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IIeX EU 2015: Research Is Dead, Long Live Research

IIeX is something special. Next to most other industry conferences, IIeX meetups are a breath of fresh air: invigorating, provocative, and unique. Thus it was in Amsterdam. There are three big things I took away from an intense 48 hours of presentations and conversations.

Tshirt worn by Chaordix CEO at IIeX in Philadelphia, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Nelson Davis.
Tshirt worn by Chaordix CEO at IIeX in Philadelphia, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Nelson Davis.


By JD Deitch, PhD

Regular readers of Greenbook need no introduction to the companies or new techniques that are regularly on display at the Insight Innovation eXchange (IIeX) conferences. Their stories are told on this very blog week in and week out. Nevertheless, as with any good sporting or cultural event, there is something unmistakably better about being there, live.

IIeX is something special. Next to most other industry conferences, IIeX meetups are a breath of fresh air: invigorating, provocative, and unique. Thus it was in Amsterdam about two weeks ago.

Three takeaways

There are three big things I took away from an intense 48 hours of presentations and conversations.

First: research as it is done today—limited in approach, cumbersome in execution, and detached from how companies actually operate—is taking its last breaths.

The impassioned rhetoric of disruption, a fire whose flames I myself have fanned, is now totally mainstream. IIEX was my third conference already this year, and at each I’ve heard choruses of voices singing the same tune.

Amsterdam took that one step further. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Jeff Reynolds from LRW bash a giant nail in the coffin of how we approach brand tracking, and in doing so offer a new vision of doing it better, complete with a P&L that was more attractive for both the agency and the client. (See my own similar piece in the March edition of Marketing News.)

Likewise when Eric Salama spoke about driving cultural change in the vast Kantar organization, there was unmistakable gravity in his frankness. My own employer, Ipsos, is actively engaged in the same process of renewal across the breadth of its business.

Second, the companies and techniques that are the vanguard of the “New MR” are starting to prove their worth.

2015 will be the year that measuring the impact of social media and constant connectedness comes good.

The week before Amsterdam, at CASRO Digital in Nashville, I led a discussion during which my expert panelists agreed that research needed to become source agnostic. Joel Rubinson, one of the discussants, talked about his work showing the impact of social influence on purchasing. He argued forcefully for a better connection between research and clients’ execution, particularly with programmatic advertising. (Joel will be at IIeX Atlanta in June.)

Then, in Amsterdam, I chaired a track of presentations, two of which provided proof points about social media measurement. Fran Cassidy shared results of the IPASocialWorks/MRS project, through which they collected case studies to create guidelines and practices around measuring the impact and ROI of social media. Preriit Souda, ESOMAR’s 2011 Young Researcher of the Year and clearly one of the industry’s bright young stars, shared a multi-source study that blended survey and social media data to evaluate Scotland’s independence referendum.

Another area which, to my mind at least, is on the cusp of great discovery and impact is nonconscious measurement. I was impressed by Jeremy Sack’s (also from LRW) work on Identity Overlap driving brand affinity. I was blown away by Cristina Balanzó’s (Walnut Unlimited) presentation on subconscious human insights, in particular the stunning visuals from her company’s neuroscientific approaches to ad testing. Both speakers articulated cogent frameworks reflecting an undeniable maturity of thought.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak to the rapidly evolving tools that make it easier to do good research. Whether it’s IIEX alum Zappistore blazing a trail for what I’ve come to call “ready to wear research”, or this year’s Insight Innovation Competition EU winner and mobile sample provider Dalia Research, or any of the myriad qualitative and text analytics solutions that just continue to get better, it’s a sure thing that we will see companies like these start to break through to bigger success in 2015.

Third, there is no better place to see the range of techniques and new ideas than IIeX. 

Our industry associations are visibly evolving to stay current amidst the sea of change, but they haven’t a patch on IIeX when it comes to providing a forum for the new. The presentation track I chaired was a microcosm of the range of techniques that, but for neuroscience, have captured the industry’s interest. In addition to Fran and Preritt, Mary Meehan (Panoramix) gave a very structured approach to studying broad cultural trends that reflected the best of what the industry aspires to when it talks about storytelling. Frank Kelly (Lightspeed GMI) spoke about the research they’ve done on using voice—both text-to-speech and speech recognition—in survey research which, one must believe (I do), will replace the keyboard in the future.

The conference has the right combination of tempo, curation, and people to create a very high signal to noise ratio in the sessions, on the exhibition floor, and especially in casual conversation.

Looking forward

IIeX is one of the only conferences that stirs my optimism in the industry. What makes it provocative and unique is that it gets beyond rhetoric to the real world. The techniques on exhibit are available now and are maturing rapidly. The demos are worth the time spent.

The rest of this year’s conferences will no doubt highlight the change underway in our industry. Talk of disruption will become the obligatory first slide of presentations in which companies who may or may not have new arrows in their quiver aim to convince listeners that they’re blazing new trails. IIeX is the real deal though. It is part-showcase, part-crucible for people trying new things explicitly designed to produce better research in front of an audience that is appreciative and imaginative.

