The North American 2012 edition of the Market Research in the Mobile World conference was last week (as if regular readers of this blog didn’t know that!) and it was an unprecedented success. Don’t take my word for it: there have been dozens of blogs, hundreds of tweets, and based on the emails I have been receiving substantial positive WOM post conference. As the Chairman and Co-Producer of the conference all of that makes me happy of course, but the real value of the event will be measured by the impact the learnings have on the participants’ businesses going forward and how that impact will ripple through the rest of the of the industry.
Now that a few days have passed and I’ve had an opportunity to decompress and think about the conference in it’s entirety, I thought I’d share what the main takeaways were for me. I am sure others have different takes, so I encourage you to read the many posts from others who attended to get a fuller view.
- Clients want and expect suppliers to adapt. There were 85 client-side delegates at the event, and the overall vibe I picked up on from them was of expectation: they were ready and willing to embrace innovation in research IF it met business needs and most were looking for new partners that were able to deliver it. There was a palpable hunger for breakthrough insights and more effective methods to get them, and the exhibit area was very busy with folks trying to get a handle on what options were available from them. I have heard from many suppliers that presented or exhibited that they have already received multiple briefs or requests for meetings, so this interest wasn’t just hypothetical; clients were primed and ready to engage.
- The pace of change is increasing. As many of the speakers referenced in one form or another, the pace of technological and social change seems to be following Moore’s Law now and leapfrogging exponentially. No industry can afford to be reactive, especially one that is supposed to offer strategic foresight. MR must be on the edge of the curve, not on the end, in order to stay relevant.
- Data collection is the ultimate commodity. “Information Snacking” is part of our cultural framework today, and that certainly applies to data collection as well. Although this mostly impacts Quant, Qual is also increasingly embracing smaller iterative engagements with consumers to drive research. Certainly companies like Google, Wayin, Civic Science, and most every player in the mobile research tech space are proving that the traditional survey model is not necessarily the right tactic for research today. Add to that the various applications of text and social media analysis and it certainly indicates that the value of MR is no longer mostly in collecting data, but rather in focusing on context, implications and outcomes. Data collection and even some major elements of analysis will be the domain of technologists and data scientists; MR will be forced to find a new value prop based on strategic consulting principles. That is a big leap for many in the space.
- It’s too soon and the climate is too dynamic for standard setting. I chaired 4 panels at the conference: 1 with representatives of most of the major trade orgs (with a few conspicuous absences) on their role in the new emerging ecosystem, 1 with clients only on the gaps between their needs and what suppliers offer, and 2 expressly focused on whether we should or even can establish industry benchmarks and standards around mobile and social media. In all of those we discussed the issue of standards for emerging techniques in some form or fashion, and other than an agreement that in a perfect world we could share best practices, the consensus was that there is no practical way in this dynamic of a business climate to effectively create industry wide standards and benchmarks. That is not to say everyone agreed; Annie Pettit vigorously espoused the opposite view that the time to establish these frameworks was now, and the trade orgs certainly agreed that it was in their remit to do so, although getting them to agree to work together to establish universal benchmarks seemed to be a bit of a fool’s errand. My take is that we can aspire to understand the impact of emerging techniques and shape best practices, but that the moment we think we can establish a universal set of standards or benchmarks for MR practitioners is the moment we lose competitive advantage and get ourselves stuck right back where we are now. I agree an ethical and perhaps even functional framework that differentiates MR is a good thing from a PR standpoint, but I am far from convinced that it will somehow make our industry more secure or successful.
- New competitors are leading the new industry conversation. There were more companies at this event that came from a strictly tech background than at any other conference I have recently attended. It was almost a mantra during talks to say “I am not a market researcher, but…” Some notable examples were Google, Wayin, Shopkick, Metaresolver, Civic Science, DScout, GutCheck, Affinnova, Lumi, Netbase, Decooda and many more that were in attendance but did not present. These companies are saying that they are here, they are gaining significant market share (Google has already completed about 50M surveys off of 500M impressions in just a few months!) and their strategies, tactics, cultures, perspectives, business models and perhaps most importantly access to funding are very different from MR firms. Beth Rounds of Cambiar shared results of their recent Future of Research study with senior client-side participants and many listed Google, Facebook, IBM, and Salesforce.com as the emerging and likely future leaders of the industry. And guess what? I don’t see any of them joining our trade orgs other than perhaps ARF and AMA.
