by Thania Farrar
The Insights and Innovation Exchange (IIEX) North America is a great experience if you’re looking for a crash course on the latest and greatest innovations happening in market research (MR).
This is my third time attending the IIEX, so to me innovation is a relative term, but I always learn something new. An advantage of having attended the event multiple times is that I have developed my own lens to organize and absorb the vast amount of content presented. On one hand, there is content that presents the challenges that make the case for new tools, and on the other, there is content that presents new tools as the solution to these challenges. In general, the challenges usually fall in one of three camps:
1) The need to improve the value that market research brings to the organizations it serves;
2) The need to learn about aspects of consumer behavior that are harder to measure through traditional methods; and
3) The need for solutions to address quality issues with traditional methods… all of which, in theory, the new tools can solve.
It is worth noting that there tends to be a heavy emphasis on new tools as the solution at IIEX, given their support of startups. Creative application of existing MR tools and new ways of thinking is also considered innovation in our industry and can help these challenges, but those topics tend to get more space on agendas in other industry conferences.
If you missed the 2016 IIeXNA here is my quick summary of the discussions I heard, through my innovation lens.
Challenge 1: Improving the Value of MR
A panel of supplier-side companies provided perspective on how to improve the value of research. According to a Boston Consulting Group representative on the panel, a recent repeat of their 2010 study on the value of MR teams found a small increase in the number of companies who say their insights teams provides impactful, strategic input; however, these companies continue to be a small portion of the total. The rest view their insights teams on the range of transactional to somewhat strategic. The panel overall recommended marketing the value of MR and highlighting the business impact it has through better case studies. In other words, we’re adding value, but its impact isn’t felt. Several client presentations contributed other thoughts on how their insights teams add more value:
- Harley Davidson’s keynote presentation epitomized many of the desirable traits of high value MR teams. High value MR teams tend to put the human in the center, are hypothesis-guided, seek core emotional truths, hire non-researchers for a fresh perspective, and look for partners who challenge the status quo and help them dig deeper. They aim to inspire and not just get a seat at the table, but rather to “set the damn table.”
- Lilly is using technology that helps connect teams across the globe, resulting in better collaboration and synthesis of insight. This enables them to reach their goal of improving health outcomes for their customers by providing better insights and, at the same time, reducing travel costs.
- Clorox is evolving their model to move from providing aggregate retrospective insight to more “consumer-level” predictive, actionable insight to help the company become more customer-centric. They are retaining the traditional view of the consumer for strategic purposes, but are also but are also using different, more acute lenses for micro-targeting.
Challenge 2: The Tougher-to-Articulate Aspects of Behavior
There are always several presentations that highlight the importance of those behavioral aspects that tend to elude us with traditional measurements. Here are a few unique tidbits from the event which highlight emotions and the “tougher-to-articulate” side of the decision-making equation.
- Lots (and lots!) of discussion on emotions, but very little talk on measurement beyond descriptive modes.
- The importance of contextual understanding: Nature + Context = Behavior. It’s about how buying is all about control – we buy, or “hire” products that give us control.
- People buy when they feel confident in their decision, so make them feel confident.
- Most decisions involve emotions or feelings – the ability to make decisions is in the same part of the brain as emotions. Make your customers feel, otherwise they won’t buy.
- People make habitual goal-oriented decisions or value-based decisions; habit is our normal mode. Provide information for value-based decisions, not habitual ones.
- “We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.” – Antonio Damasio, cognitive neuroscience expert.
- People develop their sense of identity through stories. Psychologists call this “narrative identity.” Brands should find tensions to solve by understanding their consumers’ personal stories and how brands play a role.
Challenge 3: Research Quality Gaps
In the past, the main quality issues highlighted at IIEX included sample quality, respondent engagement, and areas where traditional methods “fail” to provide good insight. This year, there was less emphasis on the last one. I believe that talk track was a bit overused and overstated at an industry level for the last few years mainly to bring attention to new methods and new tools as solutions. Since most can now agree that we are not tossing out “the old way,” and recognize the majority of new tools are complementary to traditional methods, the tone is much more conciliatory. The focus is now on issues like improving sample representativeness and respondent engagement; both topics had their fair share of the discussion, but unfortunately there are very few solutions in sight. Despite efforts to leverage mobile to help bring the harder to reach populations into panels, we continue to often push surveys to panelists that are too long and complex.
