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Vision Critical, NewMR & Data Privacy: An Interview with Ray Poynter

Today, I have an interview with Ray Poynter, who recently joined Vision Critical as the EVP of the UK. Ray is a bona fide thought leader and change agent in market research. I think you’ll enjoy this interview with one of the true leaders in market research.

The great response to my interview with Jill Chiara of Forrester made me think that a “trilogy” of interviews with thought leaders in the market research space who have also been in the news recently might be interesting. Lucky for me two people whom I respect immensely, have had the opportunity to collaborate with, and also like very much fit that description: Ray Poynter and Jeffrey Henning. Today I’m publishing the interview with Ray, and tomorrow I’ll post the interview with Jeffrey.

Ray made news this week with his decision to join Vision Critical as EVP of the U.K.. He is also a sought after speaker, an eminent blogger, Chair of the Festival of NewMR and author of The Handbook of Online and Social Media Research. In short, Ray is a bona fide thought leader and change agent in market research. It’s been my great pleasure to work with him on several virtual events such as the Festival of NewMR, Radio NewMR, and the upcoming Data Privacy in Market Research Debate and although we don’t always agree on things, Ray always challenges me think about things differently and be open to new perspectives on some of the  most pressing issues facing the industry today.

I think you’ll enjoy this interview with one of the true leaders in market research. We conducted this via email earlier this week.

LFM: First, congratulations on your new role with Vision Critical! I think your joining them will be an exceedingly good thing for all involved and shows more of the forward thinking you’re both known for. So, to get us rolling can you tell me the story of how this came about and what drove you to make this decision?

RP: Thanks Lenny. I had been talking to Vision Critical for a couple of months, discussing strategies for developing community panels in the UK and Europe, trying to understand why they (community panels) were growing so slowly in Europe compared with North America and Australia. Suddenly, during a phone call with Vision Critical, about two weeks ago, the idea emerged that perhaps I could be the person to help shape the change in the UK, four days later I was on a plane to Vancouver, and a few days after that we had agreed that I’d be joining Vision Critical and we were most of the way through dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.

In terms of why I have taken the position? I think the first thing is that I really enjoyed consulting and working from home, I am now ready to go back to doing rather than just talking. The second is purely down to life changes, the youngest of my children is now away at university, my other two children have graduated, so my role at home is much smaller, and I have reassessed what I want to do next. And thirdly, I really like Vision Critical and the role they have created for me, I think their software is good, I think the vision they are trying to create is good, and I think the people are great.

LFM: I agree that Vision Critical is a good company with great people; I’ve been a fan since their inception so it’s easy to see why they would appeal to you. That said, why are you throwing your considerable influence behind the community panel model rather than something “sexier” like social media analysis, “Big Data”, or gamification?

RP: I am not that worried about how sexy something seems. Although I think Big Data is going to be the biggest disruptive change to happen to MR over the next 10 years, I think that developing conversations with customers is a necessary precursor for us to get a seat at that table. Gamification is, IMHO, an interesting niche, social media analysis is interesting, but listening is not as powerful as discussing. Over the next couple of years I think the adoption and refinement of community panels is probably the single most important thing that MR needs to do.

LFM: I know you’ve stated that this won’t impact NewMR much since Vision Critical wants to support you in your role as an industry thought leader and influencer, but that seems like it might become challenging for several reasons. How are you going to balance the two and what plans do you have for NewMR going forward?

RP: I think the first thing to be aware of is that NewMR is more than just me, for example beyond me there is the board, comprising Sue York, Andrew Jeavons, Greg Coops, Pravin Shekar, and yourself, there is also a tech team employed by The Future Place who make sure that things happen on time and to spec. My role going forward will be to speak at events (mostly online), to challenge, to question, to suggest, and simply to imbue NewMR with a sense of change and momentum – things which are very consistent with what I am doing with Vision Critical. NewMR will also give me an outlet for all those thoughts and ideas which are not relevant to my paid work.

Going forward I think NewMR needs to clarify its role in the wider change agenda of market research. Its future may be as a media channel, facilitating people with ideas reaching a wider audience, but it might be more relevant for it to be a production facility, creating content (e.g. debates, virtual conferences, teaching sessions) and then supply these via other channels, such as the way the privacy debate on August 22nd is being delivered via the MRGA365 platform. The only thing I am absolutely sure about is that the Festival of NewMR is going to be great this year, and will be repeated in 2012.

