“Never has there been a better time for things to go right.”
That’s how ESOMAR President Kristin Luck welcomed attendees to the 75th anniversary ESOMAR Congress in downtown Toronto last week. From the moment Kristin uttered those words, the event was full of optimism, self-belief, and opportunity.
Despite the health, economic and geopolitical challenges the world is experiencing, the Global Research industry continues to grow due to the need for quality, reliable and timely information to drive better decision and policy making.
Technology investment into the sector is continuing.
However, due to the (in)affordability of good quality ResTech, a gap is appearing in countries around the world.
The great resignation is real in research, but it has created unforeseen opportunities for transformation.
There was an enormous amount of content and storytelling at Congress, too much to share in one post. However, here are some highlights:
Eight Key Takeaways From #ESOMAR75
1. A return to the Roaring ’20s
Jeremy Gutsche, New York Times Best Selling Author and CEO, Trend Hunter, Canada asked the question, “Are the roaring 20’s coming back?” This question sends a strong message. Chaos creates opportunity. There is generally growth following a pandemic or world events; we need something to bring people together and get excited.
Research can (and should) play a role in this, in this new era. Jeremy suggested we reflect on why we want change, because it’s a great time to take risks, take a leap, push new boundaries, and convert the opportunity coming at us.
2. Too much Data and not enough usefulness
With the pace of change increasing, change being constant, more than one presenter quoted Albert Einstein’s, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” What we can measure may not have value always and what we do value may be difficult to measure.
Technology is moving forward to help our profession with this challenging quandary; our end goals have to be insight driven. It cannot be data collection at any cost. Collect what you can use, keep pushing to understand the why, and become better problem solvers was the call out.
3. More Humanity in AI, Marketing Science, and Technology
There was of course a lot of discussion and great examples of AI, machine learning, and advances in marketing science, including a wonderful presentation from the Coca-Cola Company, LATAM team entitled, The orchestration of data science, business knowledge, and storytelling that repositioned human Insights. This paper hit a real cord for me as it spoke about greater engagement in what I think really matters for the future, i.e., boosting research effectiveness, taking a step beyond storytelling, and engaging internal stakeholders to tune into insights ‘composed’ through data science. The team also spoke about efficiency: stop asking more and more questions and effectively use already collected information.
I personally feel that ‘Big Data’ failed — mostly because it did not show its human side (at least not to me😊). We heard that we have to prepare for the increased adoption of AI within a very challenging regulatory environment, including potential broad definitions of what is and is not considered AI — so technology becoming more human and approachable becomes critical.
4. Size doesn’t matter, but culture sure does
ESOMAR Congress always does a wonderful job showcasing talent from around the world. Whilst the pandemic limited attendance from many Asian countries, attendees came from 44 countries, and presenters on stage represented 24 countries. Europe was heavily represented, as were Australia and New Zealand. Not surprisingly, a lot of the research technology was from North America. Thanks to the many African and Middle Eastern attendees, we were exposed to a wide range of content and opinions.
A few perspectives worth sharing? Geography and demographics are becoming less relevant. Culture, however, does matter and is now the focus of many multinational brands’ research initiatives. Their focus is on understanding culture across markets to target differentiation.
Human insights transformation is now tangible and permanent; clients are saving money with technology and investing in more studies with more problems to solve.
One consistent theme from around the world was, whilst growth in revenue and opportunity exists, the challenge of growing profitability remains a challenge. There is a lot of promise, but no clear clarity on who exactly will grow profitably. (There’s more on this later in this story.)
5. Young professionals are killing it
Yes – young entrepreneurs pitching their ideas were outstanding at Congress. Younger members in general are very powerful speakers (with special mention to Ndeye Diagne from Nigeria who presented superbly on her topic of ‘Research Means Change… for Africa.’ What if we build a better continent — no, a better world – through research? Growth in a more inclusive world? She demonstrated some powerful communication skills.
