Sep 032014

Last week I posted an article looking at the decline in survey research, which included some data from ESOMAR and some predictions.

This week, ESOMAR posted the latest Global Market Research Report and it includes some interesting figures on data collection modes. Figures which are broadly in line with my predictions.

The table below is mostly a repeat of the one I included in my previous post. It shows the data from the ESOMAR reports for 2007, 2010, and 2013, along with my forecasts for 2016 and 2019.

In this version, I have added the data from the 2014 ESOMAR Global Market Research report at the bottom.

Surveys 2014
Note, the ESOMAR data refer to the final figures for the previous year, so the 2014 report is based on the completed returns for the whole of 2013.

The decline in research spending on projects where the data was collected via surveys, from 53% in the 2013 report to 48% in 2014, is a very large drop and is even faster than implied by my predictions. The ESOMAR Pricing Study would suggest that some of the drop is due to falling costs for online research and a continued switch to online from face-to-face and CATI. However, the ESOMAR Global Market Research report also highlights the growth of non-survey alternatives.

The change in other quant is broadly in line with my predictions, and the 1% change in qual could be more wobble than message. The climb in Other is, however, large, and larger than my prediction, and is one of the drivers of the fall in survey research as a proportion of the total. The key elements in Other are desk research and secondary analysis and are an indication of the move away from data collection to analysis.

BTW, if you are interested in this topic you might want to read Jeffrey Henning’s riposte, Surveys A Century From Now.


Aug 132014
Sue Cardwell 2

Guest post by Sue Cardwell, marketing manager at Infotools Sue is a keen proponent of effective data visualization for business success. Sue has 10 years of experience in the consumer insight field across several countries. She now lives in Auckland, New Zealand and works for Infotools. Sue is an inveterate blogger and self-confessed chart geek who loves creating new vizzes in her spare time. You can see more by Sue Cardwell here.

Click here to see a list of the other posts in this series. If you would like to contribute a post to this series contact

“Do you want to allow this app to post to Facebook?”

No, I did not! I felt each new socially-connected service was an invasion of my private life. I was a classic lurker: someone who watches what other people post on social, but is shy about sharing.

But I’m also a marketer. We get excited about the shiny new toys of social media. Gradually I found my barriers being broken down in favour of the benefits I gained.

Time for a major attitude shift. As I gained confidence with social sharing, I made the decision to embrace transparency. I am who I am, and I’m happy for you to see that. If you wished, you could find out that I’m a data viz fan who loves hiking and cooks a mean pizza. I made and still make plenty of mistakes (over-sharing, anyone?). But being authentic means making mistakes sometimes.

My activity got me noticed. People recognised me when they saw me at market research events, and strangers were happy to talk to me. (I found out later that what was happening is called the Mere Exposure Effect. People like and trust something more when they are exposed to it more times.) I had more meaningful conversations and I felt more connected to my market research community.

Later I became the marketing manager of Infotools, a company that makes brilliant market research analysis and visualization tools. I was keen to spread my positive experience of social sharing with people there. It’s especially great for Infotools because we’re head-quartered in New Zealand so it’s not always handy to catch up with our clients and peers at events in the 100 countries we deal with. Social media erases borders and time zones.

But not everyone was as keen as I was to be visible on social media! Often, my enthusiasm met with resistance, fear and scepticism.

My theory on this is that market research attracts analytical minds. As researchers, we’re cautious observers, who love to explore lots of information before acting – if we ever get around to acting. Compared to say the advertising industry, we aren’t natural soapbox shouters.

However, we do love a good debate. We adore analysing research techniques and approaches to find the best solutions for delivering insight and business results. LinkedIn and Twitter are ideal places to do just that. Social conversations advance our industry by exchanging and developing ideas, and also by building community and culture.

So I challenge market researchers: feel the fear and do it anyway! You have everything to gain.


Jul 162014

Sometimes when I run a workshop or training session people want detail, they want practical information about how to do stuff. However, there are times when what people want is a big picture, a method of orientating themselves in the context of the changing landscape around them. Tomorrow I am running a workshop for #JMRX in Tokyo and we are looking at emerging techniques, communities, and social media research – so a big picture is going to be really useful to help give an overview of the detail, and to help people see where things like gamification, big data, and communities all fit.