LFM: Thanks for the clarification and glimpse into the future of NewMR. I struggle with removing myself as the center of attention with the various GreenBook initiatives I am involved with as well, and I know the lines between the two can get very blurry indeed. With that in mind, what do you think it says about the state of our industry that grassroots efforts like NewMR, MRGA, NGMR, and GreenBook Blog have emerged as significant influencers and change agents rather than that occurring via industry trade organizations?

RP: I think it is getting easier for new initiatives to spring up, especially when driven by a small number of committed people. But I think there are some great initiatives from established organisations, for example Research-Live (from the UK’s MRS) is a great resource for researchers, ESOMAR’s webinars attract good audiences, and AMSRS have turned their LinkedIn group into a really useful sounding board – along with many other examples. However, I think there is much more the traditional organisations can and should do.

LFM: You talk a lot about “co-creating the future of market research”, but have been very public in your view that MR may not exist as we know it in the future. What is your vision of the future of market research and how do you think we’ll get there?

RP: Predictions are very tricky, especially about the future! However, my feeling is that market research will become a skill set, rather than a market sector. I think Big Data, the integration of multi-sources of data, such as CRM, Voice of the Customer, behavior tracking and so on will create new buyers and new vendors, market researchers will have a role to play, but not as a separate industry, but as integrated components.

LFM: I share that opinion, and that leads us to an interesting segue: data privacy. As you mentioned and thanks to your leadership, NewMR and GreenBook are putting on a debate regarding Data Privacy on 8/22 in response to the recent MRS discussion paper and the Guidelines published by ESOMAR and CASRO. As MR increasingly becomes methodologically agnostic and aligns with Business Intelligence as part of that “Big Data” model, we’re going to run into this issue more and more. Some elements of these policies being put forth smack of misguided protectionism efforts to me; what is your take on the issue of data privacy and the efforts by industry trade orgs to codify policies that harkens back to an earlier era that might not be relevant anymore?

RP: I think the key problem is that the trade bodies are trying to keep the idea of what market research is constant and are therefore trying to define an ever growing range of things as Not market research. If they keep with that paradigm then the vast majority of what market research companies do will be classified as not market research – which is a nonsense.

LFM: In looking at the submitted synopses for the Festival of NewMR it does indeed look like it’s going to be a great event. What else do you have planned for the Festival? Any other events and activities being planned in addition to the core virtual conference?

RP:  We are still looking to define all of the details of the Fringe and the competitions, such as last year’s Poster and Video competitions, but some of the key events are already taking shape. On the Monday there will be a training event targeted at a time zone that covers Jakarta to Istanbul. On the Friday there is going to be an innovation competition, hosted via GreenBook, which will allocate cash to the best idea.

LFM: This week has seen some dramatic news coming out of the U.K. (among many other countries) related to civil disorder linked to economic declines. If we’re entering into another “batten down the hatches” period of economic contraction as it seems we might be, in your opinion what should the market research industry expect to see happen and what can we do to effectively weather the storm and possibly even prosper?

RP: The UK ‘riots’ had very little to do with economic issues and more to do with cultural issues, and in particular the damage wrought by capitalism and the selling of unobtainable dreams of conspicuous consumption. However, we are certainly traveling in interesting economic times. Faster, cheaper, more flexible research is going to be more important than ever, which is one of several reasons why I think that community panels have such a bright future. At an industry level, market research needs to be less expensive, less focused on ‘value added’, and it needs to focus on delivering what clients needed. Yes, there is a market for high-end, insight driven consultancy, but it will be an ever smaller part of the pie.

LM: This has been great Ray, thanks! We’ve talked a lot about work, but I know you’re involved with more than just market research stuff. What are some of the things you have going on not related to MR?

RP: Outside of MR? Well the next up is a charity run of about 30 miles on August 17th, I’m raising money for a breast cancer awareness charity called Coppafeel, people can check it out at After that I am away with my three nearly grown-up children for a holiday (26, 21, and 19 years), then it’s back to work, back to playing rugby, and preparing a dissertation to finish a masters course I am taking.

LM: Sounds like a great cause followed by a fun time Ray; I hope you have a great time at both. Thanks again for your time and best of luck in your new adventures!

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