2012 has been off to a heck of a start, with lots of competing priorities and obligations needing to be juggled. One of the most fun of those opportunities has been all of the requests to present at various industry events this year (I’ll be racking up the Sky Miles in 2012 for sure!), and the first of those was the MRIA Net Gain 6 conference in Toronto. What a great way to kick-off the year!
This was my first time to Canada and I have to say that what I’ve always heard about Canadians being the nicest people in the world sure seems to be the case. Granted, I don’t have a lot of data points to compare against, but I can unequivocally say that I have never been welcomed so warmly anywhere else. And yes, I am aware that making that statement leaves me open for a whole lot of jokes, but it’s still true.
I won’t go into exhaustive coverage on all of the presentations: Tamara Barber of Affinnova, Annie Pettit of Research Now and Brian Singh of Zinc Research did an excellent job of that already! Suffice it to say that every presenter was truly first rate and helped push the boundaries of the industry. Cam Davis and Sandy Janzen of the MRIA deserve a special shout-out for organizing and producing a truly special conference; the annual Net Gain event sells out every year for a reason!
What really stood out for me was just how excited the Canadian MR industry seemed to be to truly understand the forces that are impacting the industry and to develop models to prosper in the new reality we find ourselves in. In my presentation I laid out my view of what is happening and where we are going, based on data from the last two waves of the GRIT study as well as my own analysis of the broader trends that are causing this shift. By now most everyone should be familiar with my take on what’s happening, but in case you’re interested I’ve embedded my presentation below. It was immensely gratifying to hear from many of the Net Gain 6 attendees not just general agreement with my conclusions, but examples of how they were adopting new research models now in order to transform their businesses for success. There was a widespread willingness to experiment with innovative technologies and methodologies that gave me great hope for the future of our industry.
During my time with the Canadian MR community an insight crystallized for me: that the transition state we’re in now is based on augmentation vs. wholesale adoption. I had never quite thought of it that way before, but as I heard the other presentations and talked to folks what I realized was that from a business health standpoint, one of the only viable paths existing MR firms have is to begin incorporating things like social media analytics, mobile methods, biometrics and communities into their current toolbox by crafting hybrid approaches that marry the best of traditional techniques with the newer stuff. Of course I had seen that happening and had even advocated it for years, but it had never quite coalesced into an awareness that most firms have to go through this phase in order to give themselves time to adjust their business models to accommodate the new business realities. As a result, I’ve begun to think of 2012 as the “Year Of Augmentation”. I think that as the next few months unfold what we’ll be seeing is an increasing focus on marrying disparate techniques together to deliver real impact and be on an equal footing with emerging competitors.
I think the augmentation idea is especially relevant for social media and text analytics. That particular area of research offers a great opportunity to help transition traditional research into an offering that is contextually focused on the business issue. Consumers now “own” brand perception in an unprecedented way via their ability to talk about, disseminate content related to, and ultimately influence perception of those brands. And that now happens within viral-driven global networks, not within small circles of friends and associates. So, since brands have no control over the “who and where” of brand expressions, the more granularity to understand those expressions the better. Ultimately brands need this data so they can then engage consumers more to use them to help propagate the story they want told vs the one consumers are creating on their own. Since that story is being told via social media MR has to learn to effectively use that data stream. The Net Gain crowd understood that very clearly.
The struggle many researchers have today with sentiment analysis and other text analytics solutions is that it is generally directional information; it’s very hard to get to the level of detail needed to be tactical and support long term business objectives. More data changes that. The more we can support the mission of businesses to tactically understand their markets at the most granular of levels the better!
Think of how impactful a segmentation model can be when combined with not just sentiment analysis, but advanced text analysis solutions that deliver gender identification, ethnicity, country of origin, and emotional affect. Moreover, when we roll in implicit measurement via behavioral economics as a framework we begin to transcend “research” and are in the realm of real insight generation.
Understanding the drivers of individual decisions is the Holy Grail of brand marketers. Traditional market research uses an inverted pyramid model based on aggregation of large groups, and that is still important, but social media now allows for a top down approach based on individual interactions. In both scenarios anything that helps understand the drivers of choices for individuals as well as groups is vital, and most of the time that will be emotional, not rational. So, any process that allows us to understand those emotional drivers or states is important. In an era defined by “glocalization” being able to apply those models across ethnic groups and languages becomes paramount. The combination of social media analysis and more traditional research is an ideal example of how augmentation can help to deliver meaningful business impact.
It really is amazing how beneficial conferences can be. I love interacting with all of my friends and colleagues via social media and always learn a lot from them, but something about being in the same room with hundreds of other folks as you discuss big ideas just makes it stick more. Honestly, I started this year kind of dreading the amount of travel I would be doing to speak at all of the various conferences I’ve been asked to participate in, but thanks to my good friends at the MRIA, I’m now looking forward to experiencing that sense of heightened thinking and connectivity instead. In a way I suppose it’s similar to the promise of “Big Data”; when you get enough information nodes exchanging data it maximizes the potential for making meaningful connections, and it’s from those connections that true insight usually springs!
Here is my Net Gain presentation as promised. I hope this helps you augment your own plan this year as well!