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re:Think 2011: Can You Spare Any Change?

Have you ever been really excited about an event, but the reality is far less than you imagined and you end up disappointed? Well, Day 1 of the ARF re:Think 2011 was quite the opposite! I have so far been blown away by every aspect of this conference.


Note: This is the first of 5 planned posts regarding the ARF re:Think 2011 Convention. This one covers client-side comments regarding the role and future of Market Research. The others will cover the Great Neuromarketing Debate, Networking Done Right, Under The Influence and Lasting Impressions. Look for those over the course of the next few days.

Have you ever been really excited about an event, but the reality is far less than you imagined and you end up disappointed? Well, that was NOT the case on Day 1 of the ARF re:Think 2011! Quite the opposite; I have so far been blown away by every aspect of this conference. The ARF deserves kudos for putting on one hell of a show!

The tone was established at the first session on Sunday night led by Steve Rappaport of the ARF, Converseon, and Harris Interactive on the current state-of-play of the social listening space. Here is the summary of the event from the agenda:

Listening. Brands do it. Everyone talks about it. Vendors launch new products daily. Yet few people and companies really know what to do.

The ARF’s new playbook: Listen First: Turning Social Media Conversations Into Business Advantage (Wiley 2011) authoritatively explains and shows through over 50 case examples what listening is, how to do the research, how to listen to achieve your marketing objectives, listening’s frontiers and industry viewpoints.

Did it live up to it’s promise? Yes. It was a great honest review of what technologies are in use, how they are being used, and most importantly, what the impact of social media on market research has been and will be in the future. The bottom line? Social listening is a major strategic initiative for brands, it’s still rapidly evolving, it’s here to stay, and market research MUST embrace it. This was a great session for anyone working in the space to get a broader view of exactly what this sea change means for us all.

Later that evening a lot of great old fashioned networking happened during the official reception and later at the Research Club “Ignite” session. Both were great fun, and the major topic I heard from everyone was…. yep, how social media, especially mobile social, is changing the industry.

Things started with a bang Monday morning for the official kick-off, with a concert-level media and an effects show to get the crowd jazzed up and ready. I don’t think lazers have ever been used at a market research conference before; we should do it more often!

ARF re: think

The morning session started out with a retrospective of the ARF and their history. It was interesting to learn that this re:Think had over 1200 attendees, making it the largest gathering of our profession ever. Wow. When the lights came up I believed it; the ballroom was standing room only.

Then came the good stuff, starting with a great presentation from Reuben Mark, Retired Chairman and CEO of Colgate-Palmolive Company on how market research drove that their unprecedented success. The key take-aways for me were that market research has an evolving role in the strategic success of companies focused on the roles of

  • Observers
  • Measurers
  • Interpreters
  • Guardians of reputation
  • Conscience of the company

Some of these may seem like unusual roles for market research to fill, but based on Reubens’ experience, they are the vital functions we must fill in order to be of value. Interestingly, he also believed that the ROI of research can be measured when it is integrated into the strategic decision process by the simple metrics of an increase in operating profit, return on capital investments, and growth in shareholder value. This integration of research has been a common theme here at the convention, and obviously the success of Colgate is a great example of how the model can be applied.

Hearing a CEO talk about his success being largely dependent on market research was inspiring to say the least, but the next session really put things in perspective regarding the challenges facing the industry to achieve that type of position overall.

Stan Sthanunathan, VP, Marketing Strategists & Insights for The Coca Cola Company led a panel discussion session titled “Research Must Change”, and it was one of the major highlights of the event, underlining both the demand from clients that MR step up our game and some specific things that we need to do. Stan was joined by:

Joe Tripodi – EVP & Chief Marketing & Commercial Officer, The Coca-Cola Company
Eric Salama – Chairman and CEO, Kantar
Joan Lewis – Officer, Global Consumer & Market Knowledge, The Procter & Gamble Company
Kevin Lane Keller – Professor of Marketing, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College

The crux of the conversation was centered on this premise:

Recently, the research industry has focused mainly on data and research quality. But many agree that the pace of change is not fast enough. This presentation will argue the case for change and outline possible innovative strategies that agencies and clients need to embrace in the next decade. In the follow-up discussion, a distinguished panel will share their points of view about what the research industry must do to help advertisers manage the complexity ahead.