So, here is my Big Picture of NewMR (click on it to see it full size), and I’d love to hear your thought and suggestions.

Big Picture

The Big Picture has five elements

The heart of the message is that we have reached an understanding that surveys won’t/can’t give us the answers to many of the things we are interested in. People’s memories are not good enough, many decision are automatic and opposed to thought through, and most decision are more emotion that fact. Change is needed, and the case for this has been growing over the last few years.

The four shapes around the centre are different strands that seek to address the survey problem.

In the top left we have big data and social media data, moving away from working with respondents, collecting observations of what people say and do, and using that to build analyses and predictive models.

In the top right we have a battery of new ways of working with respondents to find out why they do things, going beyond asking them survey questions.

In the bottom left we have communities, which I take as a metaphor for working with customers, co-creating, crowdsourcing, treating customers and insiders, not just users.

The bottom right combines elements from the other three. ‘In the moment’ is perhaps, currently, the hottest thing in market research. Combining the ability to watch and record what people do, with interacting with them to explore why and what they would do the options changed.

So, that is my big picture. Does it work for you? What would you add, change, delete, or tweak?


Jun 172014

Most samples used by market research are in some sense the ‘wrong’ sample. They are the wrong sample because of one or more of the following:

  • They miss people who don’t have access to the internet.
  • They miss people who don’t have a smartphone.
  • Not representing the 80%, 90%, or 99% who decline to take part.
  • They miss busy people.
Samples that suffer these problems include:
  • Central location miss the people who don’t come into central locations.
  • Face-to-face, door-to-door struggles with people who tend not to be home or who do not open the door to unknown visitors.
  • RDD/telephone misses people who decline to be involved.
  • Online access panels miss the 95%+ who are not members of panels.
  • RIWI and Google Consumer Surveys – misses the people who decline to be involved, and under-represents people who use the internet less.
  • Mobile research – typically misses people who do not have a modern phone and who do not have a reliable internet package/connection.

But, it usually works!

If we look at what AAPOR call non-probability samples with an academic eye we might expect the research to usually be ‘wrong’. In this case ‘wrong’ means gives misleading or harmful advice. Similarly, ‘right’ means gives information that supports a better business decision.

The reason that market research is a $40 Billion industry is that its customers m(e.g. markets, brand managers, ec) have found it is ‘right’ most of the time. Which begs the question “How can market research usually work when the sample is usually ‘wrong’?”

There are two key reasons why the wrong sample gives the right answer and these are:

  1. Homogeneity
  2. Modelling

If different groups of people believe the same thing, or do the same thing, it does not matter, very much, who is researched. As an experiment look at your last few projects and look at the data split by region, split by age, or split by gender. In most cases you will see there are differences between the groups, often differences big enough to measure, but in most cases the differences are not big enough to change the message.

The reason there are so often few important differences is that we are all more similar to each other than we like to think. This is homogeneity. The level of homogeneity increases if we filter by behaviour. For example, if we screen a sample so that they are all buyers of branded breakfast cereal, they are instantly more similar (in most cases) than the wider population. If we then ask this group to rank 5 pack designs, there will usually be no major differences by age, gender, location etc (I will come back to this use of the word usually later).

In commercial market research, our ‘wrong’ samples usually make some effort to reflect target population, we match their demographics to the population, we screen them by interest (for example heavy, medium, and light users of the target brand). The result of this is that surprisingly often, an online access panel, or a Google Consumer Surveys test will produce useful and informative answers.

The key issue is usually not whether the sample is representative in a statistical sense, because it usually isn’t, the question should be whether it is a good proxy.

The second way that market researchers make their results useful is modelling. If a researcher finds that their data source (let’s assume it is an online access panel) over predicts purchase, they can down weight their predictions, if they find their election predictions understate a specific party they can up weight the results. This requires having lots of cases and assumes that something that worked in the past will work in the future.

So, what’s the problem?

