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A Contrast of Conferences: Part 1 - IIR Technology-Driven MR

My colleague, Theo Downes-LeGuin, has agreed to a return engagement as a guest blogger and to share his impressions from two MR conferences he attended earlier in the year. This is the first of two installments.

I attended two very similar conferences separated by a month and 800 miles earlier this summer. IIR's Technology Driven Market Research Event attracted a healthy crowd (especially for a first-year event) to Chicago in early May. CASRO's Technology Conference followed in early June, with modest overlap in attendees. It's taken me till now to find the time to write up a few thoughts on the first conference. I'm banking on the fact that even market research doesn't move so fast as to make three month-old information useless.

Although both these conferences focused on technology platforms and processes, I found much of the content indistinguishable from other MR conferences I've attended in the past two years. This says more about the mindset of our industry than about these specific conferences: right now, industry focus is almost entirely on technology tools, and on technology-based sources for insights. As Simon Chadwick submitted in his Research World editorial around the time of these conferences, creativity and innovation abounds in MR right now. I would add that it abounds mostly in the area of software and networked platforms (broadly defined).

Leonard Murphy's opening remarks at the IIR event included a useful taxonomy of traditional, transitional and future models of MR. The basic idea is that we are moving from data silos, methodological rigor and low touch approaches for data collection to "data oceans," methods agnosticism, and high-touch, people-driven methods. I find the contrast of methods rigor vs. methods agnosticism odd – one could argue that the most rigorous researchers are in fact methods agnostic because they (a) know all possible approaches and (b) choose the right approach without prejudice. But to be fair, I'm not sure that Leonard actually offered these as opposing trends.

I always challenge myself to identify some broad themes across presentations, and here's what I hit upon at IIR:

  • Emotions are underestimated and under-measured by most market research.
  • Neurofoo (foo can be –science, -marketing, or –design) is at hot as Hansel in Zoolander. Even after several presentations on or around this topic, I think most of us in the room would have been challenged to distinguish the various neurosomething research approaches on offer or to match them to a multiplicity of business problems most of us work on. Can attention, emotional engagement and memory retention (the three main neuromarketing metrics) cover every research need?
  • Facebook integration is a fascinating research opportunity, since Facebook (a) is big and (b) does a lot to authenticate identities of users so we don't have to. But does Facebook really want researchers in the walled garden, and if so, what are the privacy issues we must account for independent of their controls?
  • For all the calls for punchy, visual and narratively-oriented presentations, even at conferences, researchers are highly reliant on dense PowerPoint. A neuromarketing finding related to this point: numbers don't activate the brain emotionally, whereas words do. So one school of thought is that presentations should be more visual, while the other reminds us that words actually do a good job of activating the audience.
  • Data is no longer a plural word, even among a room full of research professionals. Sadness.

Bill McElroy ended with a typically empirical and sober view of what role technology plays in the success of MR firms. Using a survey of MR firms and an third party index of technology propensity developed for project-oriented companies, he showed that proclivity to adopt technology is only modestly correlated with company success. But he also suggested that this can be explained by the fact that smaller, newer MR companies adopt technology more readily, and those companies have a higher failure rate and acquisition rate (acquisition serving to "hide" successful tech adoption).

More on the CASRO conference to come.

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