A Report from the Market Research Summit 2019*
“Insight in the Age of Machines” – that was the focus and title of the Market Research Summit 2019 last week in London. A familiar topic, with hardly a week passing without another voice being raised on the fears and hopes of working life with robots.
Did this particular conference bring anything different to the Mensch-Maschine party?
Starting with the familiar: there were plenty of tech players offering their ability to help crunch data to free up the MR geniuses that we all are – with the usual confidence and optimism that IT operations invariably have. The spirit of IIEX was in the room….
Beyond that, however, one client panel discussion early in the day was revealing.
From Story-telling to “Story-selling”
Client side research managers from Mars Petcare, Sky, Legal and General and Molson Coors talked about “the truth behind transforming insight teams, ideal plan versus reality”.
Amongst the familiar, some Interesting themes emerged:
– Client side insight teams are overworked because they are both underfunded and understaffed. Molson Coors for example has a UK insights team of 3 people – for an organization that employs upwards of 3.000 in the UK alone. Wow.
– The people making budget decisions – often finance – have little interest in or understanding of market research. Building bridges is of immense value, getting in with the Profit & Loss guys. Creating a tight link to business impact is key for insights to survive, let alone flourish.
– Selling skills, the packaging of insights is critical. This is beyond storytelling, we’re talking salesmanship.
– DIY is happening all the time – preferences were expressed for totally automated tools such as Zappistore, as the room for marketing and other folk to get stuff wrong was eradicated.
– There are too many shiny new tools being thrown at clients – who have neither the time nor internal expertise to evaluate them adequately.
– Making sense of existing data was seen as more important than accessing new knowledge or insights.
There was little real focus on tech per se. A comforting reminder that what is really keeping client side researchers awake is the challenge to extract and demonstrate value from MR projects in a business climate that has become notably tougher.
My take-out: insights may exist in an age of machines – but IoT, AI and the like are not the stuff keeping client side staff awake at night. Tech isn’t the driver that all those articles and offerings make you think they are.
Yes, there was a dichotomy suggested between data-scientists and traditional MR folk – something James Wycherley of the Insights Management Academy pointed out, with data scientists churning out analyses without having much training in MR processes or particular interest in potential business impact.
Is MR in fact at crisis point, as one client side researcher suggested?
Perhaps – there was certainly a pervasive sense of insights being undervalued.
But whose fault is that? A weed is a flower without an advertising budget – this pithy aphorism is perhaps appropriate, quoted from the most recent book of the sadly absent keynote speaker Mr. Rory Sutherland.
Impact, impact, impact!
It seems that many tech narratives are marketing products – even the title of this and many MR events is in a sense misleading.
Insights is at a critical juncture, where it above all needs to demonstrate business impact, prove value.
Skillsets like salesmanship and communications underpinned by a strong bias towards action are likely of much more value in permeating an organization with a consumer-centric mindset and inspiring senior decision makers than being a whizz with numbers or a tech-geek.
The robots may have it for now in terms of visibility – but to a large part because they are being foregrounded by people with large marketing budgets, who also understand how to play on B2B’s very own fear of missing out.
These same folk also have the desire to sponsor conferences, including this one. A double-edged sword?
Maybe it’s time to focus on something other than machines and humans – and on that note, refreshing conference formats wouldn’t go amiss either. We live an experience marketing era after all, time to catch up before that trend disappears before we have grasped it.
To Go or Not to Go?
Last but not least: over 100 folk turned up, about 40% client side it seemed to me.
Worth going? Yes, conferences invariably give good networking, as was the case here; F2F often beats the knowledge gain factor – so get in there whilst these types of events are still available.
Oh – and Happy Thinking People (represented by the author of this piece) chaired a great panel discussion with folk from AkzoNobel, QVC, Whitbread, Acacia Avenue and Jigsaw Research on whether MR needs more brilliant qualitative researchers rather than another algorithm.
I won’t reveal my opinion on that question ;) Get in touch if you’re interested.
* first published on Research and Results website.