Highlights from ESOMAR Congress: Day 2, afternoon. Covered by Kyle Nel, Tom Ewing and Chris Wallbridge.

Celebrating Business: Insights Uncovered. - Kyle Nel

Online Anthropology: A New Approach to Advocacy Measurement is the presentation provided by David Rabjohns, MotiveQuest. Motivequest used their research social media data mining methodology to help Sprint reverse customer defections.  MotiveQuest not only provided the research support but also actually helped change the research question.  It moved from how we attract new customers to what drives loyalty, a very different question.  This new perspective sets up potential for truer and greater insights.  Because of the change of the research question and the insights gathered through MotiveQuest’s methodology they were able to grow new customers by over 600,000 in one quarter, compared to nearly a half a million loss in customers the year before.

Esther Garland (Face) and Josh Sorene (HSBC) presented Money Talks. This presentationwas particularly interesting as it showed how HSBC used story and self-ethnography to uncover the role of money in people’s lives. They used research to allow people to tell their life story in the past, present and future.  Face used a timeline construct to plot key life events and then asked respondents to tell the full story of that event … what the plot and sub plots were … who the hero and villain were … and how those events and how they felt about those events affected them.  Respondents were very forthcoming.  Many of the responses were over 4000 words long!  These consumer stories then gave HSBC a starting point for understanding and innovation.  Further this study helped senior execs to see the target audience as people and not just numbers.


Panel Discussion: Next Frontier for the Insight Industry. - Tom Ewing

There is, we often hear, no constant these days except change – or at least, there’s no constant except panels about change. At this ESOMAR panel the tumbrils of the research revolution boasted an all-star selection of drivers: Google Consumer Surveys, SurveyMonkey and Facebook were all represented, along with Toluna and – a sole representative of the old guard – Nielsen. Together they more than delivered on the session’s promise of surprises and provocations.

The panel kicked off by giving each member five minutes to outline their vision of the future: soon paradigm shifts littered the stage like confetti. Google Consumer Surveys’ Paul McDonald offered three: a world of instant delivery annihilating the traditional store, a world of ratings for everything and everyone, and a world where privacy has been redefined by devices which automatically record everyone’s memories for public consumption. (These looked, unsurprisingly, very like Google’s Google Glasses prototype).

To keep pace with this future shock, McDonald offered advice for how research might react – a shift in emphasis to analytics and shopper insights in online stores, and a new marketplace for personal research, as people turned to researchers for explanations of why and how their ratings might change.

Frederic Petit of Toluna’s presentation echoed McDonald in envisioning research as a mass consumer market – in a beautifully designed video he also showed a world of ratings, reviews and comparative data at the blink of an eye or swipe of a finger, with Toluna at the centre. Like Google’s presentation, I couldn’t help feel that these were futures built by data junkies reliant on ordinary people loving data as much as they do – though perhaps in such a post-privacy universe they would have little choice.

Philip Garland of SurveyMonkey and Sean Bruich of Facebook offered less dramatic visions. Garland’s theme was “mode doesn’t matter” – 500,000 self-selected SurveyMonkey users provide US presidential polling data that’s absolutely in line with any other polling firm or average. The advantage of DIY, SurveyMonkey believe, is that it’s inherently social – people offer opinions and pass on the opportunity to their friends.

As for Facebook, they also quoted a match between their data and polling data, but Sean Bruich’s main purpose was taking a polite hatchet to the skulls of several research institutions. Single-source panels? Doomed. Wide demographic segments? Obsolete. Since Facebook’s business right now rests on targeted ads there’s an element of “he would say that” there, but his thoughts on large-scale datasets were fresher. Big data, Bruich pointed out, is also usually bad data, and fusing and finding relevance in bad datasets will become the researcher or analyst’s primary function. Measurement science is the future, he says.

Which left Nielsen: were they there to defend the honour of traditional research? Not at all. Paul Donato’s presentation was the most wide-ranging and exciting of them all, not least because he was showcasing current work. He showed a case study using spectral imaging, satellite data, and models derived from foraging theory to estimate retail density in emerging markets – a research problem addressed by utterly non-traditional methods. He also presented advances in facial coding and machine learning, evidence that research houses can hold their own with web giants when it comes to building cool stuff.

With the pitches over, it was time to discuss these overlapping futures, and the panel responded with a barrage of sound bites. Research is a $33 billion dollar business, said chair Stan Sthanunathan – it could be a $333 billion one, said Google. It’s not about generating data anymore, said Facebook – it’s about finding the insight in that data. Google offered a counterpoint: creativity will be as important as hard science. Nielsen talked about a different skillset – “some of the old and some of the new” – with physicists and cognitive scientists mingling with the old survey wranglers. And that conference buzzword “storytelling” was never far from the panel’s lips.

There were also notes of realism and caution: Nielsen reminded us that where data is currency – like in the TV measurement market – innovation will be far harder. And Google admitted that people assume they know a lot more about their data than they actually do – the scale of information challenges even the biggest companies.

