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#TMRE Debrief: Market Research At A Critical Inflection Point


Editor’s Note: I wasn’t able to attend TMRE due to the birth of my daughter, but never fear: we had several great folks on site and over the course of the next week or so we’ll be posting quite  a few different takes on key takeaways from the conference. To kick things off Jackie Rousseau-Anderson offers her view on one of the main messages from the conference; it’s time for MR to evolve.

By Jackie Rousseau-Anderson

This year marked my 5th time attending The Market Research Event. This year’s event was held in Boca Raton, FL and, as always, delivered an agenda packed with enticing sessions that ranged from ROI and Big Data to Futuring and Skill Development. One of the things I love most about this conference is the energy level that pervades the 3 day event. From talking to attendees to simply walking around the halls, you can feel the excitement, it’s that palpable. And this year was no exception.

Regardless of the track sessions you attended, the recurring theme was that the #MRX industry is at a critical inflection point. Philip Chambers of Pepsi, in his final day keynote, told the audience that we’re currently at a point where we can either renew our industry, pushing forward like early innovators did, or, we can bow-out gracefully, allowing ourselves to decline.  The charted options he displayed on the big screens depicted a stark reality. Do we choose the forward moving trajectory or, are we so paralyzed by our traditions that we’ll bring about our own demise?

Chambers pointed out, as an industry we tend to be a bit incestuous. We need to open ourselves to the “newbies”. (A great example would be Google Surveys who actually had a large presence and lots of interest, in the exhibit hall) He also challenged brands to step up to moving market research forward. It’s the brands’ research dollars that dictate to vendors what they should offer. We need to reach a breakthrough where we better connect suppliers and clients. Clients need to better understand what suppliers (especially innovative ones) do and suppliers need to understand what clients need. The Sesame/Blue Ocean team stated it well, we need to step back and look at all available sources of data. Just because you’ve relied on your tracking study data year after year doesn’t mean it’s the best or only source of information. What other data is out there to expand your view? As Mark Brooks of L’Oreal said, we need to be change agents. “Because we did it this way last year,” is an unacceptable answer for why we’re using a certain methodology or asking a question a specific way.

The inflection point for MRX certainly doesn’t stop with how we collect data but also what we do with it. To pull from Brooks’ presentation, are we doing market research or creating customer insights? There was a definite interest in how to move beyond “market research”. How do we tell a story with the information we have? How do we visualize this information in a way that makes it relevant and ensures it resonates with our clients (both internal and external)? I loved the perspective of the BP presentation, data visualization doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. Instead, it can be small things like replacing bar charts and text heavy slides with more imagery. I think we forget that. We assume that visualization means we have to create crazy dashboards with amazing graphics. Or, in the case of storytelling, that we need to abandon data charts and create this qualitative report-like story. At the end of the day, we’re talking about bringing the insights to life. Not even just the data, but the insights. If we can do this, we  can bring others onboard with the value of research. What will someone remember, 20 bar charts or a video of a segment actively shopping for a product?

Really, I could go on for days about all of the content discussed. When all is said and done, the power is in our hands. As researchers we are a critical part of helping our companies move forward. However, if we can’t open ourselves to new approaches and lead the innovative thought process within our companies, we will quickly be leapfrogged. This may not be an entirely new theme, but it reminds us that we need to do something about it to bring change. If each attendee does one small thing to push market research forward, think of all the change we’ll see! I’m going to start by rethinking the layout of my current report. What are you going to do?

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Jackie Rousseau-Anderson

Jackie Rousseau-Anderson

Senior Vice President & Chief Client Officer, SIMMONS Research