The problem for market research is that there is no established body of knowledge or science to work out when the ‘wrong’ sample will give the right answer, and when it will give the ‘wrong’ answer. Some of the cases where the wrong sample gave the wrong answer include:

  • 1936 US presidential election, a sample of 2 million people failed to predict Roosevelt would beet Landon.
  • In 2012 Google Consumer Survey massively over-estimated the number of people who edit Wikipedia – perhaps by as much as 100% – see Jeffrey Hennings review of this case.

My belief is that market researchers need to get over the sampling issue, by recognising the problems and by seeking to identify when the wrong sample is safe, when it is not safe, and how to make it safer.

When and why does the right sample give the wrong answer?

However, there is probably a bigger problem than the wrong sample. This problem is when we use the right sample, but we get the wrong answer. There are a wide variety of reasons, but key ones include:

  • People generally don’t know why they do things, they don’t know what they are to do in the future, but they will usually answer our questions.
  • Behaviour is contextual, for example choices are influenced by what else is on offer – research is too often either context free, or applies the wrong context, or assumes the context is consistent.
  • Behaviour is often not linear, and quite often does not follow the normal distribution – but most market research is based on means, linear regression, correlation etc.

A great example of the right sample giving the wrong answer is New Coke. The research, evidently, did not make it clear to participants that this new flavour was going to replace the old flavour, i.e. they would lose what they saw as “their Coke”.

In almost every product test conducted there are people saying they would buy it who would certainly not buy it. In almost every tracker there are people saying they have seen, or even used, products they have not seen – check out this example.

The issue that researcher need to focus on is total error, not sampling error, not total survey error, but total error. We need to focus on producing useful, helpful advice.

May 172014

Next month I will be in Atlanta as one of the co-chairs of IIeX USA. If you can attend one of the IIeX events (in Europe, North America, Latin America, and the Southern Hemisphere) I strongly recommend it.

Business is changing, society is changing, and consequently research is changing. If you hope to be enjoying work in five years then you need to have a plan for how you are going to stay relevant to clients and customers.

Why IIeX?
Most conferences and events have their purpose, AAPOR explore the methodological boundaries, MRMW advance the cause of mobile market research, the trade bodies provide coherence and shared learning for the members of the industry. IIeX has a very different purpose, in my opinion. IIeX represents the contested future, a set of different visions pitched in dialogical conflict. IIeX is not curated to find the best, or the most likely, or the most thought through. IIeX presents the superposition of differing waves of innovation, investment, and imagination.

To give you a taste of what I mean, here are some of the highlights you can see in Atlanta (June 16 to 18)

  • Clients agitating for change: Sion Agami from P&G, Ryan Backer from General Mills, Eileen Campbell from IMAX, Roberto Cymrot from Coca-Cola, Claudia Del Lucchese from Mondelez, and Laura Flessner from Pfizer.
  • Big thinkers and heavy hitters: Simon Chadwick, Melanie Courtright, David Bakken, Fiona Blades, and Mark Earls author of Herd.
  • Innovative suppliers: Steve August from Revelation, Stephen Phillips from ZappiStore, Tim Bock from Numbers, Siobhan Dullea from Communispace, Andrew Reid from Vision Critical, and Carol Fitzgerald from BuzzBack.
  • Alternatives: Me, Elina Halonen, Tom Anderson, Adriana Rocha, and, of, course, Lenny Murphy

But this is just a small representation of the many, many speakers, workshop leaders, and exhibitors. Hear why brands like Dell, Deloitte, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Groupon, Campbell Soup, The Weather Channel, AOL, Bloomberg, and Philips Consumer Lifestyle are asking for change, and understand their perspective of the future.

Don’t come to Atlanta expecting answers. Come to Atlanta to find out what the questions are and come to Atlanta to start making the connections that will engage you in the future of market research.

My presentation is on New Skills for a New Era, addressing the need to change. My workshop will use gamification approaches to explore futuring techniques. You can find out more at and if you use the code NMR20 you will get a 20% discount.


Apr 132014
Shibyu At Night

OK, let’s get one thing clear from the outset; I am not saying social media mining and monitoring (the collection and automated analysis of quantitative amounts of naturally occurring text from social media) has met with no success. But, I am saying that in market research the success has been limited.

