OPINION18 June 2014

Bicycles, Batman and bravery

Highlights from day two at the Insight Innovation Exchange (IIeX) in Atlanta.

Day 2 of IIeX Atlanta didn’t let up on the pace at all, with speakers taking us from ‘Imagine It’ to ‘See It’. Lots of incredible technology, well-executed, but perhaps missing that killer business application for the moment.

Lev Mazin of AYTM eased us in gently with some pictures, to take account of the sore heads from the previous night. For him, qualitative is a bicycle. It’s mostly human-powered, gets you a great understanding of your environment, but is only going to get you so far. Quant is a car, which gets you a bit further, but has some consequences to keep in mind. Social media is renewable energy that you can harness, and the better you get at listening, the more value and efficiency you can get out of it. Big data is the daddy: nuclear power. Everyone’s scared of it, there’s huge potential, but maybe it’s a little stuck in the past.

What AYTM have done, Mazin said, is tried to put the fuel cell into the car, so to speak, and he hopes that detailed psychographic profiling of panel respondents is a ‘safe’ way of putting some of the power potential of big data on board. This tagging of respondents (beyond demographics) can be linked to relevant questions in surveys, and so reduces the number of questions that need to be asked in the survey itself. Given that one of the themes of IIeX (and certainly my own gut feeling) is that shorter, easier surveys are key to our ability to continue to rely on the goodwill of the public in our work, this seems like an excellent move by AYTM. It’ll be very interesting to see this idea develop.

Melanie Courtright of Research Now then made sure we were fully awake with a series of ‘Mission Impossible’ briefs they’ve responded too recently. In-the-moment toilet paper diaries has got to be one of the more challenging requests, especially when the request for photos and videos is taken into consideration. No one could accuse Melanie of shyness, and her presentation tackled the issue with aplomb. On a similar theme to AYTM, respondent fatigue was at the heart of their solution, and Research Now’s ‘mobile optimisation rating system’ is a great example of putting respondents’ needs, if not exactly first, then at least on the agenda.

Eileen Campbell at IMAX comfortably won the ‘best job in research’ competition when she wowed us all with a video of her day-to-day work which included Batman, Bond, and the blue guys from Avatar. A revealing review of the insight IMAX had about audience perceptions of their brand showed a problem many of us may be familiar with, in that the two main conumer associations with IMAX was that they are ‘big’ and ‘loud’. Try building a strategy around that…

Eileen was also brave to state that to date, a lot of IMAX’s great innovation had come about more by good luck than good insight, and the gauntlet was very much laid down to the audience to try and change that situation. It was intriguing to hear Eileen comment on the stakeholder consultation that all good consultative agencies no doubt suggest, as she can’t think of anything that would make her look ‘a bigger flake’ than telling senior colleagues that the research agency needed to speak with them directly when she’s the research facilitator in the business.

Joel Bar-El at Trax gave us a lovely example of innovative technology being applied, in this case to CPG retail experiences. In what seems impossibly sci-fi even in 2014, he showed us how image recognition of global SKUs is now possible with a smartphone app. The technology seems to be primarily focused on operations and stocktaking applications at the moment, but it doesn’t take a huge imagination to see how shopper insights research could use it to test relevant materials in context, or for comprehensive and effortless consumer grocery purchase diaries to be captured. As with many of the innovations on show here at IIeX, it’s an example of an incredible technology a few steps away from a very exciting research application.

JD Deitch from Ipsos then brought industry anxiety levels back to day 1 levels by explaining why research departments have lost the monopoly on budget and methodology within businesses. As a rule, it’s hard to position the likes of Ipsos as the victims, but JD made a compelling case. At the heart of his analysis is the idea that that we’re on the verge of a ‘big bang’ disruption which will inevitably lead to a ‘big crunch’ disruption for the bigger players, and a corresponding loss of asset value in no time at all. Part of the solution, he says, will come from new talent from outside of the research ecosystem, and so far IIeX has been a great example of what that might look like. Most terrifying of all, he ended with a look forward to the impact of the ‘internet of things’, and a worry that when everything is plugged into the wall, it may well be the telecoms companies who become the gatekeepers of consumer insight, not us classically-trained researchers.

With that cheery thought, I’ll finish with one addition to the conference Cliché Watch for day 2. Perhaps it’s been the vacant stares of those of us in the audience, but apparently we’re not a particularly conscious species on the whole: ‘Decision-making happens in the subconscious’.

Charlie Richards is a senior account manager at Tonic.