ESOMAR Congress Preview

By Vanessa Oshima

In 1976 a new standard was introduced into the music industry – it was deemed that the GOLD standard (selling 500,000 units – album or single) was not fully capturing the success of those singles that moved over and beyond GOLD status. So PLATINUM was introduced.

A Platinum record was in recognition of an album or single that had sold 1,000,000 units. This was before streaming, and downloading, or Amazon one click – where  BUYING an album actually meant you went to the record store – you spent your hours looking through the covers – maybe listening to some samples on big bulky headphones, and then you laid out your pocket money for the piece of vinyl.

But Platinum status for a record reflected more than just a sales target – to reach Platinum level meant that you had impacted that moment of culture. You had something to say that connected with a broad audience and they wanted to hear it again and again, they wanted to share it with their friends.

Platinum record status; coveted, held as precious, resilience to survive and rise above competition and recognized as having immense value and impact. These are, in fact, the qualities of the precious metal Platinum – a precious metal known for being remarkably resilient, incredibly valuable and an exceptional catalyst.

Why all this talk about Platinum! Good Question! 2017 is the celebration of ESOMARS 70th “platinum” birthday, and it is so very fitting that we are celebrating our Platinum anniversary now. For anything to not only survive, but thrive and grow for 70 years – be that a tree, a relationship or marriage, a brand, a company, a person – is  quite phenomenal.

As I reflect on what it means to be CELEBRATING 70 years, I gravitate to the idea that it means you remain relevant – you are continually meeting the needs of the community you are  serving. Even as that community changes in their needs – they want you in their life.


ESOMAR has been highly relevant to the Market Research Industry, its clients and supporters for 7 decades. That is an amazing thing! And the role of ESOMAR has been to help the insights industry be authentic, trusted and relevant. We have succeeded! Market Research’s relevancy year-on-year is evolving and growing. But as a community of high achievers we are not content to sit back and admire our past glory. Just as every good research debrief and presentation to the client has a “next steps/next project” pitch – we too will continue to cast our eyes forward – to the NEXT 70 years! The one thing we do know is that the pace of change is speeding up – and for us to stay relevant and be impactful we need to move…NOW!

This year’s 70th anniversary will combine celebrating the last 70 years (as birthdays and anniversaries typically are with a big PARTY or TWO!) with a VISIONARY theme so we leave at the end of the week inspired for the next decades of change, challenge, resilience, and impact as an industry.

The Committee have worked towards bringing together a collection of papers, keynote speakers and sessions that are all working towards a version and vision of the future. Challenging, provoking, succeeding and failing – all with the sole purpose of moving forward for the industry, clients and delivering ever better experiences and products.

Although the conference will be officially “opened” on Monday morning – there will be a group of people already well into their congress visionary and catalyst experience. On Sunday Microsoft will host a Hackathon with the aim of taking on some of our challenges in the industry and using the hackathon techniques of Silicon Valley to unlock at speed the potential solutions. We also have a special session for client side to connect and learn from each other’s experiences in our ‘Let’s Click’ session on Sunday afternoon.

On Monday we will take a big deep breath and dive in to the future.  In 1989, the movie “Back to the Future 2” was released. Marty McFly went into the future – October 21st 2015. He watched as food was instantly heated, he watched his “older self” do a TV video call with his boss, and he slipped his foot into a self-lacing NIKE shoe. All made possible by a time machine car that did not run on gasoline or need roads. It seemed surreal and fantasy at the time. Fast forward – the Future has a way of catching up with our visions of it! So let’s set that vision.

Over the three days we will share, discuss, argue about and create our vision of the future. After all the only way to be sure about what the future holds is to design it ourselves. In the word of customization and choice, this Congress will have 3 parallel stages – providing an absolute buffet of choice to be inspired by. We know that we are not yet able to clone ourselves and be at all locations at once so the take home papers, videos and of course the numerous networking opportunities are all set up to make sure that you can access it all.

Our key theme for day 1 is “The Future is Now”. As William Gibson noted in 2003 – “the future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed”. We hear from companies including Diagio and Coca-Cola, the airline industries and insurance industries on how they have taken novel new approaches to moving their insights functions forward, including investing in start-ups and redefining their core benefits. We hear provocations turn the industry “inside-out” by saying let’s test products aimed at adults with kids, getting research gamification to the next level where it is as addictive as Pokemon Go. In a nod to “back to the future” style imagining we also introduce scenarios of what 2027 and 2087 could possibly look like – don’t scoff! Just remember Marty McFly and be prepared to say “whoa doc!” and engage in the Q&A and discussion sessions.

On day 1 we also look to two vital “life bloods” of the future of research which is connecting with youth and investment. The Young ESOMAR Society is all about building that next generation of thought leaders – actually, many are not waiting to be the “next generation” – pushing strongly ahead to lead and show the way. VISION with COURAGE to ACT – this is what is needed!  After all, a vision without a plan is just a dream. Our investor panel will provide timely input as to what they are seeking out when making decisions to invest in the future of research and the companies and people that will lead us there.

Investment companies are often looking for the technologies and more importantly their application with solid working frameworks that are disruptive enough to change the landscape. ESOMAR is providing a safe environment for us to share and collaborate. I recall back in 2004 presenting a paper at the APAC conference nervously introducing mobile phone surveys we were doing in Japan – sans smart phones! For us to openly discuss and share the learnings (yes successes and failures) is the only way forward.

We as an industry have been challenged, supported and everything in between. Often we are challenged when introducing new ideas and methods. On day 2 we introduce some of the “shiny new tools” such as VR, AI, Image mining, text analytics, the IOT, which all bring new and exciting opportunities (and challenges) to the market. We open up the can of worms that is polling data (yes we all know what the polls said!) and how we move forward. I love shiny new tools – but I also recognize that to try them is at times risky. Let’s openly discuss it and move confidently forward!

And on a personal note, I am inspired to be part of an industry that is applying the skills and tools we have to do incredibly impactful research in projects squarely focused on social purpose and improvement of the human condition. ESOMAR FOUNDATION humbly leading by example. After all, research is about understanding people – and helping their lives be better. On day 2 we spend some time to share these projects and what it means for the industry to embrace an important role in making the world a better place. We touch on street kids’ realities, Save the Children, and sex trafficking in India. Not only will these presentations inspire you, but they will also highlight how to take on difficult subjects (and taboo topics) in the corporate world as well.

Putting this celebration of 70 years together has been a true team effort and I want to say a big thank you to the committee, Ria Dierikx, Giula Gasperi, John Kearon, Els Molenaar, Mark Riseley, Pieter Paul Verheggen and Till Winkler. Maybe I am sharing a bit too much information – but I have never been on a committee that at the end of our first day of meeting, we were completely comfortable with having a big group hug. The energy, passion, smiles and support across the team has been the secret sauce to making this a special programme with a clear VISON to be the catalyst for the next 70 years.

ESOMAR, Happy Birthday! Let’s get this party started!

Vanessa Oshima, ESOMAR Congress Chair and GM Nike Women’s Japan

This year’s ESOMAR Congress is in Amsterdam, 10-13 September. Register by 18 August to save!