MRS Insight Conference - Report

Tuesday 24th April 2018

The ICG's roving reporters review the highs and lows of the MRS Imapct Conference 2018.

MRS Day 2:  Anumita Sharma of the third eye

A day  of meeting people who are really good at what they do and ethical about it.  The sessions  I attended in the morning, showcased the impact of market research on improving lives immeasurably.  Thank you MRS for showcasing the impact of market research so well.

Stan Stanunathan of Unilever spoke about Augmented intelligence and not AI ( Artificial Intelligence) as they way forward. He said that Unilever believed in the future of research was in creating double the impact at half the cost in half the time.  In a personal conversation with Stan, he said more and more of their research is now online with a strong base of ethnography.  UL marketers are now conducting their own consumer closeness regularly.

Jayne Ann Gadia of Virgin Money set the tone of the day with her ethical stance to her work, her commitment to her company and her strength and good humour in dealing with the lack of diversity in the world of finance.  She mentioned that diverse organisations had a higher ROE ( Return on Equity) of 11% vs Male, white organisations which had a ROE of 9%.  Jayne Ann talked about the importance of removing gender pay inequality, improving racial diversity and doing away with ageism to get better ROE.  She believes in instinct first driven by analysis, which I believe is the best use of research. A voice of reason and ethical business in a world of lack of trust. Can she please negotiate with the EU over Brexit? Please…….

The first morning session Breaking boundaries, overcoming taboos & driving meaningful change really showcased the impact deep research can have on real lives and making change happen. All 3 papers were very powerful in showing us how research can help address difficult cultural issues faced by us today.

Applying insight to build behavioural resilience online: deterring viewing of indecent images of children  by Julia Redpath and Miriam Wright combined online bulleting boards and then traditional face to face research to explore the issues and develop solutions to this very difficult online issue.

Age Neutrality : The new brand imperative by Josh Dickens and Georgina Lee identified the very critical issue of ageism in marketing and advertising. They identified the design principles for age neutrality as : Clear & intuitive, safe & secure, delightful, accessible, time-effective, empowering, flexibility, right effort & sustainable.

No matter what? Qualitative research into the drivers of perception of racial discrimination by Dr. Marie-Claude Gervais  used  ‘ambiguous scenarios’ as a projective technique to understand perceptions of racial discrimination. Self concept based on personal or social identity was seen to be a strong indication of perception of racial discrimination.

The second morning session Fuelling creative communications  focused on the age old battle between creatives and researchers  on whether insight kills creativity versus Insights generating creative insights. I for one have always believed in working with creatives with insights which help them deliver killer creative strategies. Human truths, low key research combating fake news leading to post truth are the new basis for creativity.

How to tell unique stories that inspire  was a BT case study by Nathalie Gill, Matthew Warren-Bostrom and David Murray.  The case study talked about humble truths, emotional connections and human relationships which they unveiled via ethnographic research to deliver a communication strategy with less drama and more human truth.

Halfords: life’s journey by Alison Bainbridge, Zoe Nicolay and Benjamin Zoll  changed the company's focus from products to customer needs via a ethnographic research to inspire creative. The research tools used were digital homework  plus traditional observation and interviewing.

These two case studies displayed the best use of digital + traditional research to deliver deep and insightful research. Even more important to the creatives was the delivery of the report as user experience piece. The delivery of a story not a debrief. The delivery of a book / video full of stimulus as a debrief.

The day ended with Ian Hislop’s very entertaining session.  Both Ian and Jayne Ann spoke about the need for the market research industry to rework its image in the wake of it being wobbled by inaccurate polling data.

Thank you the ICG and MRS for a great day.

