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The AMA MRC, Innovative Offerings, MR News & Researchvibes

Wow, what  a week! The AMA MRC was jam packed with great presentations, speakers, exhibitors, and attendees. It’s amazing how social networking has impacted events like this; not only did I finally meet online contacts who feel like old friends that I had never even physically met or spoken to, but also blogging, twitter feeds, real time video updates, etc… allowed the global industry to participate in many ways without needing to leave their offices. I love virtual events (more on that in a minute!) but there is an undeniable power and benefit to good old fashioned face-to-face communication.

If you missed the event the AMA, in conjunction with the good people at Ramius Corporation, set up a first class online community portal that has much of the content from the conference and feeds from all of the various coverage channels at You can access the twitter feed (including copious updates from yours truly) there or at Kathryn Korostoff  set-up a Youtube channel of video from the conference and Jeff Henning performed an almost supernaturally fast job of blogging on the event as well. Of course, many other people participated in sharing their thoughts throughout the conference and their contributions helped make it a great success!

So what were the highlights? Well, the unofficial theme seemed to be “Innovation and the Changing Role of MR” and that subtext was present throughout much of the conference. It all started with Stan Sthanunathan, VP Strategy and Global Insights, Coca Cola giving the keynote address on the topic of Making Change Happen! 10 Principles for Thriving in the Research World. Stan has challenged the industry to adapt to the changing needs of marketing organizations in the past, but he really threw down the gauntlet this time. Here is the synopsis of his message:

The ways in which people are sharing, processing information and making decisions are changing far faster than the research industry is responding. Rather than embrace and leverage the change, many research companies and client organizations are reverting to their comfort zone, creating a growing gap between what we need to know and what researchers provide.

Stan Sthanunathan will discuss ten principles that are driving change in the research world and share specific actions researchers can take to respond to those trends. His presentation will provide some very practical examples of how research must take the lead, not follow the trends, in order to thrive.

This was a continuation of the message Stan has delivered for a while now. He was previously quoted as saying that:

…the industry isn’t keeping pace with the change going on around us. People are too focused on quality, people are too focused on probability and non-probability samples, people are too focused on respondent engagement – this is all about making minor changes to what we are doing right now. Those are all necessary, but they’re not sufficient conditions for the success of the function.

We are focusing our time on technicalities of research, whereas the expectation from clients is actually in a totally different space. The clients are saying, ‘Inspire me, help me to take some transformational action,’ and we’re busy creating better mousetraps. So that’s why I’m a little bit concerned about the focus on the nuts and bolts of research. We constantly complain that we don’t get a seat at the table. But think about it, if you’re creating a better mousetrap, is the CMO of the company interested in that mousetrap? He would never give you a seat at the table for creating a better mousetrap.

Stan also delivered a real game changing idea: pay-for-performance. You can imagine how that went over! interviewed him after his address and here is the crux of his argument:

What prompted you down this road? Is it purely a cost/return thing?
No, no. In the context of the whole presentation, the focus was all about change. The reality is I cannot change if my agencies don’t change. I cannot change if my agencies don’t support me. I cannot go and tell my people internally that I have changed without a proper backup system. So unless everyone raises their game we will not be the change agents within the company.

What’s in it for [agencies] today to change the game? Practically nothing. No risk, no reward. If they do a fabulous job they still get the same money – same as if they do a piss-poor job. But if they now realise they can make more money they will suddenly put different calibre talent… it will attract different kinds of people, so this will hopefully act as a trigger for a bigger change.

What was the audience’s reaction like when you broached this subject?
I think they were probably a bit surprised and shocked, but I didn’t stay long enough to listen to all the feedback. As I said, I know that it is uncomfortable – but is it required? Absolutely. So accept it and let’s move on.

Is this something you will be pushing the whole industry to follow or is Coca-Cola happy to do it by itself?
It might be easier if it becomes an industry-wide initiative, but then I also recognise that anything that has to be industry-wide can also become quite time-consuming as everyone brings their own point of view. It could take forever. While I would be very happy to play an industry-wide role on this, the train has already left the station for us. We will be going ahead and doing this.

Great stuff; making us put skin in the game is certainly one way to drive the industry forward on multiple levels! My question is: are we up to the challenge? I think we are, but based on some of my conversations and observations at the conference it may be painful to get there.

I blogged previously about the wonderful vision of the MR professional as a strategic business consultant presented by Gayle Lloyd of Batesville Casket Company. That remains a highpoint for me, and her message was complementary to Stan’s.  I think many others agreed, which is heartening to say the least!

There were several other great sessions, but if I had to pick one more standout it would have to be Joe Batista, Chief Creatoloigist (coolest title ever!) at HP.  Joe spoke about how to Discover, Unlock and Unleash Innovation, and it was a much needed “how to” guide for our industry to follow. Since this is a blog post and not a book I won’t rehash everything (you can go here for comprehensive coverage) but a good summary is in one of his opening points:

“What is innovation? Innovation is growth. Seeing growth is not a matter of selling more of what you produce, but expanding the domain in which you can respond to your clients, consumers and customers.”

