Highlights from ESOMAR Congress: Day 1, morning. Covered by Erika Harriford-McLaren and bloggers Chris Wallbridge and Anna Peters

Two days ago the ESOMAR team arrived in Atlanta to prepare for our 65th Congress.  Congress has always been a special event for ESOMAR – our flagship conference that connects us with our members and the global research industry.

This year is no different.  In fact, Congress 2012 is quite significant in many ways.  It marks the 65th anniversary of our organisation – an organisation that “was founded in an effort to construct a better world from the ashes of war”, as noted in President Dieter Korczak’s opening speech.

It also marks ESOMAR’s first Congress to be held in the United States – ESOMAR’s largest member market and an impressive market for research overall, with approximately 282,700 market researchers within its borders.

Programme Chair Judith Passingham opened the Congress with a wonderful “Did you know Atlanta” theme. For instance, did you know that Atlanta is the Zombie capital of America – with television shows, movies, tours and festivals held here each year.

ESOMAR Representatives for the United States, Susan Griffin and Steve August, followed Judith with another humorous presentation – this time on America as a whole and the good and bad and the interesting things it has to offer.  Good = technology, bad = Jersey Shore!

They recognised that it is a prosperous market and one that, as mentioned above, is ripe with market researchers excited to add to the industry and to business.

President Dieter Korczak then welcomed the delegates, urging them to be active in the programme and to contribute their ideas so that we can ensure our industry is accelerating excellence in all that we do and especially in difficult times. “Our founders had a vision: to use market, opinion and social research to improve lives, societies and economies and to build a prosperous, democratic and peaceful future. To some this may have seemed a lofty goal – considering the state of the world at that time.  But looking back and examining what we, as an industry, have truly accomplished – I believe that we have indeed succeeded in many ways.”

The programme preview was then provided by Judith, who noted that Congress 2012 paints a compelling future vision that should encourage us to move beyond being a commodity and to try and better understand the role we play and can play in client’s lives. A great vision indeed and one that can hopefully be supported throughout the event.


Keynote: Online Identities: The Person in the Machine. - Erika Harriford-McLaren

Sherry Turkle, MIT professor, author, and renowned lecturer

Have you ever been in a meeting where someone has kept their phone on the table – just in case they get an important call.  I think we all have, and probably have all been guilty of doing it ourselves.  Well, according to Sherry Turkle, MIT professor, author and TEdTalks speaker, these meetings may indeed cost us in productivity as well as inhibit others from freely expressing themselves, i.e. when a mobile phone is present, people don’t speak. So in the end we have parallel meetings – those with mobiles and those without and the outcomes may significantly differ.

Sherry Turkle is known around the world for her insights on how technology impacts our lives. As the opening keynote speaker for the ESOMAR Congress, she has decided to show us just how the psychology of constant  connectivity affects us all.

For many, it is hard to discuss just how technology has both added to and taken away communicative aspects of our lives. Many now feel the pressure to take everything online – sms’s to collaboration. For researchers this may indeed seem intriguing, as we find ourselves increasingly drawn to mobile and the internet for doing our work.  What she found, though, is that this draw to technology has also subtly, and at times not so subtly, taken us away from conversation. We need to reclaim it so that we can get back lost levels of concentration and diminish our growing culture of  distraction.

Turkle believes that we have allowed technology to take us places we really don’t want to go. We would rather talk than text these days and are experiencing “I share therefore I am ” style of thinking, not being secure in feelings until they share them.  We need to get to know ourselves without connections. We need to learn to communicate again – to talk and have conversation without technology.


Parallel 1: Celebrating the business. - Anna Peters

The future of the research industry depends on having “mavericks in the industry to make this all happen”. Three speaking slots discussed the relationship between business and research. All agreed that the digital revolution is changing the shape of the market research industry, and the central conclusion was summed up neatly by Oliver Martinez, Diageo: the future of the research industry depends on having “mavericks in the industry to make this all happen.”