- Emotional measurement is the new MR frontier. An underlying theme to nearly all of the sessions, especially those by technology providers, was how these new channels can be used to understand not just the cognitive and contextual drivers of consumers, but to actually map and analyze the unconscious emotional core of humans. RealityMine, Forbes Consulting, Hotspex and Decooda all gave amazing presentations on various ways to use technology to understand emotions and participants were eating it up. These new models offer the scalability and noninvasive approach that biometrics and neuromarketing lack, while enabling complimentary data points and augmentation with other methods. The “new science of mind” enabled technology seems immensely promising for redefining what value MR can offer to client organizations.
- We are all qualies now. Mobile and social media seem to be ushering in a “new golden age” of Qualitative Research. Ethnography, netnography, co-creation, crowdsourcing, MROCs, social media analysis, and yes even virtual groups are growing rapidly and being offered by more and more firms. These technologies are uniquely suited to listening and observing and bold researchers are embracing them in ever increasing numbers. Couple that with the increasing disintermediation of quant and the client need for more consultative engagement by suppliers and it certainly seems to indicate that much of the industry is shifting (or will be forced to shift soon) to a more qualitative model. Considering that currently “qual research” accounts for about 20% of global MR turnover this shift has profound implications for our industry.
- What if norms don’t matter any more? I raised the question during a few sessions that since our society, and perhaps even our species, is changing so profoundly as a result of the social/mobile paradigm shift what if our norms that we cherish so much (and that many larger suppliers leverage to drive their business) are simply not relevant anymore? What if the things we were measuring and the way we have been measuring them are now inherently flawed due to massive change in our sample universe? Many client firms have integrated these norms deeply into their operations at multiple levels, but there is an increasing body of evidence that seems to challenge the efficacy and relevance of the models that underpin these metrics. Bernie Malinoff presented on our addiction to trackers as an industry, and while everyone seems to acknowledge that there are issues here, few seem willing to take break the addictive cycle. I hear many folks say that is one of the key reasons why we are not seeing more widespread adoption of micro iterative surveys, gamification, mobile quant, social media measurement, etc.. and I think they are right. The path forward is going to be focused on using an augmentation model to start exploring how these new approaches can offer enhanced value to clients and transition away from the old to the new. We’re going to see new syndicated products, new experimental tracking programs, and new conceptual frameworks begin to be the next generation of norms, and I think that process is going to be much faster than anyone is thinking right now.
- Business impact will determine the winners in the new paradigm. Researchers like to debate quality, methodologies, science, and empiricism as if we are still in the world of academia from which we sprang. While all of that is important, the bottom line for clients is does it give them the information they need to make a good business decisions and generate ROI? That is the acid test, and based on the massive growth we are seeing of emerging techniques driven by unprecedented client interest in them the market is speaking, and it is speaking loudly, although in many cases they are not talking to traditional research suppliers. We don’t hear them asking us so we think it’s all hype, but these new entrants in the market have serious funding and are growing rapidly and that means they are making money. The bulk of the industry better figure out how to get into the conversation as well.
- Growth and innovation will be driven by emerging markets. MRMW was a global event, with speakers and delegates from around the planet. We had many sessions focused on emerging markets and the message was clear: not only is the rest of the planet embracing mobile/social, but in many respects they are far ahead of the developed world. In most of the developing world the new paradigm is the norm, and as researchers try to understand how to tap into these technologies to engage and understand consumers to deliver value to client organizations we’ll see much faster innovation and adoption in these markets. They are not as saddled with norms and benchmarks and this freedom combined with necessity will fuel unprecedented growth globally. I would go so far as to say that the real opportunity for MR to reinvent itself will come from embracing business opportunities in BRIC regions.
None of these are particularly new to readers of this blog, but I do believe that where we were early in the trend cycle a few months ago, we have now reached the tipping point and these issues are front and center in our industry and will only continue to become more apparent over the next 12 months. The key drivers are simply too powerful to ignore any longer and we must embrace these trends in order to make the transition to the new emerging research model.
All of this also begs the question what is next for this series of conferences? Well, that is being discussed right now and I can tell you that there are some very cool things in the works that will incorporate what we are learning both in broad themes and in the logistics of putting on events that I think you will like. Stay tuned for more info on how we plan to build on this foundation.
To all who attended or followed along via simulcasts or social media I’d love to get your take as well; please chime in!