Shock of the New: a snapshot on the conference

This year the annual MRS conference in London had the promising theme ‘Shock of the New’. Overall, it was a good conference with great speakers, particularly on day one. Here is a snapshot of the sessions I attended.
On day one I attended two workshops, the first one focussing on the future of research. There were about 8 tables with 5-6 people each. The objective was to come up with ideas for the Future of research. Each table received an envelope with a theme, ours was Technology. Rather than immediately coming up with ideas how technology would shape the future of research, we did three exercises all building on the previous exercise. The first was to come up with associations related to the product on the table, headphones in our case. The second exercise was to individually come up with ideas building on the words from the first exercise. The third exercise was to build on other people’s ideas by passing on the original ideas around the table. Although the output wasn’t amazing, it was pretty good considering that the workshop only lasted 45 minutes. Once available, the output will be shared amongst all workshop participants, and I will share it as well.
The second workshop ‘See yourself see’ run by Beautifulminds, was about how people perceive themselves and each other to inspire, surprise and stimulate innovate thinking. I was one of the guinea pigs for one of the exercises to come up with three letter words out of a set of approximately 20 letters. Each letter could only be used once. I had to do the exercise twice, with what I thought was a new set of letters. Afterwards I found out that the letters were the same, only they were presented in a different order… It was remarkable to see that with the second set it was harder to come up with the three letter words, despite the fact I had already done the exercise once! The exercise was probably the least interesting of the workshop, absolutely fascinating were the numerous examples of optical illusions that show how we see, as can also be seen in Beau Lotto’s TED presentation.
In the afternoon there were two sessions about crowd sourcing and big data. None of the crowd sourcing panel members was coming from the market research industry, rather they were all entrepreneurs or academics using crowd sourcing in different ways, ranging from a sharing platform (The people who share), a funding platform ( and an innovation platform ( Unilever used Ideabounty to develop ideas for the new peparami campaign as described here. The platform developed 1185 ideas of which the best two were chosen by Unilever, and the creatives were paid $10000 and $5000 respectively. Heidi from Idea Bounty mentioned that of course not all ideas developed via are good and useful, however about 10% of all ideas are considered useful, and in this case Unilever paid $15000 for about 100 great ideas.
The big data session was good, with great panellists from YouGov, Facebook, the Information Commissioner’s office and Clive Humby, however the session was more about data privacy than the use of big data, a debate that has been going on for years, so somewhat disappointing considering the “shock of the new” conference theme and the high quality of the panel members. One of the key messages was that data protection legislation is not there to make it difficult for companies to provide big data services, rather it is there to enable businesses to innovate in a secure environment for consumers.
Day two started with an inspiring opening session by Katherine Grainger, six-time world champion and gold Olympic medallist. She stated that winning in sport is about continuously aiming for the best. Good is never good enough! To achieve the best she spends 90% of her time adding 10% extra to become the best. She also talked about how success is driven by perception. Whilst 12 years ago she wouldn’t have thought she would ever win an Olympic medal, once the medals were within range a silver medal was no longer interesting. Silver in Sydney 2000 was a tremendous achievement while silver in Beijing 2008 was one of her biggest disappointments and for months she didn’t want to talk about the race. And then there was London, 4 years of very hard training finally delivered her the Gold medal she had been dreaming about for eight years.
The first parallel session was about Sight, sound and emotion “How understanding sensations can lead to deeper insight and understanding.” Words only form a small part of communication – we interpret the world through sights, sounds and intangible emotional responses. We look at new ways to understand meaning through non-verbal communication and how they have spurred meaningful change in business. Brainjuicer presented together with HSBC, showing why and how they developed the new advertising campaign. Brainjuicer talked about the theory behind System 1 and System 2 Thinking, and how System 1 Thinking alone provides a much higher ROI: emotional ads are more efficient and more profitable. Based on this theory HSBC briefed their advertising agency JWT to develop an emotional, 5 star advertising campaign. The lemonade advertisement ticked all the boxes and was very successful (despite some critical comments on youtube…), and a new ad Lemon Grove went on air this month.
The second morning session was a joined workshop between DVL Smith and SABMiller about the importance of accurate data. With the recent shift in focus from data provider to internal consultant/insight generator, the fundamentals of how to conduct solid, reliable research are often forgotten. SABMiller really values market research for decision making at all levels in the organisation and hence it is critical that the data they receive from their agencies is accurate. SABMiller stressed that agencies as well as clients are responsible for data accuracy and that in the past they relied too much on their agencies alone. In order to make sure that all SABMiller staff has consistent skills, they recently introduced an internal compulsory capability programme for all employees in the insight function. The workshop exercise was to improve a fictitious presentation, taking out errors as well as improving the structure of the presentation. Although somewhat less inspiring than some of the other workshops, this was a very hands-on workshop relevant to researchers and won best workshop of the conference.
In the afternoon there were two more sessions, one about social media and one about behavioural economics. The social media session was chaired by Harvard PR and client inputs were coming from Nissan & IBM. All agreed that PR and Market Research don’t often work well together when it comes to social media, limiting opportunities. IBM focused a lot on the relevance and use of data, comparing data with our next natural resource and social networks being our new production lines. Guy Stephens, who stood in for Justin Ablett, highlighted that

  • data will change how you make decisions
  • data will change how you create value
  • data will change how you deliver value

but the challenge is one of culture, not technology!
Nissan talked about the differences in social media around the world, and the real value of social media for Nissan is to be able to examine conversations together in different channels. At Nissan, the centre of excellence for social media/insights helps to influence business decisions by extracting four key values from social media:

  1. the real time value of social media
  2. learning from the use of language in social media
  3. using social media to broaden the value of market research
  4. discovering new trends

The behaviourial economics (BE) session was led by Leigh Caldwell from The Irrational Agency and alongside Dr Barbara Fascolo (sr lecturer in behaviourial science from LSE) there were short presentations from PepsiCo, Homebase and Shell. Two years after Behaviourial Economics burst onto the market research scene, practical applications of BE are still missing. It’s time to take BE to the next level by combining solid understanding of the science of decision making with robust methodological approaches to deliver genuine value for clients. Erkan Balkan from PepsiCo is very enthousiastic about the topic, but says there are few solutions available and only 5% of his budget is spent on BE. Erkan’s key message was that market research needs to move on and we need to understand more about people’s irrational behaviours, as many (purchase/business) decisions are influenced by irrational behaviours. He gave the example of the Unilever real beauty campaign. Although Silvia Lagnado, the mother of the campaign supported the idea all along, her boss at the time did not support it based on the research results. When Silvia presented him a video with her daughter talking about beauty pressure and confidence issues he was sold!

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