MRS Conference 2015 Report Day 1

30 Mar 2015 | ICG News & Announcements

Jane Frost kicked off the day emphasising the importance of trust, the Code of Conduct and protection of people’s privacy with a few examples of the Society’s achievements in the year.  She then introduced the inspirational Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever.  

He sketched out the issues facing the world as he sees it over the next few generations and Unilever’s responsibilities as global citizens. This includes issues such as population growth, global warming, waste, wealth inequality and other key social issues.

His challenge to all was:

“When you are done with your work what are you going to tell your children and grandchildren about the contribution that you made?” and to ask yourself “Are you here for yourself or are you here to make a difference?”

He mentioned that Unilever was incorporating measures of return on social as well as financial capital, stressing the importance of Unilever’s attitude to its responsibilities to the planet and society.

Exciting times, although it was not clear how such long term goals could be reconciled with the short term demands of the investment communities. 


Predicting Success in an Unpredictable World’, detailed the approach that was used for Innocent Drinks.  After the introduction by Ray Poynter, followed by Sam Gomez from Flamingo, Kristen Hickey (from ruby cha cha), Olivia Taylor (from Innocent Drinks) and finally Philip Graves (The Shift Consultancy).

Sam Gomez told us that with the world going through unpredictable change and disruption is the new norm.  The implicit assumption was that we can no longer rely on the past as a predictor of the future and of the widening gap between what people say and what they do.

They had applied the disciplines from VUCA (Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) which has been developed by the military and now applied to strategy.  Apparently the particular meaning and relevance of VUCA relates to the procedures under which people make decisions, plan ahead, manage risks, foster change and solve problems in volatile times. 

However there was no indication as to how VUCA changed or informed their approach.

Philip Graves explored new product potential for Innocent by avoiding direct questions concerning their future behaviour.  “People are hopeless at predicting their future” he said “The solution is to focus on a really clear understanding as to what they currently do and how they think, when in the category”.

Olivia was pleased to announce that the test launch had been successful and it was now being extended national.


Beyond insight delivery: Making it stick and spread.

This session was a refreshing change from the previous where the main focus was in creating fantastic ideas as opposed to research led solutions through insight.   In Unilever they made a conscious decision to move away from Insights and get off the ‘insight treadmill’.  Or in other words it is great ideas that make the difference rather than better insights.  Obvious but not always appreciated.

Developing the idea generation procedures within Unilever were guided by Chris Barez- Brown  (Up Your Elvis).  Chris outlined his approach whereby people’s emotional values are incorporated in idea development and selection.

Christina Habib from Unilever outlined the immediate impact on the company, having both an effect on performance and morale “I fell back in love with Unilever and back in love with my job”.   In addition the effect on profitability was immediate, with one initiative delivering 25m euros in the first year.


Story Telling

The session then moved onto story telling from Caroline Bates and Mark Hirst from Chime. 

Story Telling creates images in the mind, they are part of everyday life and have ancient origins.  Using stories to communicate new ideas is powerful.

Mark then went onto outline the key components of a story, stating the four must haves:

  •                 A lead character
  •                 Conflict
  •                 Ambition
  •                 Resolution

This was further enhanced with tips from Hemingway.

Finally there was a case study from Hilary Ingleton (EE) and Rune Mortensen of Basis.   The research covered a segmentation study and how this was then delivered back into the company.

Mapped their ambitions relating to peoples digital lives

Help Identify the key segments

Better target communications to these segments

Most recent segmentation was 2008, and smart phones were new so there was a need to update their knowledge.

The point of difference between this segmentations and any other was the thoroughness with which EE had gone to ensure that it was all communicated and subsequently used by management.   For example the EE customer database was analysed by the 8 clusters and this allowed them to relate the groups to actual behaviour of customers.


Poll Of Pollsters; The Great Election Debate

Chaired by Deborah Mattinson with Panellists Mike Smithson. Andrew Cooper and James Morris.

The discussion emphasised that this election will be the most difficult for the polls to read mainly caused by the emergence of sizeable minority groups, UKIP, SNP, Greens along with the existing parties. 

At this stage the consensus was that the SNP will possibly control the balance of power taking a large proportion of the Scottish Labour party vote.  The demise of the Scottish Labour Party was considered irreversible.  This could result in the combined SNP and Labour share producing the most seats.  It was also considered likely that no single party would have an overall majority 

It is probable that the LibDems will lose seats and Sheffield Hallam will be a key indicator of success or failure.  

In conclusion all three experts admitted that they did not really know what the results will be, there are too many unknowns making predictions unreliable.


Session Data In, Insight Out, Keeping the Promise of Technology

This session had three topics:

  • Analysis of Visual Images
  • Adding rigour to the analysis of Social Media- Social Media Analytics
  • Virtual Reality in MR


Analysis of Visual Images

Bob Cock (Firefish) and Dr Cathal Gurrin (Dublin City University) had conducted a study where they analysed images for an ethnography project.  They had collected data via cameras and as can be imagined the number of images was huge with no obvious means of classifying each.  The study was conducted both manually (called James) or a computer system, dubbed Robot Man and using Artificial Intelligence to classify the images.  

James, unsurprisingly was considerably slower than Robot Man, who took a matter of seconds but James was much better at extracting meaning/ interpretation.  The task was complex and required identifying all the important elements of the images:

  •                 To recognise brands
  •                 To recognise scenarios- such as husband and wives or dinner parties
  •                 Identify objects ie mobile phone, camera etc

The ability to automatically code visual images is critical to any ethnographic survey, but the complexity of these tasks will require considerable ingenuity to provide meaning.


Social Media Analytics

The metrics used to evaluate social media campaigns are blunt and do not necessarily assess or predict ‘success’.  In contrast  many of the traditional media measurement methods are accepted. What is missing is data that allows users to have comparable authoritative metrics that traditional media (eg TV and press) possess.  Only then will the medium gain more trust from users.

What perhaps should have been added is that if the value is better measured it will have a marked impact on revenue potential.

In addition to having comparable data there is also value in demographics (age, social class, gender etc) and behaviour (frequency of use, product category etc).

Allied to these metrics is basic information, such as the characteristics of a Tweet that is read as opposed to not, or an assessment of something that is re-tweeted.


Virtual Reality

Jason Brooks has had some useful experiences in its applications.  

The applications are widespread and cover:

  •                 Product prototypes, new cars, new restaurants
  •                 Geography, you can take them through to any location or place

Better understand body language, how the body reacts to certain environments and stimuli.

Point (iii) would be provided through the placing of people into specific situations but at the same time measuring accurately how their bodies respond

The qualitative output is very rich since you can capture people’s views as if they are experiencing as if it was real.


Brendan Dawes – Artist and Designer

Brendan Dawes is an artist and designer.  Describing the speech without the pictures is not practical.   To view another speech of his visit where there is a Ted talk “Data by itself is not enough, data needs poetry”