Seismic Shifts in the MR Industry’s Tectonic Plates (Reflections from the ESOMAR Congress 2017)

By Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer

Something changed this year at the ESOMAR Congress. Tectonic plates are shifting. Age-old market research certainties are vanishing. The most visionary clients are doing things differently and changing what they buy and the way they buy it. And where they lead, others will follow.

The Search for Wisdom

Andrew Geoghegan, Global Head of Planning at Diageo, describes a world that is changing rapidly – we inhabit an increasingly urban and post-demographic world. Brands need to reinvent themselves and so too do the research agencies that serve them. He speaks of the need for client-side researchers to reframe themselves as ‘business leaders’. They need to provide strategic planning and ‘foresight,’ and bring new thinking to the table. The type of research he buys is changing and he is urging his colleagues to abandon many of their legacy tools. This is no longer a time to create primary datasets, he asserts, but to use existing data, or, if necessary, analytical tools to harvest new data. He’s increasingly working with small, boutique providers of implicit and neuro-research. He’s looking for people who can help Diageo’s brands grow by applying psychological and cultural learning.

Stephan Gans, Global Head of Insight at PepsiCo talked of how he is ushering in a change programme, which is having an impact on the type of work they commission and how they define the role of the researcher. There’s a new focus on iterative testing and they are demanding more predictive approaches to take the risk out of their innovation. They are also changing who they recruit, and are creating multi-disciplinary teams, spanning everyone from data scientists, cultural and foresight experts to storytellers, and everything in between.

Automation and Standardisation

Clients are also bringing research in-house and looking for solutions that enable them to test quickly and cheaply. Coke Japan shared a stage with ZappiStore to demonstrate the value of fast, iterative testing. In 2013, they tested 33 of the 80 ads they made, but new internal guidelines dictated they test all their advertising. So they turned to ZappiStore to help them remove costly manual processes and get same-day analysis. This approach enabled them to test much more. They are now using ZappiStore for pack testing too, and have reduced timelines to market dramatically: they have iteratively tested 10 designs in a month, hitting their annual testing target in 3 months.

Automation and standardisation of research was the talk of the conference. The consensus was that companies who embrace it will open up more opportunities in new areas and allow testing at scale. Automation will reduce repetitive and time-consuming tasks, freeing us up to do more added value consultancy that makes a real difference to the bottom line.

The history of Market Research is full of examples of this kind of automation and standardisation. Those with long memories will know that the punch card machine with standard 80-column cards – an innovation that spawned the data processing industry, the International Business Machines Corporation (better known as IBM!) and enabled the expansion of quantitative research. Market Research has always looked to automate and standardise and companies who’ve embraced it have grown successfully.

New Frontiers

Where does that leave System1 Research, a company which has gone through its own share of dramatic change in 2017? We feel good. Once-radical ideas which we pioneered have entered the mainstream. Measuring emotion, prediction markets, and gamifying research are commonplace. Behavioural science itself is more foundational in research than ever. What’s next? We spoke at ESOMAR too, presenting our Virtual Reality solution to a very receptive audience and talking about our efforts to reduce companies’ waste in digital spend.

Buyers of research are demanding low-cost, fast, predictive research at scale, coupled with incisive consultancy that can shape their marketing for the better and reduce waste. We’re responding, honing our award-winning products to their predictive core, improving their accuracy, and creating new tools which allow larger-scale testing and higher-level analysis and consultancy. But who we are and why we do it hasn’t changed; we are still a company that cares deeply about helping our clients do marketing that ‘makes a difference’ and STOP wasting money.

At the end of the ESOMAR Conference, Finn Raben’s closing remarks pointed to a new mood in the research industry. ESOMAR is 70 years old, and Raben pointed to a new optimism and a desire to embrace change as evidence that it can last for 70 more. The presentations summarised here are great examples of that hunger for change, and it’s a hunger we very much share.

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