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IIeX North America 2019 – Key Research Trends with Food for Thought

Joseph Chen gives a client perspective walk-through of key takeaways from IIeX North America 2019.

Editor’s Note: Perceptive readers will have noticed that we’ve run several different summaries of this year’s IIeX in North America since the conference. Given the large number of presentations, it is not surprising that different attendees found so many different highlights.  Today, we have a unique take on the conference, a client’s perspective, by Joseph Chen of Mondelez.  Since clients pay the bills for the industry, I always pay attention to what gets them excited.


As a self-proclaimed foodie, I am always on the lookout for what is new and interesting in the culinary world.  When it comes to my professional life as an insight professional, I am constantly looking for new and interesting ways to address business issues. Innovation Insight Exchange (IIeX) is where I get inspiration from meeting market research tech startups to attending thought-provoking discussions from innovators in our industry.   I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 IIeX North America this year in Austin, Texas.

The key success factor of the conference is the idea of bringing everyone in the market research industry together that allowed us to challenge, share and discuss the future of our industry.  

In the past 5 years, our industry has transformed in a magical way.  There are now more entrepreneurs and start-ups, like Glossier, than ever before on the client side that are challenging the way market research is getting done.  These organizations do not have the budget like big companies do but they also require fact-based decision-making. Bigger organizations are also now demanding more from their market research investment for solutions that are agile and predictive.

Similarly, on the supplier side, the influx of new tech and market research start-ups are bringing a lot of excitement to our industry.  There are now many cost-effective solutions that make it overwhelming for clients to decide on what solutions to test out. 5 years ago, if I wanted to screen 30 concepts, there were probably 5 different options including BASES, Ipsos, Kantar and back then a startup like Zappi.  However, today, I have more than 20 options from 20 different organizations with a mix of 5 full-service agencies and 15 start-ups.

As a client, I now have more choices than ever to help me decide what solution is best to address our business needs.  There are a lot of fancy options out there, but the challenge is to navigate the clutter and identify solutions that best address our business questions.  

At this year’s conference, I had the opportunity to meet a mix of market research organizations.  I have synthesized a few key trends that I took away from the conference and identified market research organizations that are doing something interesting by elevating our industry.   

Automation is the New Cost of Entry

Speed is no longer a benefit.  It is a must in the market research industry.  This year’s conference demonstrated that most companies are offering some level of automation through research set up, field work or reporting.  BASES, Kantar and Ipsos are all catching up by offering faster and more agile solutions. Some companies are taking automation to a new level like CRIS, which offers automated qualitative with a robot moderator.  When I tried out the platform, I had no idea I was having a conversation with a machine.  

UXReality is this year’s IIeX Insight Innovation Competition winner.  This is an AI-Powered app for creating your own user behavior data.  The solution has mobile behavior tracking features including heat map, and webcam eye tracking as well as running surveys.

Companies like Dig Insights and Quantilope are taking automation to complex methodologies like Discrete Choice and Conjoint.  The waiting time is now cut by more than half for these highly complex methodologies.

DIY is Getting Smarter

I have always been a proponent of DIY research when it is simple and easy to use.  In the time it takes to brief a supplier you can probably set up a survey and have the results in a few hours.  I was impressed with SurveyMonkey and their evolution of their DIY platform.   Insight professionals can now have access to over 180 survey templates based on business questions including all the ones possible research purists asks like randomization, skip logic, A/B test question.  SurveyMonkey has really transformed itself.

Another smart DIY solution is 1Q.  The platform provides a two-way mobile survey engagement between the researcher and the respondent.  Within seconds, I could see who and where the survey is getting completed right on the platform. I could complete a study in 10 mins!

Recollective has a powerful DIY qualitative community platform that allows client-side and qualitative researchers to conduct weeklong journal based homework, chats and online focus groups.  I was impressed with the easy navigation and the beautiful aesthetics of the platform.

Next Evolution of Behavior Science and System 1 Thinking

System 1 continues to be the most talked about methodology throughout the IIeX conference this year.  The behavior science approach continues to evolve with new thinking. Hotspex has always been one of the pioneers in System 1 methodology.  Beesy uses a problem-solution approach to test a hypothesis by disguising the brand as well as creating custom designed behavior-based interventions to understand what drives consumers’ decision making.  There is also a disguised choice lottery to ensure participants have “skin in the game”.

Going Back to Market Research Fundamentals

There is the reverse sentiment in going back to the foundation of market research with a focus on quality and predictability.   There are conversations bubbling up about a lack of confidence in data outputs from venturing to a more “cheap and cheerful” agile solutions.  A presentation by Kraft Heinz and BASES talked about an agile platform that is rooted in quality and the foundations of BASES’ validated and predictive framework for concept testing.  Kraft Heinz talked about an alternative approach that was leveraged in previous years, but the data output didn’t line up with sales performance; hence the collaboration with BASES to come up with an agile solution that is rooted in the quality of their framework.

Academic collaboration is another theme that reinforces the importance of research fundamentals.  Sylver Consulting and Frito-Lay talked about leveraging semiotics to address key business questions. It is rooted in taking the time to ensure the quality of insights embedded in changing the way Frito-Lay think about their flavor innovation and activation.  This deep foundation of insight understanding has now evolved how the organization thinks about flavor extensions.

The Take on Journalism in Qualitative Research

The saying “good research takes time and is not fast” from Problem Child really caught my attention and allowed me to re-think the traditional anthropological methods that are rooted in the foundations of social science disciplines.  Problem Child’s approach to taking good journalism into qualitative research is fascinating. A good story does take time to ensure that we go deep and take the time to immerse in consumers’ lives.  One conversation from a video chat is probably not enough to get to the fundamental consumer issue that we are trying to solve. Good qualitative research needs time and investment like a good article.

Machine Learning AI Phase Two

There is no way you can avoid the conversation and the evolution in market research on machine learning.  We are a discipline that is rooted in data and the wealth of data that we have within the organization. Speech and text analytics are getting more advanced with automated approaches from start-ups like YacTraq.  More organizations like Mondelez International are leveraging social insight platforms to gather brand and consumer conversations.  In fact, I am spending more time digging into consumer conversations about our brands and coming up with consumer insights to influence our positioning strategy.  Predictive analytics social listening firms like Black Swan apply AI to look forward and accurately predict what consumers will want and need before they know themselves.  Start-ups like ListenFirst use social analytics to manager controversy and gain competitive advantage and fNographic use social analytics searching for why in AI.  The good news with these social analytic platforms is that the data already exists and insights can be derived quickly.

Chat and Messenger Based Survey is the Next Wave

Lastly, Rival and Reach3 are taking survey-based research through a chat based experience in Facebook Messenger, Instagram, text message so respondents are completing surveys in a similar way as to how they would communicate with their friends.  The reporting output is very impressive in a Facebook or Instagram content feed approach with storylines and videos to tell the story. The approach is transforming the communication of insights in the way we consume content in our day to day lives.   

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Joseph Chen

Joseph Chen

Insights Lead, Mondelēz International