Fred John from MasterCard kicked-off the discussion by exploring the organizational structure of the future and the potential role that Market Researchers can play.  He argued that as companies rapidly globalize, the traditional ‘hub and spoke’ model of organizational structure will come under threat: to succeed organizations will have to adapt their approaches, and he predicts that the most successful businesses will be ones that follow the mantra:  THINK GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL.

To succeed at mastering the ‘think global, act local’ mantra, three core challenges (as identified by IBM’s 2011 CMO study) will have to be overcome:

  1. Brands will have to understand the consumer better
  2. Brands will have to maintain customer relationships
  3. Brands will have to demonstrate ROI for board.

Fred argues that the Market Research industry has an opportunity to capitalize on the above challenges that are currently facing CMOs: he predicts that if we are savvy, we can ensure a future where market researchers work predominantly at a strategic and global level, by becoming the CMO’s most reliable and consistent consumer support source.

However, in a 2006 Market Research executive Board study it was found that Market Research departments are increasingly tied to local needs, and they are becoming less involved in the global strategic requirements. Fred voiced a very real fear that the skills of researchers will be pushed to a local, tactical level and will be eradicated from strategic positions all together.

So what’s going on and how can we stop this from happening? Fred argued that the digital experts and social media gurus are taking the place of trained market researchers in helping the CMOs understand their consumers.  These digital gurus are taking the place of researchers because of the perception that the consumer is a new digital consumer, and by contrast researchers are ‘old, slow, out of touch, and NOT COOL.’ How on earth could researchers understand the cool digital consumer if we are not cool?

A call to arms was raised: we must not allow Market Research to be marginalized as an industry! Fred wants us to become the strategic voice of the consumer by selling our core skill of being “uniquely able to blend local and global info to understand consumer.” He argued that if the industry can indeed showcase these skills we will demonstrate that we are an “indispensable guide to the new global frontier”

Lyn McGregor (Flamingo, USA) and Oscar Martinez (Diageo, USA) are two great examples of industry representatives that have taken Fred’s call to action to heart: over the last few years these industry mavericks have experimented with new research techniques in order to ensure the place of Market Research on the global and strategic level within Diageo. In their case study they shared with us how,  because of the new digital consumer that exists, they were forced to re-think the way they approached marketing. Via a two-phase process (research community, followed by live consumer co-creation program) they managed to develop and execute a wildly successful global consumer engagement campaign that involved consumers from over 50 countries, as well as super-stars like Madonna. It’s clear that the risks that they took in trying new techniques paid dividends in terms of Smirnoff brand equity scores.

In the final speaking slot of the session, mavericks Veronica Merino (Coca Cola, USA) and Patricio Pagani and Javier Quiñones (Infotools) shared their story of how a new approach to brand tracking was required to overcome the increasing global challenges the brand faces. The case study was an action packed story, with a very clear message: to date the research world has been somewhat shielded from the global effects of the digital revolution. However, the landscape is changing and we have to proactively react by taking on brave and fresh new personnel and by experimenting with new techniques.

My view: it surprised me how self-conscious the research industry has become about its image and the need to be seen as more innovative, enterprising, and cool. I think it’s about time that we did start being a little bolder: if researchers are to retain our strategic position in an increasingly global and digital business it’s imperative that we start to act this way.


Parallel 2 – Celebrating Research, Creative Solutions. - Chris Wallbridge

ESOMAR. 65 years. And there I was assessing the titles of the first three presentations, trying to predict the type of content to be delivered. Well, I couldn’t have guessed right because there truly was so much material and concepts new, to me at least. Stan Sthanunathan, from Coca-Cola, was the session chair and opened fantastically with quotations from Aristotle, of all people, emphasising how it is “choice, not chance” that makes the difference, because it is change that is the only constant in this world.