In this post I will highlight a couple of examples of success, but I will then illustrate why, IMHO, it has not had the scale of success in market research that many people had predicted, and finally share a few thoughts on where the quantitative use of social media mining and monitoring might go next.

Some successes
There have been some successes and a couple of examples are:

Assessing campaign or message break through. Measuring social media can be a great way to see if anybody is talking about a campaign or not, and of checking whether they are talking about the salient elements. However, because of some of the measurement challenges (more on these below) the measurement often ends up producing a three level result, a) very few mentions, b) plenty of mentions, c) masses of mentions. In terms of content the measures tend to be X mentions on target, or Y% of the relevant mentions were on target – which in most cases are informative, but do not produce a set of measures that have any absolute utility and usually can be tightly aligned with ROI.

An example of this use came with the launch of the iPhone 4 in 2010. Listening to SM made it clear that people had detected that the phone did not work well for some people when held in their left hand, that Apple’s message (which came across as) ‘you should be right handed’ was not going down well, and that something needed to be done. The listening could not put a figure on how many users were unhappy, nor even if users were less or more angry than non-users, but it did make it clear that something had to be done.

Identifying language, ideas, topics. By adding humans to the interpretation, many organisations have been able to identify new product ideas (the Nivea story of how it used social media listening to help create Nivea Invisible for Black and White is a great example). Other researchers, such as Annie Pettit, have shown how they have combined social media research with conventional research, to help answer problems.

Outside of market research. Other users of social media listening, such as PR and reaction marketers appear to have had great results with social media, including social media listening. One of the key reasons for that is that their focus/mission is different. PR, marketing, and sales do not need to map or understand the space, they need to find opportunities. They do not need to find all the opportunities, they do not even need to find the best opportunities, they just need to find a good supply of good opportunities. This is why the use of social media appears to be growing outside of market research, but also why its use appears to be in relative decline inside market research.

The limitations of social media monitoring and listening
The strength of social media monitoring and listening is that it can answer questions you had not asked, perhaps had not even thought of. Its weakness is that it can’t answer most of the questions that market researchers’ clients ask.

The key problems are:

  • Most people do not comment in social media, most of the comments in social media are not about our clients’ brands and services, and the comments do not typically cover the whole range of experiences (they tend to focus on the good and the bad). This leaves great holes in the information gathered.
  • It is very hard to attribute the comments to specific groups, for example to countries, regions, to users versus non-users – not to mention little things like age and gender.
  • The dynamic nature of social media means that it is very hard to compare two campaigns or activities, for example this year versus last year. The number of people using social media is changing, how they are using it is changing, and the phenomenal growth in the use of social media by marketers, PR, sales, etc is changing the balance of conversations. Without consistency, the accuracy of social media measurements is limited.
  • Most automated sentiment analysis is considered by insight clients and market researchers to either be poor or useless. This means good social media usage requires people, which tends to make it more expensive and slower, often prohibitively expensive and often too slow.
  • Social media deals with the world as it is, brands can’t use it to test ads, to test new products and services, or almost any future plan.

The future?
Social media monitoring and listening is not going to go away. Every brand should be listening to what its customers and in many cases the wider public are saying about its brands, services, and overall image. This is in addition to any conventional market research it needs to do; this aspect of social media is not a replacement for anything, it is a necessary extra.

Social media has spawned a range of new research techniques that are changing MR, such as insight communities, smartphone ethnography, social media bots, and netnography. One area of current growth is the creation of 360 degree views by linking panel and/or community members to their transactional data, passive data (e.g. from their PC and mobile device), and social media data. Combined with the ability of communities and panels to ask questions (qual and quant) this may create something much more useful that just observational data.

I expect more innovations in the future. In particular I expect to see more conversations in social media initiated by market researchers, probably utilising bots. For example, programming a bot to look out for people using words that indicate they have just bought a new smartphone and asking them to describe how they bought it, what else they considered etc – either in SM or via asking them to continue the chat privately. There are a growing number of rumours that some of the major clients are about to adopt a hybrid approach, combining nano-surveys, social media listening, integrated data, and predictive analytics, and this could be really interesting, especial in the area of tracking (e.g. brand, advertising, and customer satisfaction/experience).

