What follows is a post-hoc edited version of my attempt to blog the WARC Online Conference, subtitled Now & Next 2011, in London on Tuesday. It was chaired by Mike Cooke from GfK who gave us one of those insightful overviews that he always gives when he chairs one of these things. He always manages to make what is about to happen seem so much smarter and more profound than it turns out to be, but it's a great way to launch. Gets the juices flowing early.
The first speaker was, well, me, talking about what's next for online panels. I won't bore you with what I had to say since it's pretty much what I've been saying for months, both in this blog and in other presentations.
The other two presentations in the first session were about communities and among the presenters was Tom de Ruyck from Insites. One can't help being impressed with how buttoned up this whole community research process has become. Whether you accept the basic premises about communities or not, the fact is that it has pretty much become a mature methodology, at least in how it's practiced at the high end. Tom did a nice job of helping us understand the difference between naturally occurring communities, communities recruited for research (MROC's), and the potential value in seeking synergies across the two forms.
The Q&A featured some discussion about the issues surrounding brand interest, commitment and topic salience. I think this is an issue for online in general. There are a whole lot of pretty boring research topics seeking online feedback. Getting people to do online surveys about them or to join communities to discuss them can be a heavy lift.
The next session featured three pretty diverse topics. The first speaker was Jackie Hughes from Kellogg Europe. She began by channeling Stan Sthanunathan's mantra about not caring about research quality, only about insight. She not so gently reminded us that online research, if not research in general, is a commodity and what she really buys is the connections the research makes to the business problem. She made it clear and in no uncertain terms that it's about Kellogg's making money. It's not about the quality of the research (or the evidence) or even about consumers (did I hear her right?). Just the money. Then she shifted to describing a parallel test they did of in-home qual (about instant porridge) versus same by Skype. No differences in the findings but then again the findings seemed to be what we already know. Porridge reminds us of our moms, is great on cold mornings, is like a big hug, and "sticks to our ribs" so we don't get hungry. What the second part had to do with the first I have no idea but she finished by reminding us that we are a dime a dozen and she only cares about insight not a lot of nonsense about the quality of evidence.
Next we heard about mobile from Guy Rolfe of Kantar. One sees lots of conference presentations about the promise of mobile and this one was very much in that vein. He works for one of the big brands with lots of opportunities and niches in which to apply mobile and offered us some concrete examples:
- Diary studies
- "In the moment" data collection
- Contacting potential respondents for research across modes in emerging markets where mobile is especially hot
- Hard to reach populations, especially lower SES
A lot of us believe that the success of mobile is tied to increased penetration of smartphones and other Web-enabled devices but Guy argued that even the oldest of cell phones can be used effectively, that SMS is not yet a dead end.
Finally, Jon Puleston from GMI gave a presentation that I would describe as "eye candy on steroids." Lots of claims about increased engagement and the value of "gamification" but a little fuzzy on the precise designs and results from the 100+ studies they have conducted to measure the impacts. But if the first presenter in the session sucked all of the positive energy out of the room Jon sucked it all back in again. He was full of positive energy, downright excitement, and offered us a whole bunch of interesting ideas, many seeming to have a theoretical basis. But I confess that I remain a skeptic.
The afternoon kicked off with one of my favorite presenters, Neils Schillewaert from Insites. His topic was the future of market research. He gave a very smart presentation interlaced with cool movies clips to drive home his point, it being on the need to engage both respondents and clients more fully in research. On the respondent side many, but not all, of his ideas were qual-based. On the client side he argued that research must inspire, must get the client's attention, and create buzz inside the organization. Hard to disagree with his central thrust, but it is a challenge given the current terms of interaction between buyers and suppliers. I wonder if his company is able to do it successfully because they are offering a very creative set of solutions that appeal to a buyer segment predisposed to innovative approaches and therefore interact with suppliers in very different ways from those of us caught up in the normal procurement-driven RFP process.
Next up was Raja Halabi from TNS. Frankly, his presentation was only tangential to research practice but it was one of the most fascinating talks of the day. His group has been studying tablets, especially the iPad, presumably with the goal of eventually using it for data collection. But the findings he presented didn't have a whole lot to do with data collection. Rather it focused on just how revolutionary the iPad has been. Some of what he reported:
- It's the instant gratification (no boot up) that people love more than the portability.
- It causes Internet consumption to skyrocket.
- It increases social networking substantially.
- Few view it as a replacement device; it's a whole new device.
- The touching experience plus zooming and pinching make people feel like they are interacting with the Internet in a whole new way.
- But it's not perfect, and the absence of business-oriented apps is a major barrier.
If there's a takeaway for researchers it's that tablets are still unchartered waters in terms of interface standards and that's likely to be a problem for data collection apps in the short run.
Last up in this segment was the omnipresent John Kearon from Brainjuicer whom Mike Cooke introduced as a person whose life motto seems to be "a little bit of madness." John expanded some on a presentation he gave at ESOMAR in Athens about Digividuals. I heard him in Athens, read the paper, heard him again today and I'm still not sure I understand what they are doing. It seems to involve creating virtual characters with a basic set of characteristics and then using advanced online searching techniques to find others like them and then use that data to flesh out the original character. It has potential implications especially for helping clients understand their segments in more detail by giving them a sort of flesh and blood feel. They use the information they get from scouring the Web to create movies out of them. All very out there a little mad but also fun and interesting.
At the break a British attendee asked me whether all of the stuff we had been hearing over the course of the day was catching on more in the US than it seemed to be in the UK. We decided that it's all very interesting and fun to hear and talk about but the generic category we've come to call social media, while garnering a sizable share of voice in settings like this one, is still a pretty insignificant share of revenue in larger world of MR. It seems that clients are not embracing it like researchers are, at least not yet.
The final session launched with a presentation by Martin Oxley from Buzzback and his client at the Charities Aid Foundation. Their task was to understand more about the emotional aspect of charitable giving. They showed us a very interesting online technique that started with asking Rs to construct their own collage to represent their feelings about charitable giving using a library of 100+ images. Then they were asked to explain the collage. This struck me as a very effective way to tease out the most effective language for presenting charitable causes and promoting giving. It was one of the most interesting attempts at measuring emotions online that I had seen.
He was followed by Monique Morden from Vision Critical who gave us the second talk of the day about mobile. She gave us some cleanly laid out best practices and described integration of mobile into MROCs, broadening the feedback mechanism in a way that increased spontaneity and the sheer amount of information community members could provide.
The final presenter was Francesco D'Orazio from Face. He was supposed to talk about Twitter but decided to talk about something he called "augmented research" instead. His talk was about leveraging the vast information resources of search engines and social networking sites through the use of a variety of web-based data aggregation, analysis, and presentation apps to augment research projects with more traditional methodologies at their core. It was a long presentation, longest of the day, and I confess that the combination of it coming at the end of the day and my being five time zones from home made it tough for me follow as closely as I wish I had. Still, it was visually dazzling and very intriguing. I will be emailing him to get his presentation.
We finally ended at around 6:00PM. While I go to London two or three times a year I had never encountered anything like the queue to just get to the stairs leading down to the Oxford Circus tube station. At least half of the people inching along with me were working their mobiles. I wondered how many were on Twitter or Facebook, whether there were any market researchers listening, and what, if anything, they were learning.