Our Quirk’s Events don’t have themes or tracks, which is by design, as it frees us up to present a wide range of topics and viewpoints without the need to shoehorn a session into a track that’s not a good fit. And, selfishly, as the person in charge of finding and curating the client-side speakers for our four events, it makes my job a lot easier. (Shoot me a note at joe@quirks.com if you’re an in-house researcher interested in speaking at one of next year’s events!) So that typically means that any post-event trends or themes that emerge do so organically. 

Two events into our 2024 slate, what has stood out to me from our Dallas (in February) and Chicago (in March) gatherings is the value – and, really, necessity – of being adaptable. Researchers have always shown a great deal of flexibility and adaptability: In my almost 36 years in this role I’ve watched them evolve from landline telephones and paper and pencils through the rise of the internet and now to the advent of AI, morphing and changing as the times demand.

A big part of that is being curious, about what’s going on now and what might happen in the future, and in their Chicago session Marybeth Andrews and Aly Ferry of McDonald’s told a packed room about the goals for their recently launched internal Curiosity Club (which is open to any employee, not just those in insights), including fostering innovation, enhancing decision-making, boosting employee morale and improving collaboration. They urged anyone interested in doing something similar to dedicate time to be curious (say, an hour a week), hone your question-asking skills to be able to ask better questions and to not be afraid to look for outside perspectives when you’re trying something new.

Talk of curiosity was also on tap in a session on changing generational views on alcohol consumption featuring panelists Eboni Washington, director, consumer insights at Beam Suntory, and Sean McCullough, senior insights manager, above premium seltzers and emerging at Molson Coors. One of the beauties of the marketing research industry, McCullough said, is its curiosity. Washington urged marketers and researchers of all stripes to “get out there and live life and understand people who are different,” such as the Gen Z respondent who told Molson Coors researchers that the hallowed Boomer tradition of having a drink by yourself after a long, hard day at work sounded “kind of sad.” (What would Don Draper say to that?) Companies need to be open to their category norms changing, Washington said, and take a good look at their internal capabilities to assess if they are set up to understand and react to change.

Understanding and reacting to change were much on the minds of pollsters following the disastrous 2016 election, said MaristPoll’s Director of Survey Solutions Michael Conte in his candid and thorough Chicago Event session. Predictions of a Hillary landslide were tragically (for pollsters and the nation, some might say) wrong, leading to a lot of soul-searching around the whole act of political polling. Too much emphasis was being placed on polls’ predictive value, Conte said, overlooking the reality that polls are really just a snapshot in time. In addition, pollsters now have a greater awareness of the role that geography has in influencing votes, he said, and how it is more of a driving factor on voting than level of education.

Speaking of change, no 2024 article would be complete without a mention (or 10) of the most talked-about current changemaker: AI. In his Dallas session, Heiko Schafer, senior director, global consumer insights and analytics with Kimberley-Clark, argued that researchers need to be masters of generative AI tools. Instead of waiting to be asked, he said, researchers should show curiosity and initiative and develop an understanding of when and how to use AI tools. By in effect becoming the face of AI with your internal audiences you can reinforce your critical advantage over AI – your humanity – and use it to strengthen the standing of the insights function. After all, he asked, who would your business partners likely rather talk to, you or a robot?