Between Stan, Gayle, and Joe we learned what the business issues for our industry are, developed some strategies to address the problems, and outlined a tactical plan to achieve the desired results. Unfortunately, I think a lot of folks didn’t quite get it, but I remain the eternal optimist on our industry’s ability to not just adapt, but thrive.

All of the exhibitors did a great job and I saw too many cool things and talked to too many smart and interesting people to list them all here. From an innovation/future of the industry perspective, several exhibitors really stood above the crowd. Here is my list of most innovative exhibitors to watch, and why:

KL Communications–  Their IC2 product combines social media monitoring with elements of MROCs to produce an online collaboration and innovation platform. The synthesis of these two techniques creates a unique new way to engage with consumers. They say it best themselves:

The time has come for researchers to “connect the dots” between the platforms that Web 2.0 introduced. Furthermore, it is now more possible than ever for consumers to engage in a more proactive manner, paving the way for true collaboration and the creation of new ideas that drive innovation.

MROCs are a microcosm of a target market, so by merging multiple channels of data such as social media derived insights it helps validate the findings from within the community. That is a great approach that is near and dear to my heart and it’s inspiring to see a new offering exploring the path of data synthesis using these channels.

NetBase– A new entrant into the SMR platform space, NetBase develops and markets a next-generation semantic technology that reads and understands the English language. Here is what they say about themselves:

With a simple browser and a password, NetBase customers have on-demand access to a full year’s worth of social media commentary representing billions of conversations from more than 75 million sources, from blogs to Facebook to Twitter. Our state-of-the-art natural language processing (NLP) engine has already read and indexed all of the sentences so you can get real-time results any time of the day or night without any advance setup.

Other tools for social media analysis, primarily based on keyword-matching, are less than 50% accurate. ConsumerBase delivers near 90% accuracy. Our NLP engine understands full sentences and automatically organizes brand-related chatter in social media content to answer the questions that matter to your business.

So, have they just built a better mousetrap? Maybe, but some big names on the client-side have worked with them as advisers to develop their product, which makes me think that maybe they really have built the best SMR platform out there right now.

Infosurv– My hometown heroes (we’re both in Atlanta), Infosurv has rolled out the Infosurv Concept Exchange (iCE) platform, a Predictive Markets play designed for MR. Here is more info from their site:

Prediction markets have been used for years to predict the success of new movie releases, political election winners, sporting event outcomes, and even Google’s quarterly profits.

More often than not, they’ve proven to be better predictors of these real-world outcomes to surveys, focus groups, or any individual expert in the world. Prediction markets harness “the wisdom of crowds” to see the future before it occurs… quickly, accurately, and inexpensively.

iCE is the first prediction market specifically designed to predict outcomes of interest to marketers and market researchers, such as new product concept or advertising concept success.

Prediction markets are emerging as a viable research tool that has great potential in the age of information interconnectedness that we live in and these guys are going to be a major player in the field. Randy Berkowitz, VP of global market research for Combe Incorporated, presented “Tapping the Wisdom of Crowds to Predict the Future – Prediction Markets for Concept Testing” at the AMA MRC, and they used iCE for their research. To find out more on that presentation click here. To find more info on the topic in general click here.

Crimson Hexagon– Crimson Hexagon is another player in the SMR space with a unique twist; they offer a robust suite of analytical tools within their package that others don’t necessarily include. The vote is out on which approach for SMR is best, but these guys certainly make a compelling argument for their system being one that we need to pay attention to:

Based on groundbreaking work conducted at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Crimson Hexagon is the only commercially available opinion analysis platform that lets you distill meaning – with mathematical precision – from the sea of opinion, information and data available in social media throughout the web.

Crimson Hexagon’s technology can identify and analyze opinion from large quantities of text, whether it’s the vast blogosphere or even an in-house content repository. Crimson Hexagon users access a private, customized dashboard that starts by showing the volume of mentions and positive/negative sentiment on topics of your choosing, across the internet and social media sources.

Our technology analyzes the entire social internet (blog posts, forum messages, Tweets, etc.) by identifying statistical patterns in the words used to express opinions on different topics. Based on this insight, it goes beyond simply measuring positive versus negative. Instead, it delivers a clear understanding of the nature of the online conversation – the key themes, their relative size, and how they change over time –with up to 97% accuracy.

Time will tell who ultimately has the best model, but in the meantime the steep competition in the space is driving innovation across all of the players and that is a very good thing for us all.

Western Wats – Yes, Western Wats; it seems you can teach an old dog new tricks, and the venerable field company is launching an innovative mobile platform!

Western Wats mobile is the combination of the firm’s mobile survey platform and permissioned panel of mobile users. The Western Wats mobile platform detects and optimizes surveys for mobile browsers and delivers surveys via SMS text message – allowing all mobile users, regardless of device, to share their opinions. The Western Wats mobile panel consists of mobile users who’ve explicitly agreed to engage in survey research via their mobile device.