First up was Tom Ewing from BrainJuicer and Bob Pankauskas from Allstate Insurance to talk about “Research in a World Without Questions”. Here I thought we might see a talk on how traditional market research was all “desperately flawed”, with some new ideas being presented but not enough real detail to get me excited. Instead what we got were some genuinely inspired ways to get around the lack of ‘real-context’  that a straightforward question and answer survey entails. Bob reminded us that you can get to insight in a world without questions, but what’s more he showed us how with the BrainJuicer DigiVidual™ – an algorithm programmed with personalities and sent out to social media to collect rich qualitative data. I’ll need to see more details before I am fully convinced, but without doubt it looked promising and something that would help marketing understand profiling data of the market researcher. Client-side that can be half of the battle, trying to make data and insight sufficiently inspiring such that stakeholders will buy into what you are saying and make decisions; a point summed up by Bob very well.  BrainJuicer have also used gamification; not to ‘engage’ respondents in surveys, but to make a shopping experience as close to real-life as possible. Respondents were exposed to all the background noise, such as announcements over those public address systems you get in supermarkets (“clean-up in aisle three, clean-up in aisle three”, etc.), and were severely restrained for time when asked to evaluate each brand (come on, none of us have unlimited time to choose between washing powders or the like). The result; the traditional MR approach results were completely reversed when an authentic shopping experience was simulated. Instead of Brand B being significantly preferred to A, as with the standard question and answer approach, A was significantly preferred to B. It was this part of the presentation that I took most from; that, in some circumstances, traditional approaches can be “desperately flawed” to the extent that our clients would make the completely wrong decision if they followed the research. Finally, Tom told us about a client that is allowing BrainJuicer access to their stores to tinker with prices, layout, even the in-store music, to examine how consumers will react. This is bold research – an intrusive and imaginative way of immersing the researcher in the business of the client – but the real plaudits go to the client, whose bravery of letting the researcher in this much will be rewarded with, I would bet my BlackBerry, some fantastic insights.

Second to speak were Rolfe Swinton from RealityMine and Rana El Kaliouby from Affectiva; “Measuring Emotions Through a Mobile Device Across Borders, Ages, Genders and More”. We were presented with the ‘same old problem’; aren’t emotions important, but we can’t measure them objectively or cost-effectively. Oh dear! And at this point I didn’t hold out much hope for a talk that would open my eyes too much. WRONG CHRIS, WRONG AGAIN. Rolfe and Rana, faced with the ‘same old problem’, have pioneered the development of technology, deployed on a mobile device, that captures data on facial features and their movements whilst respondents watch an ad. They track, as an ad plays, in real-time the different muscle movements and facial expressions participants make. This data then means something! It is translated into a series of indicators displayed on a dashboard. There are algorithms and global norms, etc., but to sum up for those of you who didn’t see this presentation, and you have missed out by the way no matter how much you like this blog, this actually does represent a cost-effective, accurate and unobtrusive method of measuring and understanding emotion. What I really admire was the admission that it took seven iterations to get this right, as the best ideas do. Now it is there, it looks brilliant and I applaud the work of the presenters.

The third and final talk I covered was given by R. Scott Evans and Erin Defossé from Bazaarvoice. One is a real cowboy and the other a real rocket scientist…well I am a real market researcher and I wanted to hear all about “Why social commerce engines will power next-gen market research”. With such a bold title I was sure to be cynical about such a claim, being a pessimistic Englishman and all but once we were introduced to what a social commerce engine was, they had got me over halfway to believing it. A social commerce engine – the capturing of a vast amount of data on individuals from a multitude of sources – can be used, if you are a rocket scientist or a real cowboy, to build up a highly detailed picture of an individual, so advanced that you can tailor what they see, when, where, and how, etc. The scope of such technology and information-processing is enormous – and the possibilities of what this can deliver on consumer insights go far beyond anything I have heard about recently. In a previous life I was involved in economics consultancy – I’d be worried, is this good for consumers? Is this highly advanced and selective targeting and tailoring of ad messages in their interest? I’m on the fence about if this is good for consumers – to be honest I would, in a previous life, if forced to remove myself from said comfy fence, throw my hat on one side and say no, this isn’t too far away from the Big Brother State, where all of your actions are monitored and corporations will react, altering how they can target you, and improve their chance of selling you what they want. But I am a researcher, and as a researcher I am absolutely on the side of the fence that says this innovation will be great for clients, and will revolutionise how we, as researchers, process and deliver insight that make our clients’ brands stronger and more successful. Great stuff.