I've just returned from the ESOMAR Congress in Montreux. This is a great event to meet up with colleagues and partners, current and hoped for, from around the world. But in all honesty, the content is not always as great as the networking opportunities. I'm not going to comment on the overall content this year because I had a number of long meetings that caused me to miss to too many presentations. But based on what I did see and conversation with other attendees it seemed to me that there were three overarching themes.
First, It was hard not talk about the economy, how bad it's been and when its' going to get better. The sub themes here are the same ones you hear everywhere--2010 a transition year; slow growth even after that in the US and Europe; faster growth in China and India; win business through innovation and efficiency; uncertain impacts of government regulation, etc. All in all there were confirmatory messages with nothing especially new and startling.
Second, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is in. At least ESOMAR believes it is because it was the main announced theme of the Congress, "Leading the Way: Ethically, Responsibly, Creatively." A number of speakers asserted that the anxieties produced by Great Recession and the increasing emphasis on accelerating climate change are causing consumers to look more carefully at how brands are behaving relative to these issues and to factor that into brand choice. While there was widespread agreement about the central concept there was considerable debate about the magnitude of the impact, especially from industry to industry.
Finally, there was this almost constant undercurrent of concern about two related issues that seem central to the European perspective on MR. The first of the issues is how we deal with respondents in a respectful and socially acceptable way. This is about privacy, confidentiality, and the special problems of research with children. The second is the need to continually define what we do and how we do it in ways that distinguish research from marketing. I used to wonder why ESOMAR spends so much time on something like developing a definition of market research and now I get it. It's ultimately about fending off regulation of the sort aimed at direct marketing. This is a huge concern in Europe and researchers recognize that if we don't behave in an ethical and responsible way the freedoms we need to do our work could be seriously infringed upon.