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Posts from September 2013

That old seat at the table

Attend an MR conference and chances are good that sooner or later a case of consulting envy will break out.  Symptoms include repeated use of phrases such as “seat Consultantat the table” and “C-level access.”  This is not a new phenomenon; it’s been a pretty steady part of the MR inferiority complex for the almost 20 years that I’ve been in the industry. The syndrome manifested itself at last week’s ESOMAR Congress in a session titled, “Think BIG: Imagine.”  It started from the premise that MR is twice as old and yet only one-tenth the size of management consulting (poor us) and then wondered how we might create “exponential growth” to close the gaps in revenue and prestige.  The answer, it turns out, is behavioral science.

To be clear, I agree that behavioral science is a megatrend with the potential to transform our industry.  But will its smart application make us rich and at long last bestow upon us that mythical seat at the table?  I doubt it. 

Management consultants and market researchers work at fundamentally different levels.  The consultant’s playing field includes corporate strategy and the full range of company operations, the whole enchilada.  Market researchers primarily provide tactical advice on how to take products to market. The two value propositions are fundamentally different and they result in fundamentally different ways of interacting with clients.

I am tempted to say that we should just get over it, enjoy the work that we do and take pride in the value we deliver. Then again, as tiresome as it can be maybe our fundamental insecurity is a good thing.  Maybe the constant fear of our lunch being eaten by management consultants and predictive analytics keeps us on our toes, pushes us to innovate, and makes us better if not bigger.  Andrew Grove probably was right; only the paranoid survive. 

I think we check that box.

Thoughts on the 2013 AMSRS National Conference

    I spent most of last week at the 2013 AMSRS Conference in Sydney.  Lovely city and a great conference. There were over 500 attendees and around 40 presentations along with some interesting panels, two of which I had the opportunity to sit on.  The content was all that you would expect in an MR conference these days, a good reminder that we are a global industry in which pretty much everyone is working to solve the same set of problems.  The presentations I heard were all well done, better than what I sometimes see at other conferences.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any breakthroughs to report but it was a nice opportunity to think about the state of play in MR.

One nice feature of this conference was the significant representation from the public sector, some clients but mostly companies that do what we in the US might call social policy or government research.  By and large, MR and government researchers go their own separate ways here but in Australia and to a lesser extent in Europe that’s not always the case.  I have always felt that both MR and government research in the US would benefit from closer collaboration, but I don’t expect to see that happen any time soon.

There also was a significant contingent of client-side researchers, more than one usually sees in the US save for the artificial environment created by TMRE.  And, as conference co-chair Ray Poynter wryly observed, they weren’t hiding their name badges, suggesting that they felt more like colleagues than targets of opportunity.

There were five plenary sessions, mostly featuring the usual suspects (like me).  Our job was to be thought provoking and I think we managed.  I’ll leave it at that.

To accommodate that many papers there had to be some parallel sessions, and I attended three of them.  Some observations:

·       I’m not sure that MR has yet tuned into big data in a meaningful way.  It’s more than loyalty card data or social media data.  It seems to me that it’s more about combining different kinds of data from lots of different sources, and more about the techniques of data mining and machine learning than it is about sampling, inferential statistics, and hypothesis testing.  We continue to view big data through the lens of our current paradigm, and I don’t think that’s where the big data movement is going.

·       Mobile seems frozen in place.  Everyone continues to talk about “in-the-moment” and geolocation but I don’t see mobile as being really there yet in a meaningful way.  The unintentional mobile respondent issue is where the action is right now and I’m surprised it’s not getting more attention.  Long surveys designed for computer administration are a serious problem and the industry ought to be running as fast as it can to solve those two problems now.  But I don’t get a sense of urgency.

·       Finally there is behavioral economics, neuroscience, neuromarketing, behavioral science – whatever name you put to it.  MR has been struggling to figure out what to do with it beyond wiring people up in qual settings or grabbing images of faces and making inferences that some might say go beyond the current science.  There is a lot of experimenting going on, which is a good thing, but I think we are still in the learning phase.

The conference closed with one of those personally inspiring talks from an author of what we used to call “self-help” books (maybe we still do) that have become standard fare at MR conferences these days.  Nigel Marsh has written Fat, Forty, and Fired and Overworked and Underlaid.  He was typically personable and funny.  As always happens to me in these situations I was nearly overcome with envy of his command of the stage.  But I never feel especially inspired to go out and take command of my life like I am supposed to do.  Maybe it’s an age thing.