I also expect two BIG technical changes that will really set the cat amongst the pigeons. I expect somebody to do a Google and introduce a really powerful, free or almost free alternative to the social media mining and monitoring platforms, and I expect one or more companies to come up with sentiment analysis solutions that are really useful. I think a really useful platform will include the ability to analyse images and videos, to follow links (many interesting tweets and shares are about the content of the link), to build a PeekYou type of database of people (to help attribute the comments), and will have much better text analytics approach.


Mar 152014

Last week I wrote about my week in Singapore, with Vision Critical and MRMW. This week I exchanged the warmth of Singapore for the distinctly more chilly streets of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

Monday and Tuesday were spent in Hong Kong, with my Vision Critical colleagues and, one of our key partners in the region, ABN Impact. Monday focused on meetings with clients and prospects and on team training/briefing sessions.

On Tuesday morning ABN Impact put on a great insight community event at the JW Marriott. The speakers included Bashuli Sane from Cathay Pacific and Mike Sherman (ex-SingTel) who wowed the audience when they shared how insight communities were bringing the customer into every aspect of the decision making process – I gave an introduction to communities presention, helping fill in the broader picture of what an insight community is and how they are built, managed, and developed. The market in Hong Kong is quite developed and the Q&A session focused on practical issues, such as recruitment, language (e.g. working in English, simplified Chinese, and traditional Chinese), and incentives.

Wednesday morning saw the Vision Critical roadshow in Shanghai, the guests of the Mandarin Oriental, and in the company of three partner agencies (Added Value, WIMI, and Morpace). Communities are at a much earlier stage of development in mainland China and the Q&A focused on how best to create insight communities in such a large, dynamic, and developing market. One of the thrills of the trip was taking the Maglev train out to the airport, travelling at 300 KPH (over 180 mph).

Thursday and Friday saw a shift from China to Japan, with two days spent with Seven Seas, the partner in Tokyo for Vision Critical’s technology and services. We managed to squeeze in meetings with personal care brands, communications companies, media companies, social media providers, and automotive companies. Japan is a highly developed but slightly cautious market. A large amount of research is online, short-term MROCs are common, and it seems to me that the time is right for many companies in Japan to reap the sorts of benefits that companies in China, Singapore, New Zealand, and Australia are already experiencing.

The week finished with the 42nd meeting of JMRX, a really fun bunch of Japanese researchers who are committed to exploring new research. MR stands for market research, X for excellence, and J for Japan. This was my third appearance and my theme was a review of the key insight trends – communities, mobile, big data, text analytics, and social media. I was then followed by Noriyuki Ikeda who presented on co-creation, innovation, and social media. The amazing success of JMRX is largely down to the support, energy, and passion of my good friend Shigeru (Shiggy) Kishikawa.

At the end of two weeks, four cities (Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo) I am struck by three key factors:

  1. The energy in this region beats anything I have seen in Europe and North America – things are changing faster here than anywhere else.
  2. Asia is not a country! The differences between all four of the cities I have visited over the last two weeks are immense. These differences are something that researchers need to take into account when tailoring research for each country.
  3. The key to research success in Asia is service, but since different countries have different preferences, the definition of service and expectations about what is included in the basic package needs to vary from country to country – as does the selling and delivery process.

Now I am off to Auckland, Melbourne, and Sydney, which will complete this trip to the APAC region – but I have started planning my next trip, which I think will be a longer trip.


Feb 222014
Patrico Pagani IIeX

I’ve just spent two days at IIeX in Amsterdam, and had the pleasure of being a co-chair for the event. IIeX was a great success and I think the event has several lessons for other events (including my own NewMR events) and for the research industry; and here are my initial thoughts and observations. (BTW, the image is of Patricio Pagani form Infotools, and in the background you can see the wonderful architecture of the venue).

Fast, exhausting and big

The main event was two days long, starting at 8:30 and finishing after 6pm (just one of the North American influences on the event). I am not sure how many presenters/speakers/sessions there were, but I know that the chair’s briefing pack included notes, photos, and bios for 123 people – a testament to the hard work of the behind the scenes admin team (you would be surprised how hard it is to get photos and bios from speakers!).

