It’s ESOMAR’s 67th annual Congress, this year held in Nice, France. This year we look at “what inspires” and our event team have been working hard to provide the industry with some of the best and most inspiring content within and outside the industry. To cover the event and ensure those that couldn’t make it could get the feel of the conference, we sent our intrepid reporters Annie Pettit and Anna Peters to give their view of one of the biggest research conferences in the industry calendar. Here are their highlights of the 2nd day.

annie smallAnnie Pettit

When I was 14, I played ball in the street with my dad. I took piano lessons, I babysat for the neighbourhood kids, and I spent a lot time at the library reading for fun. Today’s keynote speaker had a slightly different story. At 14, he’s started several companies, and he talks about networking with the folks at Apple and Adobe in the same way I talk about meeting a colleague over coffee.

Right now, Jordan Casey’s world is a boy in an adult’s world. He worries about potential partners and investors taking him seriously (sound familiar ladies?). He finds the work/life balance difficult when his high school exams interfere with his business. But, he schedules time for homework every day and makes time to play with his friends on the weekends. He knows that his business isn’t everything and he is careful to make time for all the important parts of his life.

Congress 2014 interview: Jordan Casey from ESOMAR on Vimeo.

It’s hard to think that a person as young as Jordan could teach us more mature, more experienced, and wiser adults but he too is a professional business person doing his best. Like other people running new and innovative businesses, he appreciates that not everyone will understand what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. But, he does know that there is always a supportive person nearby who can help. He also knows that he can’t be great at everything which is why he hires people who are good at the things he isn’t. He believes that if you could do whatever you wanted, why not do it now? These are wise words from someone born in this century.

A number of other talks piqued my curiosity today. A team representing PepsiCo and Sense Worldwide spoke about the importance of seeking out opinions from extreme users and non-users. Why not talk specifically to people who use your product like a badge of honour? These people have unique ways of interacting with your product that the average consumer might never think of, and these unique ways could be your next big thing. Why not talk to the people who absolutely refuse to use your product? They might have very specific and detailed reasons that could be turned to your advantage. And since we’re talking about non-users, think about how people detest being screened out of research. Maybe we’re screening out the wrong people. Maybe we shouldn’t screen anyone out. Imagine how happy people would be if we never screened them out.

Also completely inspiring was the series of talks by young researchers and, for me personally, the talk by Pallavi Dhall. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by her discussion of an innovative sampling technique called Respondent Driven Sampling. Since homosexuality is a crime in India, men can’t admit to being gay for fear of being arrested. Random sampling simply isn’t an option. But, by depending on a few trusted gay men to invite 3 people each, and those gay men to invite 3 people each, they slowly created a sample of their target group that could be used to estimate the size of the target group, was more representative, and had more external validity than a snowball sample And by the way, Pallavi won the Young Researcher of the Year Award. Well deserved!

Young Researcher Award Winner 2014 from ESOMAR on Vimeo.

The last talk I’ll mention from today was by Patricia Flores of Repere and Stéphane Gautron of Carrefour Management. In another variation on the theme of sampling, they discussed a project whereby items on the shelf of a grocery store were flagged with little signs stating the product could be home tested for free if the person participated in a research project. Consumers loved being able to try new products in their homes without the risk of paying for something they might not like. The retailer liked that consumers chose to shop at their store in order to participate in the research. And the researchers? Well, when consumers are eager to participate in research, that’s great for the research industry.


Anna-PetersAnna Peters


Yesterday’s theme was all about doing something different: not talking to consumers, and day 2 at ESOMAR 2014 continued this theme – we heard InSights Consulting conclude that “research is not just about asking questions” because, when it comes to talking about future behaviours, only 45% of consumers can help if you simply talk to them. And that’s why mass market brands, such as PepsiCo, are moving away from Q&A methodologies – towards methodologies which will inspire internal teams.

From Pernod Ricard challenging Added Value to help them “make insights come alive in the Pernod way” through to InSights Consulting challenging Telephonica’s engineers to “get out from behind their desks and do things which make you uncomfortable” – research is now all about inspiring solutions. Much as BCG predicted back in 2012, in 2014 insight really has become strategic foresight.

But more exciting that simply living up to predictions from 2012 is what will happen beyond Market Research as strategic foresight: ESOMAR 2014 has shown how insight has the potential to drive deep-rooted organisational change. I think this is we all need to pay attention to.

On day 2, we heard from Shiongi Ltd. An interesting example of a business which has been created and structured completely around consumer insight. Launching the UK commercial venture in 2012, they were in the unique position of being able to create a business from scratch. They chose to do this by creating their organisation around the consumer. With their senior team attending at least 50% of all consumer insight sessions, Shiongi has managed to overcome barriers to a customer-centric business (lack of confidence, lack of conviction, and the age-old ‘not in my job description’ retort). In doing so, they claim to have created a happier, healthier and more profitable business.

In a similar vein, we learnt about ‘TeachWare’ – a cloud based software to help teachers manage students – designed by the charming 14 year old Jordon Casey. Like Shiongi, Jordon explained that end-consumers (in this instance, teachers) were always in mind when developing the product. By putting consumers in the centre of his products, Jordon’s business has gone from strength to strength.

However, for a mass-market business based around historical manufacturing production the challenge of putting insight at the centre of the business is a little harder. An organisation like this cannot simply start from scratch and rebuild with the customer in the driving seat. Nevertheless, it is not impossible and PepsiCo demonstrated to us how they are using inspiring insight to reshape and re-structure working practices throughout their business.

For PepsiCo, insight has been transformed in this way thanks to their work with Sense Wordwide. Sense has put them in touch with their ‘extreme’ consumer – i.e. those leading edge creative individuals which certainly don’t make up the mainstay of their mass target audience. PepsiCo have used this group of 50 consumers as the opposite of research participants: this group are a muse designed to guide internal teams and shape the thinking of external creative agencies. For Nick Graham (PepsiCo USA) this has been the first time in his career where “agencies have been begging him” to speak to consumers. In short, this approach has resulted in an organisational shift – where the function of Market Research has been repositioned from reporting findings, to inspiring solutions.

Telefonica Digital is another organisation which has been asking the question “can research change company culture?” And the response is clear: yes, but it is hard. To really change anything, both the agency and the client side researcher must challenge organisational assumptions. In short, Natalie Malevsky told us, we must all become expert B2B content marketers.

Content Marketing will be a skill-set foreign to most traditional researchers. But if we are ever to truly drag the industry away from its reputation of processes and pie-charts then it’s one we must all master. This, in conjunction doing more than just talking to consumers, will help us to create insights which inspire. But for me that isn’t anything too radical: good researchers will have been inspiring for years now.

For me, the biggest potential is for insight to fundamentally change organisational functions and structures. So, my theme for day 2 at ESOMAR 2014 is all about organisational change and the ever increasing role that insights have here. To echo the aspiration of Vivek Banerji, from Dojo insights: “let’s create an insights culture which puts humanity at the centre of the business.”

Annie Pettit is Vice President of Research Standards, Research Now
Anna Peters is a freelance researcher based in London