The New MR Tools
And now, onto the “solutions” side of the conference. I consider this the “drinking from the firehose” part of IIEX, the gamut of new measurement tools on display (as noted earlier, if you’ve been to IIEX before, there wasn’t anything I would call totally “new”). The exhibit hall and presentations represented many, many different tools. There were the tools meant to give us better access to the system 1 aspect of how people make decisions, like predictive markets, response time, implicit association, metaphor elicitation, EEG, facial coding, eye-tracking, and other biometrics. And there were also tools like gamification that are targeted at improving respondent engagement with surveys.
I saw an overabundance of text analytics/social media research companies in attendance (more than in previous years, I think). The agenda had a track dedicated to these “passive” tools that use artificial intelligence to automate the synthesis and meaning derivation from large amounts of text, such as posts online. Presentations highlighted the virtues of text analytics (hi tech, fast, cheap) and its challenges (accuracy, application). Most interesting were the examples of overlaying different frameworks to interpret the output of text analysis beyond the traditional positive/negative, theme-based sentiment analysis and looking for even more actionable information like demand signals, journey steps, emotions, and benefits.
Per usual, many tools offered to make research faster and cheaper, but not necessarily better. More tools seem to be SaaS (software as a service) or do-it-yourself and easy-to-use with visually appealing dashboards that deliver analysis and insight instantly. However, the client-side companies I spoke with are overwhelmed with the number of tools available that they would have to manage and are turning to full-service suppliers to help them sort through it all.
There were a few different research-buying models on display, such as buying turnkey research projects backed by known suppliers on pick-and-go online marketplaces and the “go.fund.me” version for research efforts that allows you to find other companies with similar needs and co-fund research.
Finally, there were a couple of mobile and geolocation-based offerings that found different ways of collecting transactional/purchase information and marrying it to survey capabilities (the Holy Grail of what and why).
Proof in Application
At IIEX, I am always in search of real client-side case studies demonstrating the application of new tools and how they are used to fill in knowledge gaps or make research better. There were a few, but I admit, I am greedy and somewhat impatient, so I was hoping for more than I got. In all fairness, there were some I probably missed given the sheer number of presentations. Of the ones I saw, the best case study was from a full-service vendor who integrated activity data collected from a wearable device in a longitudinal diary about pain with a chronic medical condition. The wearables information helped explain the self-reported data. They also collected respondent pictures via an app to highlight the emotional factor to build empathy, which was a good example of combining available tools to learn more holistically about an issue.
Online communities, which have been in the mix now for some time, continue to bring examples of value add in various ways and in many different forms. Burke’s own Kendall Nash shared her experiences working with one our partners (Recollective), on everything from 2-3 day engagements to ongoing larger groups of participants. Her message: no matter how you design them, they should give you the opportunity for authentic dialogue with your consumers. The key is to right-size and right-design them to meet your objectives.
Another company shared an example of how to use response latency, or the time it takes a person to respond to a question, to understand the strength of associations with the US as a brand. They attempted to go beyond stated response and explored the concept of “strength of conviction.” Finally, Coke is using metaphor elicitation techniques quantitatively to help them understand the emotional side of their consumer’s connection to its brand as they revisit their megabrand strategy.
All in all, attending IIEX is always a worthwhile venture. It does a wonderful job of providing a space for exploring new tools and discussion on what is possible with them, which doesn’t get as much attention at other conferences. It reminds and motivates me to keep an open mind. It also provides a great platform to sift through all of the tools and applications available in order to find the one(s) we can leverage to improve the value marketing research brings to business through a more complete understanding of consumers.
As Vice President of Research Innovation at Burke, Inc., Thania Farrar is constantly challenging the ways researchers gain insight into what people do and why to give our clients a competitive advantage.