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OPINION12 May 2017

Insights conferencing the US way

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Emotion and memory were the key themes at The Insights Association’s Next 2017 conference. The themes may be universal but the style of conferencing was different, as Keen as Mustard’s Lucy Davison reports.

Well, New Yorkers (and maybe all Americans) certainly like to conference! The Insights Association inaugural conference was a full-on content fest with back to back sessions from 7.30am on Tuesday  to 5.30pm on Wednesday 10th

As this was my first US conference, and being a Brit in New York, I was inevitably led to compare the experience with the UK and European research conferences I have been to.  One noticeable difference is that the art of the pitch is well honed in the US; people expect your pitch and to pitch to you, unlike the British who shuffle embarrassingly and would rather talk about the weather than engage in any kind of sales-talk.

The content-packed day, with shorter networking and lunch breaks, means that it feels like a conference in a hurry (fitting with the location) but also that you get your money’s worth out of the content. There is certainly less boozing and chatting than in the UK, but that’s probably true of anywhere.

With less focus on intellectual content and methodology, I found the content was more client-focused and practical than at European conferences, and the proportion of client to agency or supplier attendees was more balanced. I understand client attendance was about 40%. It seems that researchers in the US show commitment to their industry first, and their company role second.

The main theme that came out of the two days was emotion and memory – both how emotion drives memory;  how we can use it to create better, memorable experiences for our clients and the people we engage with; and how we can measure it. Agile research was also a core theme along with AI and machine learning –these are turning into buzzwords of MRX 2017 but what we mean by them  might not be consistent.

Highlights?  Ubercool founder and keynote Michael Tchong, both inspired and reassured me with his lively take on where the digital lifestyle and convergence of human and machine is taking us. Why was I inspired? Disruption is an opportunity and innovation means growth. Why was I reassured? Well, I’m yet to fall in love with my robot vacuum cleaner but it was comforting that a video of scientists kicking a robot dog led to thousands of complaints. Human emotion will out.  And a new word – ‘screensucking’ – has entered my lexicon. Work it out.

Sonos and Beyond Curious shared a case study of their use of agile insight to develop the concept and design for the new store in New York’s Soho. Even better, they threw a party there in the evening for us to experience the results of their project. The store is based around a series of listening booths designed as mini sitting room pods – a truly immersive retail experience driven by the research programme and resulting insight.

We held our own little party in one pod with a soundtrack from some delightful local musicians and journalists while Sonos supplied the wine. It was the first time I had actually got inside an insight case study, so made for a really memorable and engaging experience.

Segue to Ana Brandt from Dorchester Collection Hotels which is the closest I’m ever going to get to staying in one of these palaces (Beverly Hills Hotel, Dorchester London, Plaza Athénée Paris…you get the idea). Her presentation did not disappoint with visually elegant slides and a tale about her learnings on the path to becoming the haute couture of hotel brands.

Brandt talked about turning customer pain points into pleasure;  her mantra included the use of AI tool Metis which she programmes to scrape the web, distil findings and create an animated movie from the feedback. I’d like to have seen that in action.

Finally, I really enjoyed the keynote from Eric Noble of The Car Lab on taking risks and the art of omission.  Taking human centric design as his philosophy he urged us to use simple, clear and above all emotional connections to understand the values of customers and use that to influence design. His ‘less is more’ approach was very refreshing. 

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