A large part of both days was delivered in two streams, which means that nobody saw everything. One of the key things about this sort of event is that you need to give yourself permission not to try and see everything. It is a bit like going to an all you can eat buffet, the aim is to try the things you want to try, not to try to consume as much as you possibly can!

Most of the sessions were 20 minutes long, with 15 minutes for the presentation and 5 mins for the Q&A. The great thing about this is that even if a presentation was not great, it was only a few minutes till the next one. The panel discussions tended to be 40 minutes, but even they were quick fire because they normally included 5 people. There were also shorter sessions, such as the people pitching to win the innovation awards.

During the breaks, and when choosing not to be in the main hall, people visited the exhibition. Generally the exhibition was good, but one element was great and I will come to that in a moment. During the first evening there was The Research Club, to help keep the exhaustion levels high.

The quantity, speed, and resultant exhaustion meant that the event tended to deliver a different experience to a more conventional event. Delegates were introduced to five ways of doing gamificaton, eight takes on mobile, seven approaches to neuroscience. This a) provides a better appreciation of the breadth of what is being offered (and a reminder that in most new areas there is little agreement and many competing claims and counter claims), and b) a taster for lots of possible providers, partners, suppliers, and the chance to make introductions and start conversations.

Not too salesy

Some of the presentations were topic or subject based and were not salesy at all, a couple of people over-stepped the virtual line and were felt to be a bit too salesy (and suffered criticisms in Twitter for it). However, most of the presenters used their 15 minutes to say something like:

  • Hi, we are X and we do Y
  • Here is a case study that shows the sorts of things we do
  • And here are the sorts of client problems that this approach can deal with.

When this is done well it is actually quite useful. As a viewer you get a feeling for what solutions exist, what sort of problems can be addressed, what sorts of clients are using these approaches, what verticals seem to be getting the best results, and whether you want to have a conversation with the organisation.

North American Lens

The event had a very North American feel, many of the presenters were from North America, many of the exhibitors were from North America, and the core team (Lenny, Greg, Lauren, Guadalupe, Lukas) are all based in North America – with Kristof De Wulf and myself drafted in as local co-chairs.

My feeling is that this substantial North American element was one of the event’s key ingredients of success. 37% of global market research happens in North America (35% of global market research by spend happens within the USA). North America is a very large market with lots of exciting start-ups. We, in Europe, are keen to see what is happening there, partly to see what is new and partly to benchmark what is happening in Europe against it.

However, there was plenty of European content too, which gives local companies a chance to compare themselves against a North American benchmark.

Glass half full is probably an understatement

One key difference between IIeX and most events was the degree of optimism. A traditional market research conference has a balance of people extolling the new and people urging caution, demanding validation and side-by-side trials. At IIeX the mid-point was definitely somewhere where the mindset was:

  • The old stuff is not really delivering to today’s needs
  • Neuro/mobile/social/emotional/automated/graphical/faster/shorter is better, almost by definition
  • And, “we are doing it”, “our clients are doing it”, “you’d be wise to get on board now”
But, strangely enough, I found this bias in favour of the new to be refreshing and less dangerous than I might have expected. At a conventional market research event there might be one paper on, say, neuroscience or gamificaton. The presenter makes their case persuasively and other than the occasional hard question in the Q&A, they get a fairly easy ride and manage put down a stake in terms of their approach to the category.

However, at IIeX, you might see six different approaches, each saying they have the best/true/optimal/or only solution. This might pique your interest in the area, but it will also show you real proof that this is not a mature or agreed field, and show you that very plausible people, quoting great academic sources, are suggesting very different methods, approaches, or options.

The best thing in the exhibition!

For a long time I have been worried about sponsors and exhibitors. I am not sure that they often get good value for money, and since the current format of events depends on sponsors and exhibitors to make it financially viable, this is worrying.