It was a lively debate and some important points wer shared that really struck home with me (and the crowd, based on later conversations). Joan Lewis suggested such a transformation is vital. Her basic position was that the industry should get away from

“believing a method, particularly survey research, will be the solution to anything. We need to be methodology agnostic.” This principle should replace the tendency of treating techniques and procedures “like ideologies” and “believing a method, particularly survey research, will be the solution to anything.” “We are all brought into the research industry with the almost dogmatic belief that representation is everything,” Lewis added. “We need to get away from the notion that being representative of something is the only way to learn.” “I still hear people say, ‘That social-media thing, that’s not really going to pan out.’ We will learn enormously whether research is representative or not.”

Joan also discussed the new paradigm of using social media channels as insight generation tools and engagement channels as extremely important ways to deliver greater value across all components of the marketing chain:

” The more people see two-way engagement and being able to interact with people all over the world, I think the less they want to be involved in structured research,” she said. “If I have something to say to that company now, there are lots of ways to say it.”

Joe Tripodi, Coca-Cola’s chief marketing and commercial officer, proposed moving from monitoring “impressions” among shoppers to understanding their “expressions” ie how consumers are talking about and engaging with brands rather than just being exposed to marketing channels. Of course, we all know that Coke has instituted innovative remuneration schemes concerning its ad agencies, and Tripodi echoed Stan’s position that a similar “pay for performance” model might be valid for research rosters.

“I would gladly pay a lot more money to our agency partners in the research area if they delivered for us that game-changing insight,” he said. “Absolutely, where do I sign up?” He also followed that comment with “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance a hell of a lot less!”

One key problem, he continued, is that social media analytics are currently somewhat short of the “level of sophistication we need it to be”.

AdAge followed up with a deeper coverage of the discussion with Joan and Joe which can be found here.

Stan seemed to be having a blast with the interplay between the panelists, but for me the highpoint came when Eric Salama, CEO of Kantar put it all on the line. He said that we need to

“jettison the cost plus model that is based on the fieldwork model and move towards a retained consultancy relationship with clients.” He continued with making the point that research was bound “by the commoditization strategy of procurement organizations” and that in order to give clients what they are asking for we “need a new financial model on both sides of the relationship.”

I was shocked the crowd did not jump to their feet with applause at that point; I sure wanted to! Eric, and the rest of the panel, went on to discuss that in order to make this shift, market research has to address our human capital issues. We need more anthropologists, journalists, sociologists, network analysts, and others who view patterns and can deliver meaningful insights from disparate data sources. In order to do that, we have to attract those people, and right now market research, especially in emerging markets, is not a very appealing industry. So, not only do we have to rebuild our tool boxes, our business models, and our hiring strategies, but it seems that we have a significant re-branding initiative in front of us as well!

There is a lot of other great stuff to tell you about, but since I’m writing a blog and not a book, these were the highlights of the first evening and morning. I’ll be back with more posts on the ARF re:

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2 responses to “re:Think 2011: Can You Spare Any Change?

  1. Excellent summary, Mr. Murphy. And may I inject an additional, emerging trend that my advertising clients are embracing? In the past decade, Generationally-Designed studies are growing in importance. Such research adds the well-documented influence of generational value differences – between Millennials, GenX’ers, Boomers, Silents, and G. I.’s – upon consumer each generation’s consumer decisions. And it adds generational strategy to the upfront design of the study, the questions and probes included in the discussion guides and questionnaires, the selection of the respondents along generational age bracketrng instead of traditional Nielsen/Arbitron/Scarborough brackets, and an additional chapter to the Final Report. My clients are conducting fresh sets of baseline research that now includes Generational Strategy, and it is providing additional – and ESSENTIAL

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