By Christoph Welter 

What kind of creativity do we need in order to be successful as qualitative researchers? That for me was the meta question that Day 2 of ESOMAR’s Global Qualitative Conference was asking.

The day started with a veritable coolness competition – presenters referencing the who-is-who of current pop cultural icons from Nicki Minaj across several Game Of Thrones characters to the movie franchise The Hangover. Andy Crysell (Crowd DNA, UK) and Gemma Procter from Twitter (who went on to win the jury-voted 2015 Qualitative Excellence award) showcased the changing nature of music fandom over the course of pop history and what advertisers can learn from this when engaging with people. Sandeep Dutta from TNS India showcased how a ‘Wicked Me’ Online forum where participants could share sinful consumption stories can help to explore a more ambiguous ‘grey‘ world for brands beyond simplistic black and white. A case study for Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas even brought researchers right on to a rollercoaster together with participants – now that’s immersion!

Further into the day, delegates got a glimpse of the future of money (Firefish UK, Paypal), into the significance of Karma Culture for E-Commerce in India (Vox Populi, OLX) and into the power of metacognition in disrupting status quo choice in the cold drinks market (Join The Dots, Nestlé). The programme in fact was so chock-full of variety that sometimes you couldn’t help get a little bit dizzy and wonder what exactly you were supposed to take away from it all.

The afternoon reintroduced much-needed focus by zoning in on the topic of Impact. Ed Garey from BAMM (UK) and James Johnstone (Shell) talked about how to make insights go viral. A virus has three key characteristics: It can mutate, it is transferred horizontally, and it transfers at great speed. Ed and James urged the industry to start applying these benchmarks as quality criteria to how we craft our learnings. They also introduced what must be the best catch phrase of the whole conference: ‘Re-Use! Re-Edit! Re-Cut!‘ The remix has long been the driving force of creativity in popular culture. As an industry, we should start harnessing the power of the remix in creatively packaging our insights – from different perspectives and for different stakeholders. Insights are not one-fits-all solutions, they need a variety of vehicles in order to thrive!

This was further evidenced in Anouk Willem’s (In-Sites Consulting) fantastic talk on how to collaboratively activate research insights. The presentation showcased how bringing together a broad set of client-side stakeholders at Danone and customer-side participants on a dedicated platform could help playfully develop insights together and turn them into company-wide memes. The talk showcased the power of collaborative sensemaking and of giving stakeholders an actual stake in connecting with consumers.

So – how did the industry do this year in showcasing its strengths? ESOMAR always invites a couple of students to their conferences, to give them a first-hand experience – fantastic idea! Vice versa, we should listen to them and use that as a bit of a benchmark. Possibly the most thought-provoking student feedback I got: ‘We live in a post Power Point world – I wonder why everyone still uses this old fashioned format to present!‘ Hmm, here’s a challenge for 2016! The student also gave me one hint: Nausea-inducing ‘Prezi gone wrong’ showcases are not necessarily the solution.

Another interesting point one student made was that the industry comes across as inward-bound and self-referential – as though delegates need a qualitative conference in order to boost their own confidence that they are doing ok. And indeed I would say that it would serve us well to look yet more for more connections with the world beyond research and invite other practitioners in.

One such connection was established in a post-lunch workshop session. Artist Kylin O’Brien talked about the Buddhist values of impermance and non-attachment. And then everyone learned to use this in practice by building and rebuilding their favourite brand, or indeed their own personality, in Lego. Indeed, Lego proved an amazing tool to engage everyone in the exercise of creative emergent sensemaking.

Another connector was delivered in the closing keynote by David Davies, programme organiser of the Cannes Lions Festival. David illustrated the power of creativity in all its facets – the power of embracing risk, of constantly questioning yourself, of making, of having balls, and of attempting to create a better world.

But still, the big question remained open: What kind of creativity do we as qualitative researchers need? For me personally, what stood out most is the abilility to create novel ways of collaborating with people (both on the customer-side and client-side) in order to establish connections and come up with cool ways of activating insight that engage by resonating on an authentic level beyond mere facts.

Christoph Welter is Strategy Director at Point Blank International. He is also the official ESOMAR Global Qualitative 2015 blogger. 

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