Editor’s Note: Client side research June WestHolland (most recently the Global B2B Senior Market Research Manager at Kimberly-Clark Professional) guest posts with her take on day 1 at ESOMAR. June is funny, insightful, and personable; I think you’ll like her perspective very much. I will chime in with my take later this week.
By June WestHolland
Oh, what a great day to be in downtown Atlanta! The ESOMAR Congress kicked off this morning with a bang – literally – with a group of high energy, explosively entertaining hip-hop dancers on stage, giving us all a little taste of fitness, flexibility and fashion (something about the dancers’ camo pants and plaid shirts worked for me). The choice of this dynamic group surprised me actually… I know a lot of people who don’t readily associate a large group of Market Researchers with percussive jumping and stomping, but it was terrific! Then, after such a large beginning, I waited for the room to still and the energy to seep out… but it didn’t. On the heels of a witty welcome by the Judith Passingham, Committee Chair, keynote speaker, Sherry Turkle (MIT Initiative on Technology and the Self) grabbed and held my attention with what I thought was a riveting session entitled “Online Identities: The Person in the Machine.”
Among Ms. Turkle’s many points around how today’s technology has created a wedge between people in terms of how we communicate, one comment in particular struck a nerve with me. I was intrigued by the notion that technology, so seductive across generations, with all its uses and glamour, has also taken us to places we really don’t want to go. According to Ms. Turkle, we’d rather text than talk. As much as I’d like to, I can’t argue with that – it’s true, given the choice between calling up a friend and ripping off a quick “thinking of you” email, I’ll do the latter all day long. And well into the night, too. But I draw the line at this between personal and business communications, and I think others should as well. At some point it’s nothing short of sheer avoidance and lack of responsibility to continue to hide behind technology, pretending to be so connected and valuable and important that you can’t afford to miss one single phone call or text. Ironically, being so electronically “connected” often only succeeds in making you more cut off from the conversations that truly matter.
My experiences confirm, time and time again, that texting must be easier (think: lazy) than personal networking and it has reached epidemic proportions. In the last few years I frequently worked from home rather than report into the office despite my meager 2.5 mile commute. More often than not no one else showed up in the flesh at the office anyway – why should I! Standard practice was to add a call-in number to every single meeting notice. After a few months of this, without any discussion or consensus, that became the M.O. In hindsight, there’s no telling how many hours were wasted through the endless stream of phone calls when one face-to-face conversation would have done the trick. Oh, well… live and learn. Moving ahead I’ll make a concerted effort to be that person, that one-off professional, that odd-ball, who insists on meeting in person whenever possible. And I’ll like it.
As I think about it, I suppose I should be thankful for all those Crack berries out there – they only make me look better. While they are texting and typing away, I’m getting some much needed face time in with friends and colleagues, taking full advantage of the 94% of communication that’s non-verbal. In person I’ll hone my conversation skills, perfect my ability to think clearly on the fly, and be just a tad vulnerable. I’ll be known as the bold, confident one who, although busy, always makes time to connect – personally – on things that matter most.
Fred John’s discussion on “Research Without Border” left me with mixed feelings on the future of Market Researchers. To begin, he mentioned the results of a MREB study some time ago that found that the Market Research function seems to be increasingly pushed down to a tactical, reactive level versus up to a strategic one. Then, as if to drive the point home, he went into detail about how we Market Researchers need to work hard to shed the old-fashioned, dinosaur image that we have long suffered from and work to elevate the profession to the stature it deserves.
After 20+ years in the industry, 15 of them in global client side research, I am well aware of the image Market Researchers suffer from, but I am proud to say that I’ve also seen a tremendous shift in recent years away from the stereotypes. In the small Market Research department where I worked within a very large, global corporation, I was constantly challenged to find new ways to bring value to all areas of the business, with or without a charge number. Expectations of my role, not unlike those in Marketing and Sales and Product Development, just to name a few, rose each year in terms of the tangible value I had to bring to the party. Objectives transformed from “X number of projects completed on time and within budget” to “what quantifiably impact did these results have on the business,” and “what other business growth opportunities should be considered based on these findings.” A seat at the proverbial strategy table had to be earned, daily, and by everyone, not just Market Research.
All that to say this: I look around at ESOMAR and see what looks like the biggest, most capable bunch of people I’ve seen in one place in a long time – second only to my last UGA between-the-hedges game, but that’s another conversation. Professionalism and creativity ooze from this venue; the conversations are engaging and just plain cool. So why is it that we Market Researchers often have so much difficulty convincing others that we are more than just intelligent, number-crunching pretty faces? Maybe it’s because as much as we want others to listen to and rely on us, we need to take a lesson from them: flash and dazzle a little more like Marketers, exaggerate and shake hands a little more like Sales, swagger a little more over our hard-earned knowledge…
We can catapult to the top of the business food chain, and stay there. Everyone wants the knowledge we possess know how to find. We can be humble stewards of information and still be seen as the amazing corporate warriors we are. And I know there’s been a lot of progress in this area already; makes me so proud to be a Market Researcher. We know what we do is valuable; let’s make sure others know that, too, often and loudly.
Was it just me, or was the “Ode to the Unsung Hero – Navigating the Turbulent Waters of Research” just about the wackiest, weirdest, most pointless waste of 20 minutes you’ve spent in recent weeks? The team gets points for creativity, I’ll give them that, but things went one step too far with the “live news feed” angle on a “movie” (multi-national research program), complete with its hero, captain and villain walking the plank. What? I know, right! – I’m still confused about what I experienced. I think somewhere in their presentation points were made around the need to carefully consider Market Research basics such as what questions you ask to whom and how, but beyond that I’m clueless. The points were so simple, so obvious, so pedantic…I can only guess that is exactly why the team felt the need to do something “complex” with their allotted time. Maybe we wouldn’t notice that nothing new or interesting was said because we would be so caught up in trying to figure out the presentation characters and how it was all going to come together. I’m just sayin’…
On the upside, since nothing particularly specific or revealing was shared, they can potentially keep recycling this presentation for years to come at various different conferences. Seems like they’d have to in order to recoup some of the expenses of pulling this production together. By the fourth or fifth performance they’ll have all the kinks worked out. At least they didn’t have to pay their “actors” very much, and they sure didn’t waste a lot of time rehearsing.
All in all, ESOMAR Day 1 was a great experience. I’m sure I’ll have more to write about as I process it!