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“Connecting the Dots” – Observations from Market Research Summit 2017

“Connecting the Dots” – Observations from Market Research Summit 2017

Last week I attended the 2017 Insight-Intelligence's Market Research Summit in London (Agenda here) - a first for me, so I was curious.

The day’s theme was familiar but eminently topical: Connecting the Dots – addressing the challenge of making sense of the masses of disparate data streams.

It was a sold out event, apparently - well over 200 people attended, with about 20 – 25% client side. Impressive for an event with a single country (UK) focus.   

Happy Thinking People – my company – were presenting a case with Zalando, Europe’s leading online fashion retailer, showcasing how contemporary qual helped a big data company enhanced consumer understanding, leading to a different approach to their brand. Do get in touch if you’re interested in learning more.

So – what stuck with me?

Giving a “full report” isn’t possible – the idea of having parallel sessions is a good one, a reminder perhaps of real-life analytical situations, but it does give the attendee partial vision.

In no order, here are three things that stuck with me:

  • Client side Passion is key to the Voice of MR being Heard more Broadly. 

Rhea Fox, Head of Insights at eBay Inc., delivered a convincing and passionate riff on the value of in-sourcing insights as opposed to outsourcing MR to a major consultancy – PwC was on stage as her counterpart.

She listed numerous forceful arguments – including lower project cost, higher speed of turnaround, being more in-tune with a company’s unspoken knowledge networks (passive/historical). Beyond that, her passion came through – sometimes bordering on exasperation it seemed.

Her adversary, PwC’s Duncan Wardley, contrasted with a conciliatory, laid-back, friendly approach – with more overarching arguments including the power of tapping into a larger consultative organisation with multiple tentacles.  

It left me feeling uneasy, with a sense of disconnect: if Rhea’s arguments seemed logical and cogent, why aren’t we seeing more client side CI departments growing either in headcount or budget terms?

In the absence of an answer to that question, a call to action: we need our voices, traditional MR suppliers  plus passionate client side folk, heard more broadly.

All suggestions, contributions gratefully received ;)

  • “Brilliant Marketing People don’t need Consumer Insights”…..but who’s truly brilliant??

Jo Fairley, co-founder of organic chocolate brand Green and Black’s related the brand’s success story in magnificent detail, without notes.

It was a masterclass in storytelling – how she and her partner spotted an opportunity in the marketplace, utilising her journalistic skills to leverage PR contacts, grab their imagination, and seeing how the story took off by “early adopters” – in this case Ministers of the Methodist Church (!). She related – unforgettably – how one minister had telephoned a supermarket buyer to lobby for it to be stocked. Audience agog.

Just one hitch – she did zero market research. The audience – 100% researchers - didn’t seem to mind.

Worrying – the message being that if you’re brilliant/savvy enough, you can succeed with zero insights. Hmmm…

There are masses of “start-up” companies that think they’re brilliant marketers, entrepreneurs, they “know” their market – but very many of them continue to fail.

The lack of professional, front-end consumer-insight/customer insight is one of the key reasons for the lack of success.

Without wishing to sound exasperated - the more stories we share about Insights being the key to outstanding business success, the better for all of us. Success has many fathers – room for the words “Consumer Insights” to be slipped in there, surely!

  • Insights have to be about “Aha” Moments – not just “new, improved”

One of the key challenges MR is currently facing is how to extract (more) value out of increasingly abundant data streams – faster, more authentically, and with likely lower resources at our disposal….. Quite.

There were various responses showcased – including accessing “System 1” type responses. EEG was highlighted by Nielsen’s Neuroscience Practice as a powerful predictor of true life TV ad performance (a Coke TV Ad); a System 1 speed-approach to Conjoint was similarly praised by another presenter.

Transport Focus’ Ian Wright took a more traditional multi-variate approach, showing how passenger perceptions of train lateness correlated to actual lateness, with each “late minute” leading to a -5% drop in Customer Satisfaction.

All of the above is valuable, no doubt.

But do they lead to “ground-breaking insights”? The EEG example highlighted how a scene was liked where people where shown drinking Coke. Duh.

It’s worth re-calling the revamped mission statement of Unilever’s CMI department: “to inspire and provoke to enable transformational action” (

An insight isn’t worth its name if it doesn’t hit on those points; incremental insights may be still sellable now, but they likely have a sell-by stamp firmly on them. Disruption beckons.


To cut and summarise: I came away feeling that despite all the uncertainty and Angst that the world of Machine Learning and AI bring to our and many other industries, we are actually doing OK/fine, presenting business cases that cut to the chase, addressing the ROI questions, staying grounded, neither overpromising, nor abandoning “common sense” as Walnut Unlimited’s Cristina de Balanzo put it.

That’s it for now.

If you’ve not been to this Conference, I can certainly recommend it – it left me feeling energised for our industry, optimistic even. The MR glass seems more than half full.

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.

Edward Appleton Edward Appleton Director Global Marketing Happy Thinking People Bio

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