Sthanunathan opened the floor to questions and the audience were clearly fired up. Could these advances be our chance to obliterate the consultancy industry and corner the market in turning human understanding into business advantage? The panel were more sanguine. Researchers were experts on demand, said Facebook, but the value of consultancy has been boiling down complex stories into very clear steps. As Nielsen reminded the hall, no research company has actually made the transition to consultancy, despite a lot of promises. Will this new technological revolution be another missed opportunity? There was much here to excite the “disruptive change” brigade, but amidst all the sound and fury perhaps less in the way of practical advice.


Celebrating Research: Evaluating Online and Neuroscience Techniques. - Kyle Nel

Dimensions of Online Survey Data Quality with Jon Puleston and Mitchell Eggers was a very interesting presentation, one that I feel is relevant to anyone trying to analyze survey data.  This reminded me of the old quote “I know that half of my advertising isn’t working, but I’m not sure which half”.  Similarly, most of us have felt that much of our survey structure and sampling were biasing the results … we just didn’t know just what specifically we were doing to bias the results.  The team from GMI has done the work to answer much of that for us.   Thank you!

Here are a few of the main points in their talk.

There are basically two camps of research looking into this issue:

  • Panel quality factors
  • Survey design factors

Cross cultural variance is the single biggest cause of data variance. 85% of respondents showed signs of speeding. Speeding is the number 1 cause of the corruption of data. How to combat speeding? …adopt a more creative way of asking questions.

What should you worry about when conducting research…everything!

  1. Ensure demo balance panel
  2. Understand how important design factors are
  3. For low incidence studies critical to account for untruthfulness

Conducting international research is a merger of the skills of science and art.

Opening the Black Box: An academic evaluation of the ability of EEG to predict advertising effectiveness presented by Cristina de Balanzo was an incredible session. This was one of the sessions that reminded me why I come to ESOMAR conferences.  Cristina did an excellent job explaining complex neuro methodologies and their output to a mixed audience.  She, and her team, partnered with cross sector organizations to better understand how EEG and Eye Tracking might best be used in adverting research.

Main aims of the research:

  1. Predict: can these methodologies be used to predict behavior and sentiment
  2. Explain: can these methodologies be used to explain these predictions
  3. Justify: Do these techniques provide more insight above traditional MR

A few points worth calling out:

  • Eye tracking: more focused attention correlates with higher sales intention
  • Emotional ads are more effective
  • Ads containing faces capture attention in emotional ads but not in functional ads

Potential applications of EEG and Eye Tracking

  • Pretesting ads
  • Eye tracking
  • Combine EEG and Eye tracking
  • Support the research findings with interviews, to add context


Celebrating Research. A Closer Look at Moms. - Chris Wallbridge

We’re all getting ready for the ESOMAR dinner party tonight! But there is some rather important business to attend to first; Tuesday afternoon’s conference sessions. I’ve got no knowledge/experience of mother or mother/baby research so I was expecting to learn quite a bit from these two afternoon talks!

Un-Mommed: Can Moms and Their Families Survive?”  reported on a unique study where moms were removed from their families and isolated from them for 48 hours. Meltdown and chaos ensue with the hapless Dads and kids awaiting the return of Mom! The point of this qual/quant mixed research was to understand how the role of Mom has changed and to paint an accurate picture of how they behave at home. The findings were mostly as one might expect; for example, modern Moms run their homes like a CEO would run a business, Moms have a hard time being truly present and don’t live for the moment now, and finally, even with the best intentions they are accidentally raising over-dependent kids. But what stuck out for me was how wrong it looks like marketing has got Moms, according to our speaker. There is a lack of authenticity in how Moms are depicted, with Moms in campaigns being distant from the reality. The question is, will the industry listen and change? 

Babyface: Reading Nonverbal Cues to Measure Infants’ Acceptance of Food Products” was a presentation that described a research project as challenging as the title of the talk is long. “How do we understand what Baby likes to eat? Ask Baby!” Except asking Baby is not very easy, what with Baby (6-18 months) unable to talk. It turns out that research on babies is rather sparse, and this is a result of so many challenges associated with doing it. But babies aren’t going to go away since people keep having them. Therefore Blueberry and Stonyfield worked together to devise an approach that would enable understanding of how much babies enjoyed eating a new product Stonyfield were considering launching. It involved filming the babies as they consumed the product and having multiple, for the sake of robustness, researchers coding their facial expressions and reactions to evaluate enjoyment. At the same time Moms would complete a questionnaire, and the “data triangulation” as it was described prevents conflicting conclusions being arrived at. So what did Baby say? They said that although the new product made them quite happy babies, the existing product made them very happy babies. As a result, the product launch was scrapped. Good on Stonyfield for having the conviction to act on the research conclusions. 


Celebrating Research. Back to the Future – Challenging Conventional Wisdom. - Tom Ewing

“Challenging conventional wisdom” was this session’s subtitle – always a dangerous claim, since a successful challenge quickly becomes a new convention, and the unwary presenter can find themselves a few steps behind their audience.

