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ESOMAR Gets It Right At Digital Dimensions Conference

ESOMAR 3D 2011


It is so refreshing to be at a conference put on by a trade organization where the debate is not focused on “if or when” market research should (maybe, possibly, if there is no other choice in the matter) consider joining the 21st Century. Here at the ESOMAR Digital Dimensions 3D conference the discussion is about the practical business of leveraging these technologies and how research business models need to change to support that. It is the conversation that has to happen, and ESOMAR is showing true leadership by crafting an event that is addressing the need. Plus they know how to put on a first class conference; the combination of great content and a well done event experience deserves kudos.

Being a conference that encompasses social media, it’s no surprise that there are many folks blogging here and the Twittersphere has been filled with activity as people have shared the great information and insights out of every presentation. I’m not going to recap each of the sessions or analyze the tweetstream; industry luminaries  JeffreyHenning, Annie Pettit, Tom Ewing, and the ESOMAR team have done a far better job than I could providing in depth coverage and you can see the Twitter activity by following the #eso3D hashtag.  Jeffrey has made it especially easy for us all (he’s just that kind of guy!) by posting links to each of the posts:

Day 1 Recaps:

Recaps from Annie:

Wrapups from others:

From this cornucopia of cutting edge goodness what were the key takeaways?  Here is my list:

  1. The day started by setting the context: the digital life has altered our global culture in a permanent way that has far reaching implications for our species, let alone market researchers. It is here to stay and we simply must adapt to it. And, the pace of change is so fast now that we are only beginning to get a glimpse of the shape of things to come.
  2. Whether we’re discussing the seemingly diverse topics of “gamification”, social media research, facial scanning, MROCs, or netnography the name of the game now is understanding the emotional drivers of behavior. Surveys and focus groups are still useful techniques (and at least for today still major money makers), but market research now has the tools and the access to consumers to truly find out the why of decision making, often without asking a single question.
  3. The transition from current survey-based trackers to new techniques will be slow and painful for all stakeholders. It’s entirely possible that the data we have been collecting is incomplete at best, flat out wrong at worst, but clients often have built these metrics into organizational performance and compensation plans and variances, even to improve quality, will be problematic. Couple that with the impact on pricing, efficiency, revenue, and even company valuation for suppliers and we have a veritable “don’t ask, don’t tell” scenario.
  4. Suppliers will find more success selling newer techniques for new projects. This model will be much more successful for boutique specialists than existing large enterprise suppliers due to the risk of revenue cannibalization and lack of both human capital and infrastructure to support many of the new modes. The path forward for larger companies will be to acquire the boutique specialists and augment existing business with the new data sources.
  5. Gamification is here to stay; the concept is simply too ubiquitous in the digital domain (and arguably intrinsic to the human condition) for market research not to incorporate various aspects of game theory into the research process. The challenge will be scalability for those companies that depend on the production aspects of data collection as key profit drivers; many aspects of the game process, particularly the user interface, requires as much art as it does science and creativity is pretty tough to operationalize.
  6. European suppliers (and presumably clients) are ahead of the curve on not just adopting, but in creating all new research techniques to capitalize on the new digital paradigm. 
  7. Market research still has a looong way to go to figure out how our hallowed precepts and ethical positions fit (if at all) in social media research. We’re trying to straddle the line today, but the line keeps shifting based on client needs and technocultural evolution. The conversation is vital to have to prompt debate, but resolution of the big questions and perhaps even definition of what market research is will be a long time coming.
  8. No technology can replace the human brain (yet); technology provides efficiencies to collect information and look for linkages and correlations but insights still come from people.

Those are the things that stood out to me on this excellent first full day of the ESOMAR 3D conference. Tomorrow promises to underline those points while generating whole new ones. I’m looking forward to taking it all in and distilling it for everyone who wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to attend this truly stellar event. Look for my post on Day 2 over the weekend.


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