However, LBR, Lieberman Research Worldwide, set a new high for the exhibition with the use of a virtual reality exercise. LBR linked it to their presentation, talking about the way we see things impacts the way we perceive them. The virtual experience (which they also used at the US IIeX) consisted of standing on a platform, which rises into the air and which challenges the wearer to walk along a virtual plank, and eventually to step into the void. A few people could not do it at all, an even those who managed the task without a pause walked in an odd way.

Why was this a good idea?

  1. It was something that most people had never done before.
  2. It linked to the point LBR were making
  3. It was so impressive that people kept talking about it and sending other people to try it.

The only thing I would suggest to LBR in the future is that they should consider branding the virtual experience. The room that people stand in, and perhaps even the plank, could have a branded message on them.

Not a replacement event

I don’t see IIeX as a replacement for the classic market research events such as ESOMAR Congress, or the MRS or AMSRS annual conference. The event is not (in its current form) going to supply papers that are going to be industry references, nor new thinking (it does supply new doing and new ideas), nor a the sort of neutral review that buyers and investors need.

However, it could (if it keeps growing) be a replacement event for some of the trade shows (for example the Insight Show and Research and Results) and some of the more tired third-party conferences which seem stuck in the 1990s.

I think the future is probably a mixture of:

  • Classic conferences, with written papers, new thinking, and rigorous reviews.
  • Specialist conferences, like MRMW, Sawtooth, BRC retail, and the QRCA events.
  • Energy and idea events (like IIeX)
  • And learning events, like the ESOMAR Academy the training/workshop programmes offered by a number of bodies, such as MRS.

This is going to get a lot bigger

The Amsterdam event had about 400 attendees and over 120 speakers. The next event is in Atlanta in June (see and I think it is going to be much bigger than last year’s IIeX and much bigger than the Europe event. For anybody with a new message, who needs to be heard, and who wants to benchmark what they have against the best of the rest, this will be the place to be.

For anybody who wants to know what is new, who wants to meet the exciting new kids on the block, who wants to look outside traditional MR, this will be the place to go. I plan to be there and at the IIeX in APAC, later in the year.

Correction! The next IIeX is the LatAm event, 8-9 April, click here to find out more.

The call for speakers for IIeX North America is open until February 26

If you want to speak at IIeX you need to move quickly, the call is open for a few more days.

Dec 022013

Posted by Karen Schofield Innovations Director at Join the Dots, UK.

If you ask a consumer walking out of a supermarket why they’ve got so much junk food in their trolley (admittedly, you might want to rephrase that rather than sounding like you’re accusing them, or they’ll never stop to do an interview), they’ll probably give you a rational, and likely very plausible, reason. Probably something like ‘ready meals are convenient’, or ‘the kids like them’, or ‘I was in a hurry’. And to some extent, this might be true, but what they probably won’t be able to tell you is that if they were hungry when they got to the supermarket, the chances are that their hunger, a ‘hot’ – or emotional – state, took over and they probably would have stuck more closely to their list if they’d gone shopping on a full stomach.

We’ve all been there – we’ve skipped lunch and someone passes by our desk with a cake which is so much more tempting when we’re hungry, even if we’re trying to watch what we eat. Giving in to temptation is part of what makes us human, as we’re often (and more than we might think) governed by our emotions.

By the same token, a consumer ordering a meal in a restaurant probably won’t be aware of the anchors within the menu design which affect their choice – like the really expensive steak which makes the standard (lower priced) steak look significantly better value in comparison, or the way they’ve gone for the second least expensive wine, because they’re using price as a heuristic for quality (but don’t want to spend too much or look too flashy with the dearest wine). And it’s not just us mere mortals who aren’t as rational as we might expect; even those paid big bucks to made fair, rational and sensible decisions have the same foibles – including (scarily) judges.

We’re at an interesting turning point for the industry where our understanding of the multiple layers of influence on consumers continues to advance at a rate of knots. Meanwhile, the technology available, especially mobile devices and other tools like wearable cameras, give us more opportunities than ever to get closer to decisions as they’re being made. Joining the dots of this knowledge and tech enables a much better appreciation of the way our minds are influenced, from the people we’re with, to the physical (or digital) environment or the way we’re feeling at the time events are unfolding, and leads us to a place where decision making starts to make a lot more sense, and so becomes more insightful and actionable.

