FEATURE5 November 2015

A happy future for market research?


Entering the main hall at the start of the conference, the delegates were greeted by Pharrell Williams’ Happy.


Maybe it was the (not so) subliminal message within the music, or the fact that we were in Orlando, just down the road from Disney World — surely the spiritual home of happiness — but there was certainly a very upbeat mood in the room. How could we not all feel excited; the slogan of this year’s TMRE was: Revolution is Here.

My levels of intrigue and interest were high as David Boyle of BBC Worldwide (who compered the conference superbly) welcomed us to the future, pointing out the passing of Back to the Future Day.

The mood, however, fairly swiftly (albeit mildly) sank, as he went on to criticise how traditional and insular the industry is (or at least certain factions within it), referencing a neat infographic based on the social media connections of the delegates, which highlighted the lack of integration of MR professionals with anyone other than, well, other MR professionals. Finishing with a rallying cry to the room to drive the revolution and bring the industry back on track to the future, I felt compelled and inspired to seek out more people’s views on where our industry is heading. So with a dizzying choice of talks across nine tracks, I carefully picked the ones I thought might use the most accurate crystal balls.

Seth Godin was, as expected, particularly entertaining and enlightening as he encouraged us all to find the remarkable in what we do, embrace risk and “find the weird ones” to connect with and market to as we see a flattening of the normal distribution curve of consumer behaviour within the new connection economy.

Equally enjoyable and inspiring was Jonah Berger, who challenged the room to question how tasty our ideas are. Referencing his book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he explained some of the key principles in driving valuable word-of-mouth. He drew upon some great examples including a speakeasy bar in NYC, ironically called Please Don’t Tell, as well as an amusing and successful viral campaign Will It Blend, which demonstrates how even a boring product can generate real buzz if you find the ‘inner remarkability’ in what you are marketing and follow his STEPPS framework.


Across the whole conference I picked up on three key themes; the first seemingly countering the happy vibe – death. The first question for the keynote ‘Shaping the Future’ panel asked if we are witnessing the death of traditional market research. Unsurprisingly, I guess, the answer was ‘yes and no’ as the rally to revolutionise was countered by the importance of more simply bringing elements of traditional research up to speed by exploiting developments within technology and data collection.

On the subject of death, Alex Hunt of BrainJuicer and Andy Smith of The Hershey Company put forward a very compelling argument that the traditional new product concept and marketing approach that focuses on benefits and reasons-to-believe is dead. Based on contemporary thinking within behavioural science and the importance of intuitive, fast, effortless ‘system 1’ thinking, the best performing concepts are all about emotionally seducing people, as the reaction to Hershey’s new Kisses campaign in the room (as well as BrainJuicer’s research) validated.


The second theme that struck me was the need for integration, and particularly that of skill sets. The term ‘big data’ was predictably bandied about lots, although this year, unlike at my last visit to TMRE two years ago, the big question wasn’t so much ‘how do we collect and collate it?’ but more, ‘how can we effectively integrate it [and analytics teams] within insight and the wider business?’.

At Tonic we’re predominantly a qual agency, so I must admit, the more technical talk about big data had me reaching to check my emails, but the wider theme of better integrating insight into business decisions did strike a chord as it’s something we’re constantly striving for. This is becoming more and more important as the increasing accessibility of data (and questionably insight) to everyone in an organisation brings with it the risk of reducing research teams’ input into decision-making.

Living for the moment

The title of an engaging talk from Socratic Technologies, ‘Experiencing vs. Remembering’ summed up the final theme. So many widely-used techniques within the industry rely on people remembering what they did, how they felt, etc. and yet, as they proved in a fascinating study into the purchase journey for car insurance, people’s memories aren’t that great! Instead they championed in-the-moment or contemporaneous, tech-enabled techniques that are also at the core of many of our approaches. In the same way that big data is generating more accurate, passive behavioural data vs. the traditional survey; the longitudinal, context-rich and ethnographic approaches used in more advanced on and offline qual research is more likely to avoid the ‘streetlight effect’ of more traditional qual methods and deliver truer insights.

Nick Priestley is CEO of Tonic Insight