by Danielle Blugrind
A few weeks ago, researchers from all over the country – and beyond – descended upon Scottsdale, Arizona for the 2018 TMRE Conference. It quickly became evident that there was no one theme or idea that would dominate this year’s event. (Remember a few years ago, when every presentation was about System 1 and System 2?) While a few ideas echoed throughout the three days, the greatest takeaway focused on connecting in meaningful ways with other like-minded individuals.
One idea that radiated through the conference was the focus on younger consumers. Sheila Dreyer Van Buskirk of Synchrony Financial spoke on their efforts to connect with Generation Z (ages 13-24), even though this generation is well below what you think their typical target would be. Synchrony recognizes that this young cohort will be very important to their business in the near future, as this Generation outsizes the significant Millennial target. Synchrony was creative with their approach – not only did they engage with Gen Z at their preferred online and digital level, but they tapped into their few Gen Z employees. This group reviewed all that was planned and executed, resulting in an online Look Book of educational tools to help parents have a conversation with their kids on finances and credit.
In another session, Laurie Manos of Converse also spoke of the driving economic force behind Gen Z, and how she captured their youth culture and spirit through her own suite of research tools. Merging her own “online foraging” with a proprietary Consumer Life Study and an ongoing online community, Laurie and her team are able to provide Converse with a steady stream of insights into the wants, needs, and lives of these young, but vital, consumers. Their creative approaches with Gen Z included the use of Snapchat moments (already a natural part of this Generation’s everyday life), the creation of a time capsule, and even having them explore Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The result: An online tool that provides constant creative stimulus for the Converse team through the use of 12 theme areas, iconography and visuals over text, the time capsules, select Snapchat moments, and even a playlist that brings these fluid, limitless, motivated and self-reliant youth to life.
Generation Z wasn’t the only subgroup discussed at TMRE. Molly Hayes at Anheuser-Busch InBev took a deep dive into women. Specifically, women and beer. It’s probably no surprise that worldwide, beer sales skew significantly towards men. Molly and the insights group at AB set out to challenge myths, dig beneath the surface, and use the emotional inquiry method of storytelling to find out what was really happening. Their findings went very far beyond anything as superficial as simple taste preferences. By starting broadly and asking women to first share a story of what being a woman is all about, and only later asking them to share a story about beer, they found that the beer category is “fundamentally misaligned” with what women want to be and the identity that they seek. While women spoke to feeling independent and self-reliant, in the context of men they feel judged and “less than.” Beer has perpetuated many of these feelings, with advertising and tonality that are rooted in masculinity, and are not inclusive of or even respectful to women. It was eye-opening for the team to realize that they were part of the problem, and that the industry needed to embrace humility and stop reinforcing the negative cultural images. Cheers to this team for truly getting it right.
Another idea echoed throughout the three-day conference was “scrappy research.” The idea of DIY research is an intriguing one at the surface. It is appealing to garner insights with little to no budget expenditures; I understand that. However, DIY research also poses risks. Based on the few presentations I saw and in my own experience, the biggest risks associated with DIY research are sample quality and the lack of research expertise among the “interviewers.” While conducting “on the street” research is tempting due to lost cost (expenses associated with recruitment and incentives are eliminated), there is also little to zero control as to whom you are interviewing, the respondent’s legitimacy, and – in most cases – the surveyed sample is most likely not representative of the population you want to reach. Instead, you have a convenience sample, and as researchers, we must be aware of that difference. Furthermore, it is all too easy to make mistakes in how you speak with consumers, lead their thinking, or even interpret their feedback when you are personally vested with the brand and the outcome of the research. It’s human nature. I do believe that DIY research can be used carefully and judiciously as an addendum to professional research, but I caution against using it as your entire research program. If the insights gained are not on target or representative, you will never know, and it is all too easy to take your company down the wrong road as a result.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the crowd-gathering appearance of Peyton Manning on the final day of TMRE! Peyton humbly shared memories from his career and life that have taught him important lessons. He fully admitted how as a college freshman, he was ready to go out there and try to lead the team when given an opportunity to play, and show his skills. The upperclassmen quickly shut him down and put him back in his place. Yes, he had been a high school superstar, but now it was time to learn humility, and start from the bottom in proving himself once again. I found Mr. Manning to be extremely well-spoken, motivational, and inspiring. I realized that the TMRE attendees had the chance to vote on the keynote speaker for this year, and I believe we chose well. Yes – I cast my vote for Peyton Manning earlier this year. I wanted to hear lessons from someone outside of my research world, to expand my circle and find new sources of inspiration. I was not disappointed.
All in all, this year’s event provided multiple opportunities to network with peers, hear the different challenges we all encounter as researchers, and more importantly, open our eyes and ears to different ways of conducting and taking research to the next level. I would say both client and supplier side attendees were pleased by the meaningful conversations they had with other attendees, the real connections they made, and the intimacy of the event although there were over 1,000 attendees. I for one appreciated the conversations I had at the Burke booth, at lunches, and even walking through the halls. This was a great opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals, learn, and have a great time doing it. See you next year in Vegas!
With an impressive background on the client side from toys to tacos, Danielle Blugrind is passionate about research and helping her clients elevate the consumer perspective and narrative in order to connect with consumers, and ultimately, drive growth.