Reflections on ESOMAR Congress 2019

The global data and insights summit, held in Edinburgh

I've recently returned to the other side of the world after a stint at this year’s ESOMAR Congress, which consisted of a jam-packed three days in Edinburgh. Although it was my first visit to Scotland’s capital, I instantly fell in love with this beautiful, history-filled city. I had never visited before, but I was lucky enough to have a Scottish friend (thanks Jane!) showing me around town on a sunny Sunday before the conference began. (Apparently, we walked a total of 15 kilometers.) 

After my exploration of Edinburgh, it was time for the conference. Several themes stood out to me as I attended presentations, workshops, sessions, and networked with other market researchers. 

  1. Technology: Technology is everywhere – that, of course, is nothing new. But one comment that was made over and over again is that technology is nothing without the human input. Whether that’s programming or “teaching the machine,” interpreting outcomes, understanding the “why” or knowing what to do with the vast amount of information we have at our fingertips, it all comes down to the human “translator.” To me, this means that in the age where data and technology are seen as commodities, people are the key when it comes to business relationships.

    As far as the technology itself, we saw some very cool applications, including footfall measurement for Formula 1, listening tools to understand advertising cut-through (Lewer’s Research & Coles), in the moment observations for Sky Network viewers (YES presentation) and speed dating your advertising/product ideas with Unilever’s “Idea Swipe.”
  2. Artificial intelligence: Of course, no review of a current consumer insights conference can go without a reference to AI. I’m still not sure how much is artificial intelligence vs. clever computer programing, but maybe it doesn’t matter. While AI holds promise, I think we need more practical examples, rather than theoretical applications.
  3. Custom solutions: It’s clear that the magical data insights unicorn does not yet exist. Yes, there are many out-of-the-box solutions, such as text analytics, analysis and visualization tools, Zappi, and others. However, major technology implementations and game changers are largely customized or at least largely adjusted to the specific needs of each business. This means these solutions need dedicated stakeholders, a commitment to try (and fail), dedicated budget, and the ever-elusive factor: the extra time to implement.
  4. Immersion and ethnography: As mentioned above, despite all the technological advances, the human factor is still at large in our quest to understand people and their behavior. It was great to see several case studies presented during the conference that covered situations where immersion and ethnography projects have played a crucial role. Just some of these projects included a quest to understand the history of Corona, the transformation of Gordon’s gin, identify future growth areas for Tata, or drive music festival research by Viacom. These reminded me of a project we did many years ago, where the marketing and brand team of a major soft drink manufacturer spent a whole day observing a group of young people – they talked about this project for years to come. There’s something about this approach that resonates with the human in all of us.
  5. Emotions: You’ve probably started to notice a theme here that surrounds the human element of research. It’s something that interests me, and emotions are about as human as it gets. Several papers presented covered the measurement and impact of emotions, including how they are interlinked (Unilever, Ipsos study) and what different emojis really mean (SKIM YES presentation). Emotions have long been known to drive consumer behavior, and understanding the complexities and intensity of emotion is vital for brands in today’s marketplace.
  6. GDPR: A big thank you to Alberto Fernandez of Lewers Research for introducing his award-winning research for Coles with the words “this is a fully GDPR compliant technology.”  Privacy regulations are front of mind for most projects, to the point that research images and videos now need to be greyed out if there is no specific consent. Project owners and technology providers need to be very clear in understanding what they can and can’t capture.
  7. Do good - feel good: Using research to do good isn’t just a trend but a philosophy. Nebu and EcoMatcher are leading the way with their ‘plant a tree’ initiative. And so do WIRe (Women in Research) with their scholarships, Best Places to Work awards, and fostering an understanding of diversity in our industry. What are you doing next to ‘do good – feel good’?  

All in all, I felt that there were important discussions around themes that are affecting our industry from the ground up. ESOMAR Congress is a must-attend event for consumer insights professionals who want to understand market research trends from a global perspective. If you want to chat about some changes you can make in the way you are approaching your market research projects, or dive deeper into some of these themes, please reach out

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