Round Up From Boston: The 2013 ESOMAR Digital 3D Conference In Review

31 Jul 2013|Zoe Dowling

USA VP of R&D and Offer Innovation, Zoë Dowling, takes a look back at ESOMAR’s 2013 3D Digital Dimentions Conference , and reviews the challenges facing marketers in a digital age.

ESOMAR 3D Digital Dimensions stands out from other conferences in the time taken to reflect on where we are and where we should be going, fueled by good quality papers and equally stimulating coffee-break conversations. This year’s event was no different, providing two days of thought-provoking insight into ‘what’s new’ within the market research industry.

Big Data, the current ‘next big thing’ took center stage on the podium as well as in the lobby with ESOMAR’s freely roaming ‘Big Data Shark’ (I don’t believe there were any attacks!). The Big Data papers ran the full spectrum – from the lack of utilization due to the inability of making it actionable (Illya Lichtenstein, MixRank) to case studies demonstrating its application, such as AT&T’s linkage of internal behavioral data to attitudinal data (Donald Hodson, AT&T and Gregory Mishkin, Market Strategies).

The highlight of the Big Data presentations was a fascinating keynote by MIT’s Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland who introduced the notion of ‘social physics’, a combination of Big Data and social interactions. He also touched on the substantial challenges around data privacy and the need for regulation where the individual owns their data and can determine how it is used. (To read about his perspective on Big Data, see ‘A conversation with Alex (Sandy) Pentland’.)

Greg Stuart, Global CEO of the Mobile Marketing Association, kicked off the Mobile Dimension, boldly asserting in his keynote that ‘mobile changes everything’. He went on to outline some clear opportunities for consumer insights in understanding the new paradigm within the purchase process as we shift from a ‘Purchase Funnel’ model to ‘Path to Purchase’. Greg also talked about the new world of data collection where we have: more data, behavioral data, richer data, in the moment data and augmented data, which combines all of the above.

During the mobile panel discussion, Betsy Leichliter made the excellent point that “we don’t write questionnaires and discussion guides, we design experiences”. Despite this, there was only one paper addressing survey research for the small screen. The AOL/Vision Critical paper presented ROR on transitioning to smart phone data collection. The authors concluded (among other things) that choice is important; we should not force smartphone only surveys. Given that as an industry we’ve spent the past few years ‘training’ respondents that accessing a survey on your mobile will very likely result in a poor experience, it perhaps isn’t a surprise that they prefer to use larger screens.

In my view, more discussion on mobile survey design is warranted. We know mobile opens up a new way of reaching people, talking to them where and when they desire. It also means new rules of engagement in how we talk to them. We need to understand how to provide a good experience in terms of design and engagement that yields good quality results. This said, it was heartening to see the introduction of ESOMAR’s Mobile Research Guidelines, a resource which is extremely timely, in particular given the need to adhere to legal and ethical considerations.

Worth a mention, the two papers on MROCS provided first-rate examples of online qualitative research tackling business challenges such as catalogue redesign (Tom de Ruyck, InSites & Frederic Gennart, IKEA) and the unfolding of product transitions (Andrew Sauer, P&G & Steve August, Revelation, who won the Best Presentation award). This is an area where digital research is maturing, while remaining exciting and innovative.

The quandaries and opportunities facing Market Research is an oft discussed topic and this conference was no exception. In the opening keynote, Tony Chapman talked about the shift in marketing budgets from spending money to ‘investing’. He argued that the new reality for brands and marketers is engagement otherwise it just becomes a ‘flight to price, with Amazon as the world’s largest vending machine’ (perhaps the sound bite of the conference). Just as brands need to think about their role in the story, so does the market research industry in presenting insights to clients.

David Krajicek of GfK, addressed the role of consumer insights in the world of Big Data. David proposed, with an apt quote from Nate Silver, that data doesn’t speak for itself; this is the key role for us, as market researchers. GFK’s interactive session, which provided a real energy boost at the end of Day1, offered three questions for the conference hall to ponder: data mix (big vs. attitudinal), insight providers (agencies vs. clients) and decisions (human vs. machine) in the year 2023. The ensuing discussion was interesting and their reminder that innovation is difficult and it is easy to ‘talk, talk, talk’ and difficult to ‘do, do, do’, got it right. We need to take a professional and rigorous approach to innovation within our industry, co-create with clients and follow the innovation process that we would give to them.

In closing, Mike Cooke reflected that the ESOMAR Digital Dimensions conference came into existence as we pondered the challenges surrounding online panels. He suggested that we’ve moved from existential angst about panels to creating a new normal, consisting of multiple lenses and one that is re-asserting the scientific method. In my view, it is to be expected that there will be new tools and avenues that captivate our attention, each arising with varying degrees of excitement and perhaps even hyperbole. Yes, some of these areas will grow fast, and we will need to step-up to understand and adopt them. The more likely scenario will be a gradual evolution that will expand the tools that enable us to do what we do best. And therein lies the future. We, like every other industry, need to evolve and adapt to market changes. And yes, following a rigorous innovation process that is undertaken with clients is definitely part of that mix.

Note: more detailed summaries of the sessions can be found on ESOMAR’s RW Connect by blogger extraordinaire Jeffery Henning among others. The ever insightful Reg Baker has good posts about Day 1 and some Final Thoughts.

Follow  Zoë on Twitter @ZoeDowling


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