Research is dead. Long live research.

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5 responses to “IIeX EU 2015: Research Is Dead, Long Live Research

  1. Martyn, I think the more appropriate link is probably this one!

    The problem with this whole ILEX thing is its like a boy scout jamboree. Everyone is there swapping stories and comparing badges. The problem is all boy scouts go back home and apart from the occasional camping in the backyard or helping an old lady across the road, are fairly ineffectual.

    Although I do hope somewhere in all this there is some glimmer of a “disruptive breakthrough” – which is my favourite Greenbook sound bite.

    No amount of back slapping is going to make all this innovation relevant to some crusty old Marketing Director who thinks in this order – Risk? Cost? Proven alternatives? This will always be the barrier to innovation, unless, well its really innovative. Other than facial emotion work I haven’t seen much else to excite.

    1. Chris, Chris, Chris. It’s a good thing you’re wrong, or else I’d be out of a job. And contrary to that, business is VERY good, especially on the consulting side of my business which is mostly focused on helping big global brands develop innovative new approaches that truly deliver impact and aligning them with new partners that can bring them to life. If you’re not seeing the change or not being asked for it, there is a reason for that: the business is now flowing outside of traditional MR at a steady clip. These new entrants you are dismissive of are growing rapidly because client spend is indeed shifting to them, and I am very proud that IIeX serving as a connective bridge between supply and demand is helping to make that happen.

  2. Leonard thanks for your optimistic views. I suspect what I mean by innovative and what you mean may in fact be vastly different and may explain why we are poles apart on this subject. More of that later.

    The one initial comment I would make is that yours is a rather polarizing response to comments in a recent blog in Greenbook by someone who has been on both the client and provider side, trying to sell or get buy on for innovation – and on that basis someone who brings some objectivity to the game. I refer to the very good post recently by Jason Anderson ‘Of Innovation & Snake Oil”. To say that his view of innovation’s vast potential was jaundiced would be an understatement.

    My take out was that there are significant and not always logical barriers to adoption of innovative research techniques within marketing organizations. However some key barriers suggest potential clients see these tools as all a bit too risky given that the actual market research problem already has embedded risk. The thinking seems to be why try something new that does not seem to offer any great advantage relative to the risk of a bad methodology decision?

    Lets make sure we understand what is truly “innovative”. I do not consider anything in the mobile or online arena particularly innovative after all its just data capture by another form. If it was innovative there would be barriers to entry, but it seems like everyone, including many with no credibility or claims to experience, are capable of offering such services especially panels (what a mess that world is!!). In some ways the DIY market is similar. Yes there has been a few major success stories but I would say the whole area lacks innovation, rather a story on timeliness and seeing an opportunity. Good luck to the Monkey.

    This same thinking applies to the so called democratization of data. Wow, we put some analytical tool in the hands of a research assistant and suddenly its innovative? . This applies to many things that get tagged as “innovative” in this industry. My favourite is Gamification which hand on heart is no more than cartoon characters and slide rules that are supposed to make respondents more involved and enjoy the task. Effective yes, but innovative, I don’t think so.

    Lets take a few more. Big data has just about come and gone. Why? Nothing to do with technical innovation, its more to do with the fact that it has been, in various forms, inherent in business for years. Management aren’t seeing the promised big breakthroughs that this innovation was supposed to bring to business, Harvard Business Review article or not!.

    Oh I almost forgot the micro-survey of the Google type. Also driven by the limits of mobile research. I love the thinking behind this – we do enough micro surveys and we might actually get a full understanding of the market. Hey why not do one good survey and get it right first time. And guess what you can actually “link” the data. My parenthetic emphasis because that seems to be missing from today’s market research jargon. Proof – watch Google become a multiple question provider in the near future!

    I do see a flurry of activity in facial emotion recognition which is now offered by a number of firms. However, even Milward Brown are cautious and offer it only as part of an add-on to existing ad testing. I have hopes for this area, but I suspect like me, marketing management is having trouble reconciling the findings to the test materials. After all why would one express “disgust” or “fear” about something as minor as an ad campaign. It does make you wonder. Even 3-D graphics are apparently up against older technologies which do the job, have been validated and are embedded in company research protocols. Not much room to move there methinks?

    Gosh the whole trend to biometrics brings me back to the swinging seventies and motivational research when all this came and went. Will it deliver or fade into the background again? I do love those pictures of the wired up respondent with wired head gear and over sized spectacles. I wonder what all that equipment does to the experimental design? A good question really, but in a more objective and less innovative environment.

    I live in hope that someone will crack the “bull in the china” shop – the single source analysis of multi-channel information combining social media and formal market research. I don’t see that as yet! What an innovation that would be.

    I would really lime to be enlightened me on what new innovations (not second generation enhancements or smoke and mirrors) are breaking down the doors, growing revenues helter skelter and closing down traditional research shops? I honestly know of none as yet.

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