“Western Wats mobile reaches people on the go.” Said David Haynes, CEO of Western Wats. “With over 4 billion people using mobile devices, we wanted to provide the industry with a complete solution to interact with these mobile users. Western Wats mobile is that solution. Respondents answer questions at their convenience and researchers realize improved participation rates, top of mind responses and increased access to younger respondents”

Mobile in itself is nothing new, but Western Wats is one of the few panel companies that is actively opting-in their panelists for mobile research initiatives, and that opens the door to all kinds of interesting applications in the future. Watch these guys; never discount a cowboy!

Intrepid – Not only did they have the coolest booth, theme, and people at the conference; these folks are sharp and are an example of the merging of multiple disciplines and capabilities to produce a model of the “next generation” research consultancy. Intrepid is owned by Alterian, whose primary offering combines campaign management , web content management , email and social media monitoring tools to help marketers be more insightful, engaging and accountable. Intrepid themselves  are an example of a firm that thinks like marketers and is perhaps more right brained than left. They are smart, savvy, connected strategists that use multiple data inputs to inform their recommendations and generate actionable insights. In other words, they are perhaps the model for what full service research companies need to become in order to compete effectively. That is my take on them, here is their own:

Intrepid is a global social media analytics and market research consultancy that supports business transformation through a deep, multi-channel understanding of people, markets and technology. Using a powerful combination of market research expertise and social media analytics, Intrepid helps clients identify new markets, develop new products and services, and create meaningful brand and customer experiences.

These are the firms that really jumped out at me, but by no means should anyone think other exhibitors were not making compelling cases for their products and services. Every company there offered a unique value proposition and set of experience that I encourage you to explore further. For a complete list of all exhibitors, click here.

That about wraps up the coverage on the AMA MRC, but a few other things popped up this week that deserve a mention.

First, we have the one-two punch of e-Rewards and Research Now merging their brands with Research Now being the trade name followed by the stealth attack of their acquisition of Peanut Labs. Wow. My buddy Eric Bell had the scoop first and details it on the MRGA. This was certainly a buzz topic at the conference since all of their major competitors were there. I’ve had the good fortune of developing fairly deep relationships with e-Rewards, Toluna, USamp, SSI, and Cint over the past year related to some of my own strategic initiatives, and I can tell you that what is vital for all of them is to develop a few key options:

  1. social media or router sampling models
  2. a mobile offering
  3. sample blending systems
  4. a client-driven sample management platform

Until Monday I would have said that USamp was positioned best on all fronts, but the Research Now/Peanut Labs deal does change the game a bit, if for no other reason than the sheer market share of Research Now. One interesting possibility that we may see come out of this will be the integration of Peanut Lab’s virtual currency exchange platform combined with the e-Rewards Loyalty-based incentive system to create a new consumer-driven marketing channel for clients to utilize in conjunction with their research programs similar to the “rugging” idea. That may be thinking a bit too far out of the box, but I think we can all agree that this deal creates some very interesting possibilities for the future.

Another piece of great news is that the NewMR Virtual Festival is now accepting synopses submissions for presentations. This innovative new model for a global virtual event is the brainchild of Ray Poynter and we’re using the “wisdom of the crowd” to select which presentations will be included; participants will vote on the most interesting and compelling submissions.  To submit yours click here. To review the submissions so far, click here.

Finally, you might have noticed that we have a new look! Thanks to the hard work of tech guru Sharon Dexter we’ve cleaned up the structure and look of the site, making it easier to search in a simpler category system. We’ve also included a few useful links to the GreenBook Directory, MRGA, and the premier of the new “homepage to the MR industry”:!

Researchvibes is a joint effort by the NY AMA, the MRGA, Netvibes, and my own consultancy: LMC group. The goal is to simplify and streamline the online lives of MR professionals globally by aggregating and synthesizing all available content channels (news feeds, blogs, publications, etc…), providing access to useful productivity tools and resources, providing an integrated social media dashboard to manage all of your social networking activities in one place, and to provide MR firms with access to a new engagement channel. The coolest thing about the portal is that it is totally customizable based on your own preferences and tastes! We’ll continue to add new content and resources, but you the user can select what you want to see, what tools will be displayed, and you can even add in your own widgets with new features and functionality!

The portal is still in beta mode, but we think it’s the ultimate tool for the busy multi-tasking MR professional. It’s also totally mobile compatible! Please check it out and tell us what you think!

That’s it for now. Thanks for sticking with me through this marathon post and look for more posts soon!

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7 responses to “The AMA MRC, Innovative Offerings, MR News & Researchvibes

  1. Wish we had gone. Thank you for this great review! We recently asked our 30,000 iPhone users if they liked taking surveys online. Out of 8,000 responses, 99% preferred answering questions on their iphone. Of course not surprising, but what did surprise me was a rapidly growing number had actually stopped using their computers.

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