Earlier this week, I attended the ESOMAR Congress 2011 in Amsterdam. It was a home game for me, but even I was impressed by the location and its very Dutch look and feel; I felt proud of my country (of course it helps that I’m a big fan of stroopwafels, poffertjes, mature cheese, and bitterballen).

Not only were the surroundings impressive, but so were the presentations. Only a couple of the 20 or so that I saw were average. Most presentations gave a good overview of a new methodology, the client side of the story, and the challenges faced. My personal highlights included the Heineken/TNS presentation, in which they used neuroscience (or more precisely electroencephalography [EEG], biometrics, and eye-tracking) to measure how relevant viewers felt the ad was to them, how excited they were by it, and what areas of the screen they looked at while it played.

Another presentation that helped the audience understand how market research can support financial decisions was by Danny Russell at Sky and Fiona Blades from MESH Planning (as a side note: Fiona will also speak at Forrester’s Consumer Forum in Chicago). Sky has a culture of making decisions on campaign investments just days after launch. Traditional tracking studies couldn’t keep up with management; the data came too late. It’s now using mobile tracking to understand the impact of a campaign in real time. But that’s just the start: MESH and Sky have developed a model that can give a go/no go within three days and can deliver an optimization plan after just 10 days.

There was an unforgettable keynote speech: Marc Lammers, former Head Coach of the Dutch Women’s Olympic Gold Medal Team, talked about how innovation can help you improve; how something new will always be met with resistance; how failing to change actually means you’re losing; and, most importantly, that you should focus on strengths, not weaknesses. If you want to read the whole story, his (English) book, Winners have a plan, losers an excuse, is available here. You’ll of course miss his delivery (which is a pity; there’s a preview here in Dutch), but you’ll get the meaning.

Finally, the first day included a presentation that I found summarized most of the content at Esomar Congress and took it a step further: ”Too much reality” by Sangeeta Gupta from PepsiCo India and Anjali Puri from TNS APAC. Many of the presentations were about using new methodologies (like gamification, social media, or communities) to get a deeper understanding of consumers. And every client presenter told us the additional insights they gathered from this set-up, how pictures and comments have helped them understand how consumers use their products, and so on.

Sangeeta and Anjali gave several reasons why this need for “uncut reality” is taking center stage in our industry at the moment:

  • The need for engagement.
  • The appeal of the story.
  • The need for novelty.

However, it doesn’t necessarily lead to good insights.

What I liked about this speech was that they are already moving on to the next phase. Going deep is the first stage of the process, but it needs to be followed in their opinion by framing the results and zooming out. “Getting intimate is often not as useful as stepping back to see what’s really going on.”

They believe that the preoccupation with studying and showcasing the gritty texture of real lives leads to excessive data orientation (the number of pictures is more important than what they really mean); it ignores the importance of the researcher’s “framing” (visuals overtake insights, “seeing is believing”); and a micro-level focus might prevent us from looking at what it all means at the macro level. It’s easy to get lost in the details.

They have developed a model for uncovering real consumer insights that follows four steps:

  1. Data gathering.
  2. Interrogation.
  3. Bridging.
  4. Extrapolation.

They supported their story with examples. PepsiCo had researched Indian youth for a Pepsi commercial and found that they loved their mobiles, gaming, and Bollywood. Combining the three, they created the PepsiWow Game commercial. However, it didn’t do as well as expected. In their post mortem, they found that the commercial didn’t appeal to the underlying reasons WHY people liked mobiles, gaming, and Bollywood: They are an escape from daily life. PepsiCo bridged that with other insights it had about Indian youth: Their heroes aren’t unreachable any longer, and youth feel more empowered these days. Based on these insights, they came up with another ad — “Change the game” — that combined these insights. This commercial was one of the most successful campaigns for the brand in recent years.

This brings me to one of my key takeaway from the event: Emerging methodologies give us more and more insights, but if you don’t place them in a broader context, you won’t be able to see the wood for the trees. Love to hear your thoughts!

Reineke Reitsma is VP and Research Director at Forrester Research where she serves, and contributes to the Forrester blog for, Market Insights professionals  http://blogs.forrester.com/market_insights.

This blog post is published with the permission of Forrester Research.