But the first presentation in today’s session made good on the claim. On the surface, said Kyle Findlay and Constantin Sapkidis of TNS, your brand tracking data is placid and slow-moving – but beneath, all is seething chaos. The culprit is our old friend, the discrepancy between what is claimed and what is actually done.

This discrepancy isn’t always apparent. Some people say, for instance, that they drink alcohol every day. We can use drink diaries to check this, and when the data is examined in the aggregate, the levels of daily drinking are indeed as claimed. The only problem is that the
people who actually are drinking every day are not the same as those who claim it.

Does this really matter, if the aggregates check out? The problem is that the creeping chaos of individual behaviour means that metrics like share of wallet, for instance, become almost useless as predictive tools – they change dramatically from year to year at the individual level while looking stable in aggregate. Buying behaviour is erratic and highly mobile, with traditional “loyalists” counting for very little.

I don’t know how groundbreaking this work is – it seems to me at least a cousin of Andrew Ehrenberg’s excellent work debunking loyalty, for example – but it still runs counter to the orthodoxies of consumer behaviour. The classic user/non-user dichotomy, for instance, was
dismissed as far less useful than thinking in terms of “sliders” – mid frequency users slipping to low or high. Findlay described dealing with the flux of individual behaviour as “managing the flows” – a more complex, but ultimately richer endeavour than traditional tracking.

Randall Brandt of Maritz was next on stage, with a comparison of website comments – TripAdvisor hotel reviews – with comments sourced from traditional surveys. Do they tell the same story? The answer turned out to be a simple one: yes. Both sources raised the same
issues and displayed the same sentiment.

This finding is useful, though perhaps too simple to carry a twenty-minute presentation by itself. To put it in context, Brandt chose to frame it with the battle between surveys and social media:
could the latter replace the former? This particular fight tends to end predictably – they have different strengths – and Brandt was clearly a survey partisan, which made the framing a little odd, since the evidence rather strongly pointed to the fact that freely available web comments are indeed, in this case, a straight replacement for survey verbatims.

To get round this, Brandt introduced the issues of sample sizes and bias at the last moment, which felt rather unfair – if bias was a big problem, it would have shown up in the study data. Besides, the real issue with web reviews isn’t that they’re actionable to brand owners: it’s that they’re clearly actionable to consumers, which automatically and conclusively makes their concerns real ones, however accurate they might be next to a survey.

After a discussion, Dave McCaughan of McCann Worldgroup took the stage for the funniest – and perhaps the wisest – presentation of the weekend, on the history of men’s underwear. Any presentation where the speaker starts in convention dress and ends up in vest and hideous comedy shorts is a special one, and McCaughan was on terrific form, with a potted history of Hollywood pants (and how they changed or reflected behaviour) next to details of the three inventions that changed men’s undies (the spinning jenny, the washing machine, and the
contraceptive pill).

Amongst the laughs lurked a serious – and dangerous – point. Underwear is a low-involvement category, but a category with plenty of history, and a wealth of statistics and information available to anyone who cares to look. In which case, why do research – especially if researchers presenting new “insights” might just be going over old ground? Things don’t change that much, McCaughan said – researchers with an understanding of history will be adding more value than neophiles, whose fresh insights might be as skimpy as a bodybuilder’s thong.

McCaughan had an unpromising brief, but his presentation never sold us short. Facts and jokes jockeyed for position, and he always seemed to have a new one in his pouch. Researchers with a vested interest in low-involvement categories will know really new insights are rare and you could lose your shirt trying to find one. McCaughan’s superb talk showed us why frontal attacks on a research problem aren’t as effective as simply having a rummage in your trunk. It was, all in all, a great example of thinking outside the boxers.


Adam Gyorgy. - Erika Harriford-McLaren

From the Dutch Gold medal winning field hockey coach, Marc Lammers in 2011 to the latest non-MR keynote, renowned concert pianist Adam Gyorgy, the concepts of making an impact and accelerating excellence have taken on a new light at the ESOMAR Congress’.

The first thing that strikes you about Gyorgy is just how nice, how approachable and real he is.  This reverberated in his talk and his performance as well and left the audience smiling in a way I don’t often see at these events.  I’m sure many were wondering what relevance a concert pianist could have for our industry, and I think Gyorgy left everyone with a good idea of how inspiration, talent and passion in the arts can indeed translate into our practice.

Like Gyorgy, we must learn to focus on our strengths, to find our niche and excel in that.  To be honest, I think market researchers do that already –  in that this profession is held by those who believe in it, who love it, and who strive to make it better each day.

The concept of accelerating excellence in music can indeed be translated to us.  Keeping musical traditions alive but reinventing it to keep it fresh and alive is indeed apropos to what we are struggling to do in our industry. To remain faithful to ourselves but to evolve and keep our core values alive.

Gyorgy did an exceptional job of reminding us of that. Let’s hope that ESOMAR continues to bring inspirational keynotes that motivate us both professionally and personally.