So the opportunities are all about understanding what ingredients we need to use, and then tweaking the recipe to get it right. The basic recipe contains some combination of a big dollop of context, a cup of observation, a handful of self-reflection and a pinch of seasoning, but needs to be adapted according to taste. Then it’s about giving it a big stir and baking the mixture until it’s cooked right through. We shouldn’t be afraid to try new ingredients, or experiment with different flavour combinations to see what works best, as the best chefs will tell you. (Well probably. I don’t actually know any chefs. But I know a lot of other experimenters who would agree, although they don’t work in cake-related industries and the metaphor falls down, so I’ve made an assumption.)

If the bake is the analysis, then we need to make sure the decoration is top notch too. We need to present a beautiful cake, a beautiful story for our clients. A cake so tempting it makes our audience want to devour it, without having to worry about being in a hot state or watching their weight – it’s not a real cake after all. Or maybe it is, I’ve never tried making an actual debrief cake, the closest I’ve been is taking mince pies to a presentation, maybe I’ll put that on my list of things to try… And we’d do well to remember that we don’t stop being emotional decision makers when we walk into work in the morning, which is why creating stories with our research findings is so much more impactful than boring the pants off everyone with detail and 200 charts. (I’ve already ranted about that recently, so I won’t go over it again here.) Otherwise it’d be like baking a fantastic cake, jam packed with flavour and punch, that no-one will want to go near. And what a waste that would be.

Unfortunately, there are lots of yukky-looking cakes out there. The challenge is to create one our clients want to eat. Let’s bake!

At the risk of mixing my metaphors too much, that’s pretty much our philosophy at Join the Dots – we mix up different ingredients – or dots, if you will – to understand the bigger picture. Hence our name. So whatever your metaphor – whether it’s baking, dots, or something else – whatever you do, join them up, and when you’ve done that, don’t forget the icing on the cake.

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Nov 282013

Posted by Lucy Davison, Keen as Mustard Marketing, UK.

As we race at alarming speed into the future, accessorised with new technologies, swathed in big data and seduced by social media, it is important to step back and reflect on the bigger picture. Sometimes on a day to day level it’s easy to forget that we are living through one of the greatest revolutions the world has seen – the digital revolution. The result of that revolution has been an unprecedented change in the way we communicate. Yet how much has the market research industry really kept up? In the 12 years I’ve spent in research I have seen the ways the World consumes information change radically – now we are used to Tweets, infographics, Instagram, vine and Facebook. And it has become the norm for newspapers and other media to present complex, data-rich stories in visually exciting ways. But during that time I have seen very little change in the way research information is shared. Most market research is still communicated via long PowerPoint presentations and reports.

Two years ago at an ESOMAR Congress, Lorna Walters from Reckitt Benckiser presented her audience with a 278 slide ‘summary’ she had been sent by a research agency. She pointed out that she could run a marathon faster than read the summary. You could hear the shock waves reverberate around the room; yet this is not an unusual situation.

The problem is more fundamental than simply changing to Prezi or sticking some pretty pictures or vox pops in to alleviate to boredom; researchers must become much better all-round communicators. We must learn to understand context, tell stories; package and sell ideas. I have been running a workshop on communicating insights for the past couple of years. We use an example of a real (anonymous) dreadful presentation and ask participants to work on it to improve it. We give teams as much of the context as we can and lots of data. We tell them to work from the data to build the story, create a powerful opening and make clear recommendations. Every single time we have done this exercise, using the same data set, the teams have come up with a different story, different ‘hook’ and different recommendations. So which is right? The ‘right’ answer is the one that is presented in the most compelling, motivating and memorable way – the one that the client or stakeholder listens to and the one that engenders action or reaction. This requires a different mind-set for a lot of researchers, but they are skills that can be taught.

For research to meet the challenges of the new media age, we need to radically rethink how we communicate and deliver our product. We must develop and integrate skills in story-telling and use professional design expertise to change how we get our message across. Or someone else will be doing it for us.

Keen as Mustard Marketing are supporters of this year’s Festival of NewMR, and you can see their booth in the NewMR eXhibition.

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