TMRE and the Insights of the Round Table

John Bird gives a summary on his TMRE 2022, where he highlights how insights teams now have a seat at the decision-making table. Plus, how market research technology needs to supports us, not replaces us.

If you’ve been around the insights world for as long as I have, I can understand how you might view our industry in a similar vein to that of the mythical King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I also admit that, while I can understand how you might, it’s probable you’ve never thought about our industry in that exact way. So, let me explain as part of my wrap up of what was the largest market research and insights conference of the year.

The insight role is at the table

Legend has it that (or as the story goes…) King Arthur and his Knights were sitting around a table when they saw what appeared to be a golden chalice on their table, which someone posited as being a Holy Grail. It’s unbeknownst how that chalice made its way onto that table or if it was indeed Holy. Whether the vision was herb-induced or even a precursor to the modern Zoom meeting, we’ll never know. But what we do know is that the Holy Grail has significance to our industry, which we call insights. The Round Table in real life also has a connection too, and that’s the metaphorical decision-making table within an organization.

It's this invitation and seat at the table (as round or square as it may be) that was one of the key themes that I took away from the conference. Here’s what was said on this topic:

  • Stan Sthanunathan, a legend in his own right, received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his incredible career, which has spanned Unilever, Coca-Cola, and more. Stan discussed the need for insights functions to focus on outcomes. Connecting the what and why - bringing together multiple sources of data and add in “so what” and “now what”. Creating “oh shit” moments.

    Stan went on to mention that if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu. Scary thought, but if we’re going to have any meaningful impact on the organizations we work in, we need to move from being risk mitigation to insights to growth stimulators.
  • Several insights from the spend and trend report were also shared throughout the conference that related to our seat at the table.

    >  82% of those in the industry feel we’re going in right direction.

    >  62% of those in the industry feel we have increased our influence. Overall, insights budgets are flat but they are on a slight increase.

    >  2023 budgets are expected to increase less than 10%.

    The challenge here for us as insights professionals is to be smarter in how we generate our insights and smarter in how we share those insights with other decision makers in our organizations. This may mean changes in how we do things. It may also require us to adopt tools or technology to help in our pursuit.

  • Dr Poppy Crum, Visionary Futurist, discussed how personal data will change the way we experience the world. Life is already very different from how our parents experienced when they were our age. They taught us not to talk to strangers and never get in a stranger's car. Now we summon a stranger from our phone, and we get into their car (Uber, Lyft, etc.).

    Data will indeed drive the world, and it already is. As market research and insights professionals, we’ve been doing this for around 100 years now. In one sense, we’re in the best place to be guiding businesses because we’ve had such experience doing so – especially in relation to understanding consumers. So, here’s to being at the table.

Technology: Supporting not replacing us

If insights are the Holy Grail in this metaphor, then technology is simply the tools and smarts that help us to find that sought after chalice. Too often, whether vendors or commentators, they view software platforms as the Grail itself. And this is utterly flawed.

Imagine if King Arthur and his Knights were so consumed by and distracted with their ‘tools and gadgets’ that forgot about their quest altogether?! This is the reality facing organizations today, being so focused on the tools and technology over the most important things - in doing so producing insights that are more plastic cup than they are golden chalice.

Here's what I picked up at TMRE on the topic of technology:

  • If you ever want a role model for how one should view technology adoption in an organization, look no further than what Stephan Gans and the team at PepsiCo have done. Pepsi have taken a somewhat obvious, yet rarely held view to leverage technology in order that their ~1,000 insights people are the best in the industry.

    This is a long way from the efficiency story you often hear with modernization projects. Drive local insights to give “Global light for the local fight” and transform the insights profession.

    If we think about technology like Gans and PepsiCo do, we’ll be far more open to it transforming the value we offer. It will also help us to be our ‘best self’ too. That in itself sure does sound like a Holy Grail of sorts, don’t you think?

  • Linda Lomelino and Hark Hardy at Walmart Data Ventures continue to provide suppliers of all sizes with valuable insights to grow their business at Walmart with the intent to delight their customers.

    Successful technology adoption can be rightly seen as the tide, where, as it rises, all boats rise with it. But it isn't an end in and of itself. Technology has enabled insights teams at Walmart, Coca-Cola, Samsung, and Spotify to drill down and truly understand the consumer. However, this is a fine line.

    here's an expectation in the software world that technology companies should be aiming for 10X MoM growth. What I think should be the focus, which was also the sentiment at TMRE, is how technology can provide 10X growth to its users - that idea of support. This brings us back to when technology is successfully used to support us, and not replace us, then we too can all rise.

I had a lot of fun writing this, and even more so at TMRE this year. In thinking how to best sum this up, what I can say is this: Insights are the Holy Grail for us because they are what help us to truly understand consumers. Whatever it is we need to help us attain these insights should be adopted by any means, but they shouldn’t be our focus. They also shouldn’t require too much effort to either implement or operate.

Intelligent use of modern market research technology and software can help insights teams discover their Holy Grails, and, as Gans put it, “be the best in the industry”. You can see I’m quite passionate about this. So, if you’d like to have a discussion, whether that’s at a round table or desk, please reach out. I’m always up for a quest.

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