There was also a great session on how ‘Young researchers can help build a better world for today’ hosted expertly by Chris Farquhar from Hong Kong and Pravin Shekar from India, interviewing young researchers from Africa and Australia. This was a ‘Research Got Talent’ initiative — very thought-provoking.
My sense was that these sessions, where we focus on young talent, could have been on the main stage for all to see. Giving young researchers a platform to shine and grow their careers and their voice surely is our future.
6. Research effectiveness: vital for our health
Missed on the main stage were some great and important presentations highlighting the vital topic of research effectiveness — from New Zealand, Romania, and Australia. Three finalists in the ESOMAR Research Effectiveness Awards, which celebrate impactful projects of the insights and analytics community that made a huge impact on the end-users, were featured. The case studies demonstrated the real value of precision, flexible thinking when it comes to methodology, and the future orientation of timely delivery of useful outcomes for business.
One great story of impact, delivered on the main stage, was by Caroline Iurillo from Microsoft. She provided a simple yet powerful example of how research attached the worth of a 1 point of lift in the perception of a product to revenue. This flowed through to advertising campaigns that clearly correlate to revenue generation and take out any discussion of the impact of marketing. It was a great example of the power of longitudinal tracking, an approach not used enough in the world of research.
Nestle and TikTok also told powerful stories of reinvention that further ignited the thought that we need to tell these great stories more, how an investment in research or understanding can lead to business reinvention.
I came away thinking that accelerated innovation can certainly lead to greater impact.
7. ResTech companies are refining their business models
The ESOMAR Congress gave me an excellent opportunity to update my knowledge on the many new brands and product offers in the Research Technology arena. I no longer work for a research tech provider; however, I am a big user and passionate advocate of research technology — and there are certainly a lot of new brands and new solutions.
Luckily, I ran into an old friend, Mike Stevens from Insight Platforms, who provides a very useful directory, learning, and events portal for modern research & analytics which makes the search a little easier. (Unsponsored shout-out 😊.)
Congress gave me an important chance to refuel my desire and interest in ResTech and finding the right solution. The location of the expo floor and its proximity to the main and side stages made it easy to have the conversations that helped. Talking to a range of companies, there was a real feeling of sustained growth in the use of technology, but an acceptance that this may not be profitable growth.
I felt that technology-only companies are still searching for the right business model in a changing world. Many agencies are dealing with increased costs and not increased budgets from clients and with a large range of technology offers with large promises, the market is still figuring out service and product offers that will work in today’s marketplace.
8. What if we stopped asking questions?
I attended, with great anticipation, a session entitled ‘What if We Stopped Asking Questions’ — which concluded that we still do need to ask questions! The discussion was robust and interesting, with speakers from brands such as Nestle, Unibanco, Phillips, and TikTok. It was very interesting to hear both traditional and new modern brands discussing the win in leveraging observational research and the need for high-quality sample to talk to real people that can help you and fight off the robots that can impact quality decision-making.
The consensus was to not ask too many questions, and focus on getting more honest and valid responses. Asking better but fewer questions was a mantra I was delighted to hear Phillips talk about, and the joint responsibility together with research partners to ensure sample is high quality. Refreshing. Think slow, act fast was the advice from this panel of experts.
How ESOMAR 2022 Concluded
Yes, there was great content. But for me, attending this event was more about the people, the friends I have not seen for a few years, current and former colleagues that I have missed talking to, and the feeling of optimism that I think we all need to be reminded of.
ESOMAR Congress concluded with a session entitled ‘What if we imagined the industry of the future’. In a world of internalization of insights, self-service platforms, some lower prices, established technology providers, and further likely consolidation stimulating growth and a rethink of business models the next few years are going to be very exciting for the research profession and industry. Growth looks like it will continue. But the question on my mind remains, where does the profitable growth lie to support the great people, the skill development required, and the continued storytelling required to ensure business recognises the real value of research?
I agree with Kristin Luck. “Never has there been a better time for things to go right”. Join me to convert the opportunity for all of us!