Editor's note: Lucy Davison is managing director at Keen as Mustard, a London marketing agency. Davison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appeared in the March 10, 2014, edition of Quirk's e-newsletter.
I am just back from a fast-paced, jam-packed two days in Amsterdam at the first Insight Innovation eXchange Conference on European soil.
It's difficult to distill the information when in two days there were upwards of 40 sessions a day of mostly 20-minute durations (some shorter), with at least 15 parallel sessions. Like many attendees, I wanted to be in several places at the same time - although following the lively Twitter feed did relieve my room envy - but I decided to focus on what was most memorable for my article. Apologies to all those whose sessions I could not attend or that haven't been included here!
Here are my five most memorable moments (or themes) from the first IIeX Europe.
1. Virtual reality
If you thought virtual reality was not really here yet, think again! As part of the exhibition, Lieberman Research Worldwide provided a virtual reality headset for participants to try out. This was an incredible experience that provided clear insight into a core theme of the conference: how our behavior is controlled by our subconscious.
In spite of we marketing research-types being more rational than emotional, upon plunging into the virtual reality within the headset, even rational folk could not control their subconscious. And when I say plunging, I really mean it. I found myself upon a virtual bridge, being urged to step off - a very uncomfortable feeling - only approximately 30 percent of people at the conference could do so.
Another take on virtual reality came from Hall & Partners and Simudyne, who launched their virtual reality simulator, Avatar, at the conference. This is a predictive modeling and simulation platform that offers a glimpse into multiple possible futures. The team uses the platform to build simulations that mirror the real world, giving marketers synthetic representations of the people they're actually marketing to and with whom they're building relationships. Virtual reality is very much here and now.
2. It's the emotions!
The conference included nine presentations about accessing and understanding the subconscious. Several different approaches to facial coding and neuroscience demonstrated and proved the value of understanding the unconscious to drive success from different advertising campaigns, though I'd like to see it applied beyond advertising.
Kai-Markus Mueller of The Neuromarketing Labs presented a compelling account of how to set prices that "please the brain." This emotional theme extended to brand analysis (through a presentation about the Proteus effect - a phenomenon wherein the behavior of an individual operating under a digital persona adapts to conform to that persona - by Jeff Reynolds of LRW) and on to behavioral economics (through several interesting sessions, in particular "Understanding the impact of culture on consumer decision making" by Elina Halonen and Leigh Caldwell of the Irrational Agency).
John Kearon of BrainJuicer pointed out that feelings are a better predictor of what we will do than any rational questions. To reinforce his point, during an energetic performance he sang the theme song from a U.K. advertising classic from the 1970s, "Just one Cornetto." It took me right back there. This musical theme was reiterated later by Caroline Winnett of Neurensics USA, whose violin-playing demonstrated how music accesses our subconscious and provides a universal language for brands.
3. Itsy bitsy data
There were several sessions that talked small, not big, data. Paul McDonald from Google talked about breaking surveys into ever-smaller pieces in his session "How data chunking will save the tracker." The debate that followed highlighted that this might be because the current limitations of Google Surveys only allow for four questions per study but his talk provoked much discussion on Twitter and online about the viability of tiny surveys.
The client panel on the first day also gave us a vision of the future of research being in multiple boutique/niche data vendors and small, solutions-oriented agencies. Chaired by Ray Poynter of Vision Critical University, the panel comprised three (male, European) clients and two (female, U.S.) suppliers, so it might not have been seen as balanced but it was good to hear from both sides of the pond and both sides of the industry. As often happens on client/supplier panels, both sides ended up vehemently agreeing with each other.
It was also important to go small when delivering research. Mark Earls of the Herd Consultancy pointed out that, at the moment, we have container-sized reports that need to fit through a letter box. Earls and his colleague John Willshire were on a mission at this conference to fix what is broken in marketing research. On day one, we were split into groups - clients and suppliers (only some suppliers snuck into the client side, go figure!). We were challenged to write "broken" things on yellow cards and share them. Needless to say, the two groups did not agree on what was broken. Over the two days of the conference, Earls and Willshire used attendees to crowdsource solutions to the issues we had raised, with participants contributing blue cards with solutions, and mapping the entire conversation on one of the walls. This approach to breaking problems down into small, bite-size issues demonstrated that taking small, incremental steps to innovation is often a better way to go than attempting giant leaps.
The single most important issue for client-side researchers is the difficulty of ensuring that studies have impact within their organizations. This came out clearly in the most recent Quirk's Corporate Research report (January 2014) and was highlighted throughout the conference.
Impact also cropped up with a focus on how to visualize data, create stories and design for impact. We heard a lot from technology and data visualization companies, in particular Patricio Pagani of Infotools who took us through how Coca-Cola migrated to a visual portal solution to present research results. We also had an inspirational presentation by Tim Bock of Numbers and Q Research Software about applying patterns in the natural world to the presentation of data.
The conference also featured the DIVAs (Data Insight Visualization Awards). This included a lively panel discussion clarifying the essential differences between data visualization and the software that supports this for analytics - and infographics, which are a synthesized and triangulated way of telling a story. The DIVA winner was a data visualization by Pulsar, which used its content-tracking tools to show the diffusion patterns of viral videos on Twitter. Stunning and illuminating!
5. Gone fishing
At the end of the second day, there was one session that particularly resonated with me. Using the concept of sustainable fishing as a metaphor for the waters of respondents within which marketing research plies its trade, we were presented with a shocking view of our unsustainable approach. An expert panel consisting of a client (Kyle Nel of Lowe's Home Improvement), a supplier (Jon Puleston of GMI), a big agency (Danielle Todd of TNS) and a small agency (Fiona Blades of MESH) was chaired by Alison White of Face Facts and Betty Adamou of Research Through Gaming with support from Elina Halonen of The Irrational Agency. While Tom Ewing and Leigh Caldwell fought it out for the cheesiest fish metaphor on Twitter (Ewing tweeted "#iiex sustainable research isn't just doing good for its own hake says @FionaMESH - without it results are frankly pollocks"), the panel articulated one of the most important problems facing the industry and what we should do about it.
I could go on. There was a rock n' roll feel to this conference. There were so many presentations - some a little rough around the edges - many very insightful. There was much more on the business of research than I have seen at other conferences (driven by presentations for the Insight Innovation Competition and Challenge). As a non-researcher (I am a marketer) at MR conferences, I always focus on what the new idea/methodology/technology will do for me as a client, not how it works. But I need not have feared. Although there were a lot on new ideas, methods and technology, the desire to deliver real change was always there. I also came away feeling that the industry is a great place to be right now and that conference-going can provide an inspiring and engaging window into our world.