Two Days at UGA: An Overview of This Year’s MMR Summit

Recently, members of our team made the trip to Athens, GA, to attend the University of Georgia’s Future of Insights Summit. Hosted by the leaders of UGA’s Master of Marketing Research (MMR) program—which is part of the Terry College of Business—the event attracted nearly 200 attendees comprised of alumni, current students, and practicing market-research professionals.

A warm and welcoming social event kicked off the summit, giving attendees an opportunity to mingle with peers and colleagues in a laid-back environment. The next day commenced with inspiring remarks from Ben Ayers—Dean of the Terry College of Business—and MMR Program Director, Marcus Cunha. A dynamic lineup of keynote speakers followed.

Here are a few key takeaways from each speaker:

  • Problem Definition Skills for Tomorrow’s Market Researcher. It’s no secret that spending time up front to really define the problem is critical to helping clients reduce their risk in decision-making. With that in mind, this speaker encouraged researchers to “get obsessed with their clients’ business.” Immersing in the details—even things not directly related to research—can illuminate ways to involve partners outside of research. This ultimately helps provide more complete answers to business questions.
  • Commoditization of Sample is Jeopardizing the Insights Industry. This speaker covered some of today’s big challenges in terms of respondent quality—specifically in online panels. It is critically important to stay informed on the ins-and-outs of how different sample providers handle recruiting. If you take the quality of panels for granted, you’ll be limited in your ability to effectively leverage the output in the service of your decision needs. As they say, “Garbage in, Garbage out”—so inform yourself and ask questions!
  • The Future of Marketing Research and the Researcher Profession. A panel discussion about the future of our industry offered varying perspectives on the key challenges that lie ahead. For instance, research technology (ResTech) is growing disproportionately to the rest of the field, given its ability to help inform decisions when users need it. Based on these comments, it’s clear that the pandemic may have been a turning point for our industry—and, given that, we’ll have to keep working hard to keep earning our seat at the table. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to hear that stakeholders and CEOs were satisfied with the insights they are receiving.
  • Building Your Digital Strategy: A Behavioral-Minded Approach. This session reiterated the importance of defining “the problem” and cultivating a deep understanding of the business challenge at hand. The presenter emphasized the importance of using all available data inputs to help inform client decisions. Some key points included: truly understanding the data, making it usable, defining how to visualize the data, conducting initial data exploration, synthesizing and storytelling, and then following this with further data exploration.
  • The Nature of Marketing—Approaching Marketing Research Like an Ecologist. A former UGA MMR student applied a unique “ecological” lens to the business challenges our industry faces today. This innovative premise took a page from the book of natural sciences and drew parallels between the innovation process and species evolution. Seeing our industry in this framework offers new perspectives on how we think about innovation—specifically, how fresh ideas can transform the status quo and what’s ultimately necessary for success.
  • Adaptive Qual—Tools and Approaches for Qualitative Research When Things Change. Inspired by the pandemic’s impact on the way we conduct qualitative research, this speaker discussed recent successes with an online collaborative whiteboard platform called “Miro.” In addition, the presenter also covered the advantages of podcasts as an alternative—or complement—to traditional PowerPoint deliverables in helping stakeholders build more of an emotional connection to insights.
  • Inviting Curiosity. One of the most interesting presentations of the day explored curiosity and how to encourage it in business. Curiosity represents the intersection of trust and surprise. And while businesses might think the process for fostering curiosity is linear—e.g., informing, attracting, engaging, and delighting—it is more of a curvy path (see image below). Thus, cultivating curiosity in your teams—based on this presentation—is predicated on building trust, providing support, and creating positive surprises by switching up the typical routine.

Cassini Nazir, University of North Texas.

  • Foresight, ResTech, and the Psychology of Uncertainty: Tomorrow’s “Must-Have” Areas of Expertise for Market Researchers. In this session, a tenured researcher encouraged students and industry professionals to pursue knowledge and skills in foresight and predictive research technologies. While the descriptor “unprecedented” has certainly played out in the past two years, no one can deny that we are still in an era of uncertainty. Given that reality, companies seek to “predict” the future with ever greater certainty—and today, “foresight” is attempting to fill that need.
  • Improve the Odds of Success for Pipeline Development with Future-Casting. According to this speaker, the guiding principles for success are: thinking like a futurist (looking back to see forward), investigating like a scientist (following the data “breadcrumbs”), and acting like an entrepreneur (being nimble and agile). And, to support this “future-casting” approach, researchers must be diligent in scanning signals, projecting outcomes, evaluating implications, and activating results. Further, the speaker advocated for deploying AI-enabled text analytics tools to unearth hidden connections in unstructured data.
  • Break the Slump: Increasing Employee Engagement and Fostering Growth through Involvement in Internal Initiatives. Another graduate of the UGA MMR program spoke about their personal journey from burnout to engagement, thanks to the power of meaningful, fulfilling work. Their level of enthusiasm at work completely changed when they took on a project that not only had a significant impact on the business but involved working directly with stakeholders across various functional areas. That experience matches recent findings that suggest meaningful work—and a place where someone can truly be themselves—rank about the same as being fairly compensated.
  • Survey Data Does Not Behave Like Behavioral Data. From this speaker, we learned that as we work with behavioral data more and more, we need to first understand its complexity to effectively extract value from it. Behavioral data often consists of multiple tiers, including individual, family, or community layers. Sometimes, these layers can contradict one another, so it’s important to evaluate which one is best suited to the needs of a specific research project. This idea reinforces the importance of problem definition and clarity of purpose as it relates to uncovering insights that truly have the power to move a business forward.
  • Insights-to-Impact through Radical Collaboration: The Modern Client/Consultant Partnership. In this session, a supplier partner and client talked about ways to supercharge the way we collaborate to more effectively bring research into the fold of business decisions. The presentation illustrated the power of finding synergies between clients and their supplier partners at all stages of the process—from defining a business problem, to activating the research insights. It was a great reminder to all parties that we are capable of much more when we take the time to truly engage and collaborate with each other to form a deeper partnership.

Of course, no UGA MMR Summit is complete without a great wrap-up party that included a Silent Disco (if you know, you know) and Research Fight Club (no researchers were harmed in the “fights”) to cap off a great day. Overall, our team enjoyed networking and learning with colleagues at this fantastic event. We’re looking forward to the next University of Georgia Future of Insights Summit in the Summer of 2024—and we hope to see you there!

Thania is a Senior Vice President in Client Services at Burke, Inc. where she keeps busy helping clients find new ways to learn about what people do and why. In her spare time, she enjoys hitting the road for a run with a captivating Stephen King audio book for company.

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