptional young researchers from around the globe through its Young Researcher of the Year Award competition. This year the competition centred around three key themes: The Changing Socio/Political landscape, The Economy – What’s Next; and Social/New Media Habits.   Three finalists were chosen to present their findings today at the ESOMAR Congress and I think it is safe to say that the collective agreement of the room was that the future of our industry is in good hands.

Guneet Kaur of Nielsen India presented her paper “Present is ‘Expecting’ Future: A social media buzz around the baby bump” outlining the role that social media plays in the life of pregnant women.

Patrick Pfefferkorn of H,T,P Concept Germany presented his paper “You Won’t Find Me on Facebook” addressing the future of social media.

Rajna Rajan of TNS Middle East and Africa in the UAE was unable to attend, but sent an amazing video presentation of her paper “Once Upon a Time … in Egypt”.

All three presentations were exceptional and the crowd response was overwhelmingly positive.  An international jury then selected a winner, based upon the written paper, announcing Patrick Pfefferkorn as the 2012 ESOMAR Young Researcher of the Year.


Panel Discussion: Research 2030. Mergers and Acquisitions. - Kyle Nel

Moderated by Diane Hessan (Communispace), the panelists included Michael Mitrano (Transition Strategies Corporation), Kees de Jong (SSI), Debbie Pruent (GFK) and Carlos Harding (Ipsos).

Frankly, panel discussions can either be helpful and interesting or … how do I say this nicely … the opposite of that.  I must say that, honestly and truly, this panel was very interesting and helpful.  As a buyer of research it was very interesting and helpful (I promise that was the last time that I will use the phrase “very interesting and helpful” in this post) to hear the back story of how this M&A thing works, and how it affects buyers like me.

The session began with an audience poll about whether large companies acquiring small independent companies was good for the industry … surprise, surprise the audience was not in favor of the big multinationals eating up the creative little fish.

Michael Mitrano, a MR M&A expert, then gave an excellent overview of the MR M&A landscape.

  • The average M&A activity is about 60 each year.
  • Although, the industry and methodologies are changing, the pace of M&A has remained fairly consistent.
  • There is no pattern of consolidated on the syndicated … they are already consolidated.
  • Custom research is where all of the M&A activity is.
  • The biggest companies are gaining share and the smallest companies are holding share … the middle-sized companies are the ones being acquired or losing share.

Kees de Jong started out the panel discussion by countering the sentiment from the audience that large multinationals acquiring smaller research shops is a bad thing.  Kees believes that larger companies are not good at innovation and entrepreneurship.

Debbie Pruent gave some interesting insights of how they perceive MR M&A as a strategy.

  • There has been/is a race for global coverage by large MR firms
  • “We are not fighting for share with the smaller research shops. The industry is growing.”
  • The challenge is not innovation but the rollout of innovation.

The thoughts of Carlos Harding:

  • The MR industry is late to consolidation.
  • M&A helps smaller companies manage growth and obtain scale.
  • M&A provides the employees of smaller shops greater opportunities

There was a healthy divergence of opinions amongst the panelists.  There was one area that there seemed to be a consensus.

The Consensus: The Never-Ending M&A Research Cycle

The real question then is … how do large companies hold on to the talent?  Kees suggested that it was probably more about what large companies should not do.  The acquiring company’s process and methodology experts can sometimes squeeze the soul out of the acquired organizations.

Carlos added that in his experience, it is all about finding the right cultural fit with the acquired shop and the acquiring firm.

The panelists were then asked a few poignant questions by the moderator.

What Advice Would You Give If You Would Like To Be Acquired?

  • Plan years ahead
  • Get over the emotional challenge of selling your baby
  • Get your team on board with the idea, that is what the acquiring firm is buying
  • Have an experienced M&A team advise throughout the planning process

What about branding?

  • Having multiple brands is very complex and very expensive.
  • Folding in the acquired firms to the brand

Overall an excellent discussion, with many questions remaining to be explored.  This issue affects us all … both research buyers and suppliers.  We should all join the discussion.

What questions would you ask the panelists?


Conversation with the Executive Suite. - Erika Harriford-McLaren

Chaired by Diane Hesson, CEO and founder of Communispace, this session gave some interesting insights into the thinking of the C-Suite and the role suppliers are playing in their business decision making.

The panel featured Barry Calpino, VP Breakthrough Innovation at Kraft Foods, Wendy Clark, SVP of Integrated Marketing Communications & Capabilities at The Coca Cola Company, Rilla DeLorier, EVP and CMO, Sun Trust Banks, and John Wallis, CMO and Global Head of Marketing & Strategy, Hyatt Hotels echoed many of the sentiments from Beckitt Renckiser from the 2011 Congress Executive Panel the year before, while offering some new and very practical tips for suppliers.

Following on a running theme from throughout the Congress, Diane questioned the panel on their view of the industry now that other companies are now “in our business and now that big data is everywhere.”  John Wallis believes that this is a critical point for us as an industry and the key to our success will be how we communicate internally   ̶  a concern that seems to be shared by many of the delegates.

However, Wendy Clark believes that this is a positive for us ̶   that the new entrants into the MR arena are in fact validation of our importance as an industry and that we should not be so concerned about them, but rather should see them as shining a light on what we do and a means to raise the focus of how important our data is.

With increasing amounts of data entering into our lives, raising the focus is key.  It was clear for this group of executives that while more insights are wanted, it’s the type of insights and the value they bring that makes the difference. Internally, the challenge should be to integrate it into everything you do and not to separate it.  It should be horizontal across the business if possible and the data should show that as a supplier you understand the business.

Externally, the supplier needs to show that they “get the client” and can communicate succinctly but effectively. As Rilla DeLorier noted, “You can tell the type of researcher you deal with when they walk in the door. “ A good thing to know – when you are putting together that all-important 200-slide deck to present your findings, because what the Executive Suite wants is the one pager that is synthesised and not a stack of PowerPoints. Although it has been said before – it still doesn’t’ seem to be getting through.  Just one piece of paper can be an inspiration to the client – as long as it is provocative, pushing the boundaries while showing that you have synthesised the data enough to understand the client’s needs, one page that can demonstrate the value of responding to what was asked, while also coming back with more … additional insight.

John Wallis had an even more interesting approach – he doesn’t read what you give him. Part of the job should be to sell him what you want, and if he can repeat it back to you then it makes sense and you have done your job.  Great for those who are natural salesmen, but for others, it may mean learning how to become a better storyteller, a trait which all of the Executive Suite agreed is needed and sadly, somewhat lacking.

Other key takeaways from the Executive Suite included:

  • Become a partner – you will only get into the Executive Suite if you can take part in a two way conversation with them. Don’t be afraid to challenge them, because that is what a real partner does.
  • Remember that it is humans who make decisions – not reports.
  • Co-creation is the future …the days of controlling the message are over. We must co-create.  Remember clients are not generally willing to hand the entire proxy to consumers … but they do think it is good to bring consumers in.
  • Speed – It’s something they want, but it must be used in its proper context. Be careful about making it your holy grail.
    • Remember that clients want to reward the exceptional – they don’t want to pay for average.