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What The CASRO & TMRE Events Said About The State Of The MR Industry

Although each event was decidedly different in many ways, there were fundamental similarities in the overall view of where the industry is today and where it is likely headed in the future, as well as some pointers on how to get there.

tale of 2 cities

By Gregg Archibald


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.


I recently wrapped up the U.S. Conference season by attending the CASRO Annual Conference and The Market Research Event. Like The Charles Dickens quote from above, although each event was decidedly different in many ways, there were fundamental similarities in the overall view of where the industry is today and where it is likely headed in the future, as well as some pointers on how to get there.

Here is my take on both.




CASRO Annual Conference And The Tension Of Change

A few weeks ago in Denver, CASRO held their annual conference.  It was their 39th conference and my first attendance at one.  From those few days at the heart of the supplier side of the research industry – I took away a few key points that I will explain in more detail later.  Ron Burgundy has nothing on these people – CASRO is classy.  Change in the industry is affecting not only clients, but suppliers and associations.  And lastly, everybody wants to move forward together.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences in my life – good, bad, and, too often, ugly.  For pure appreciation of our time and knowing that life is not 100% about work – CASRO gets it.  From the facility (the Four Seasons) to the food (particularly good for conference food) to the entertainment.  My favorite of the entertainment options was the cigar bar by the pool – but anyone that knows me could have figured that one out.  Music, bike tours, brewery tours and more rounded out the options.  What I’m saying is “Thank you CASRO for realizing that life is about balance”.

So I’ve told you enough to make you want to go next year and still haven’t said anything about the content.  There was a noticeable tension at the CASRO Annual Conference that I still haven’t been able to completely define.  This tension is characterized by the need to move fast and adapt quickly vs. the need to move thoughtfully.  The debate moderated by Simon Chadwick was the most blatant example of the tension, and also the most optimistic sign of the transition that lays ahead for both suppliers and CASRO.  The debate focused on a key question – is the change happening now simply another iteration of change that has happened so many times before or is it fundamentally different change that will lead our industry to new places.  Both sides argued admirably, but the sway was to the team that argued the change is fundamental.  I believe this is a good representation of the tension that I mentioned.  Another example is the tension was exhibited by the winners of the CASRO awards – Ditto Labs and Morpace.  Ditto Labs is a cutting edge approach to analyzing visual content in social media and Morpace is a very traditional agency that is doing the right things incredibly well.  These companies could not be farther apart from each other in the spectrum of the research industry and CASRO could not have chosen two better companies to win these awards.

Let me say this loud and clear – I believe this tension is great for our industry and I believe that CASRO can navigate it.  The somewhat opposing views aren’t opposing views at all, but rather complementary with a bit of angst.  CASRO has recognized this and is working with suppliers and associations around the world to adapt from what has been the guiding principles of the industry to what will be the guiding principles.  Having seen the balance represented in the Annual Conference – I’m optimistic that CASRO’s influence within the industry will stay strong.

Every conversation I had during this conference recognized the value of each of companies on either “side”.  “Side” is misleading, but forgive me, but it is the best that I have to describe it.  “Side” may be good as long as we think about adjacent instead of opposite.  During the panel on innovation, one question focused on how we can take advantage of the newer approaches and the more traditional companies.  It was noted that we simply need to be more open to the skills and abilities that each brings to the table – because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Maybe thinking about the “Sides” as adjacent will give us all a new “angle” (I am so sorry about that pun – but I’ve spent the past 10 minutes trying to work it here).

I look forward to going to this conference next year to see the change that has been made.  I trust the CASRO team will be leaders in this effort.




Flipping The Fundamentals at TMRE

During a keynote speech at TMRE last month, Youngme Moon Senior Associate Dean for Strategy and Innovation at Harvard Business School, told us to “flip the fundamentals”.  By this, she meant that we should look for ways to transform our business by upsetting the status quo– a philosophy to which I personally subscribe.  As evidenced by the content of TMRE (please note that I am speaking in generalities for the moment), the market research industry has yet to truly embrace this philosophy.

TMRE was described by one client side participant as “dependable, but much the same as three years ago”.  Having worked in market research for many years and having been to TMRE several times – I have to agree.  But I think this is less a reflection on TMRE and more a reflection of the industry as a whole.

Throughout our industry’s history, almost all innovation has come from important advances at the margins.  Let’s take trade-off methods for example.  Conjoint was developed in the 70s and it was revolutionary.  The important innovations of discrete choice and max diff improved upon conjoint during the 80s and 90s – again, as a result of work at the margins.  The industry seems to be continuing in this fashion rather than truly upsetting the status quo – and this year’s TMRE mirrored that.

There were moments of “flipping the fundamentals” as evidenced by speakers from SocialGlimpz and RIWI.  Presentations on marketing mix by Heineken, data integration by Blueocean, predictive analytics, and real-time decision support were a few that stood out to me (and I did not go to all the presentations – there were a lot!).

TMRE covers a lot of topics which means that no matter what you need – there is something there for you.  From mobile to management, from insights to influence – TMRE covers it.  I heard a few concerns that there were simply too many topics covered and therefore too little focus – however, of all the problems to have, this is a pretty good one.

And one of the most important things that TMRE does is that it gets a LOT of us together in one place which, by definition, is healthy and valuable.  We meet new people and re-acquaint ourselves with old friends, we learn from each other and grow because of that  (and doing this in Boca Raton with days in the low 80s was not a bad thing!).

So thank you TMRE for another dependable year.

The Best of times & the Worst of times?

While the tension of change was a key thread throughout both events, by flipping the fundamentals and embracing the innovation showcased at both the insights space can choose to focus on the best of times and build a future that is bright for all stakeholders in the industry.

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One response to “What The CASRO & TMRE Events Said About The State Of The MR Industry

  1. Lenny, this is an excellent article which accurately describes the tension occurring at the CASRO Conference as well as within the organization itself. CASRO has many traditional full-service research companies trying to be current, as well as younger organizations which are more in keeping with the newer techniques of mobile phones, brain scans, big data, cloud texting, etc. I think the greatest tension is caused by those who believe in the “science” of research including projectable samples, margins of error, confidence levels, etc. and those who are more directed by the “art” and using any technique necessary to get answers for the client, although they are not based on random sampling or statistical theory and reliability. Using the words of Matthew Arnold, the English Essayist, the research industry is between two worlds: One Dead, and the other Powerless to be Born”.

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