Day 2:  Karen Cooper, Living Brands

I was lucky enough to bag a press ticket to this year’s MRS conference on behalf of the ICG.  In exchange for the first day pass, I was to tweet on behalf of the ICG, help out at the stand in breaks and write up my thoughts on the day.  I carried out the first two diligently, but stumbled as I started the write up.  In a nutshell I lost my (no doubt fabulous) scribbles about each session in my recent office move.  After hunting high and low I’ve accepted the loss (the notepad contained important client notes too, arghh), and gratefully turned to my #mrslive tweets to jog my memory.

MRS promised ‘a full day of concentrated intelligence’ and I can confirm that this was indeed how I felt at the end – inspired, invigorated and exhausted.  The quality of the speakers and discussions I had were thought-provoking and made me glad of my profession.

We started with a short but punchy welcome from Stan Sthanunathan, EVP consumer and market insights Unilver, who urged researchers to spend more time thinking about impact rather than the data itself – reframing AI as ‘Augmented Intelligence’ rather than ‘Artificial’.

Next up we were treated to the first keynote speaker -  Jayne-Anne Gadhia, CEO Virgin money, who imparted lots of business and diversity-related stories, including one about a high powered, male-dominated Mansion House gathering, where she took delight in getting back at a dismissive colleague, when she found herself sat next to Chancellor, George Osborne.  She also boldly asserted that the success of Virgin was down to the pervasive culture and clear, genuine purpose to make life better for consumers.

The following session promised to tell us ‘how to deliver unexpected commercial innovation’.  Amazon came up several times as the most trusted, pervasive C21st brand to watch and learn.  It’s clear Amazon has managed to use customer data extensively for their own benefit without damaging perceptions of the brand.  We learnt how Baileys used behavioural-based research to break it out of very deep and focused ‘occasion anchors that were trapping us’ (aka Christmas).  ‘Escapology’ was the fancy name given to all the new drinking and eating occasions unearthed in this far-reaching and deep research, evidently including a mid-morning conference tipple (we were all handed mini bottles with straws as we left the session).

I chose the ‘how technology is driving trust’ session next, where we were treated to an early show of the Delphi Group report, which showed the huge rise in personal data security fears (and that was before Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal!).  Ton Tolido, executive VP Capgemini, put a positive spin on GDPR (incidentally, ironically perhaps, predictive text of GDPR = hope).  He said GDPR should be viewed as an enabler, a way of being transparent with your customers, rather than a passion killer.  And Jo Osborne introduced us to her innovation SkinNinja - an app that tells you what’s hiding in your skincare, cosmetics or home products by decoding ingredients into everyday language. A lovely example of problem-solving tech.

Lunch was good, but cut short as I chose to attend the lunch session ‘Visions of the Future’ –  young researchers on the shape of insight to come. All were interesting, and good….scarily good!  Shout out to Amy Watson, research manager ABA research, who gave an inspired description of future-proofed quallies.

Keynote speak number two was Julia Hobsbawn, who eloquently talked about our bad social health.  I obviously took heed and refrained from tweeting during this session, but I remember being struck by her seemingly obvious but powerful insights and suggestions about improving our relationship with social media, phones and all things tech (including Friday night chicken on linen tablecloth!)

I chose the evolution of social media insight as my afternoon session as I’ve used social media listening as a source of insight for many years, and was glad the title implied it’s become more mainstream.  Ikea have certainly adopted social media listening big time with their robot called EVA which displays impressive real time insights in a myriad of digestible ways.  Interestingly, Channel 4 did the opposite -  rather than social listening, it recreated the facebook environment, inserted their content, recruited people to look at it and asked them questions about it. How very traditional!

End of day keynote speaker was the editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop who shared funny anecdotes and views on all manner of topical things including Piers Morgan, Trump, paying for print and (still) pollsters getting it wrong.  We obviously have a job to do to restore trust in research.

Apologies for the lack of depth and inevitable gaps, but hope this gives you a flavour of conference.

Next time (if there is one), I could turn this into a social media listening exercise and report on the entire conference twittersphere for a more rounded view.

Or I could of course just hang on to my notes.