What I heard at IIEX 2016

The Decision Architects team recently attended IIEX Conference (Insight Innovation Exchange) in Amsterdam.

As a company, we need to continuously strive to develop our offerings and provide innovative products and solutions that will allow us to flourish in an environment that’s becoming ever more challenging. IIEX presented the perfect opportunity to explore innovations in our field and hear from industry leaders on both the client and agency side. In my latest blog post, I want to let the event speak for itself and share some of the thoughts and comments from delegates that really struck an accord with me.

“The only way to win is to double your failure rate” Vijay Raj, Unilever

Vijay Raj opened this year’s conference and spoke about the Unilever “Shark Tank”. A programme to engage with research start-ups that last year partnered with 600 companies, piloting with 150 of them. According to Vijay “pilots are like oxygen to ideas” and that trying and failing is part of the process when trying to innovate. Interestingly, Vijay wasn’t the only speaker that week who discussed “failure”. Maikke van der Horne (KLM) discussed the impacts of the Icelandic ash cloud in 2010 on KLM’s business. According to her, the disruptions and failings highlighted from that situation lead to KLM’s social media programme and the need to become more “agile”.

“We think much less than we think, we think”. John Kearon, BrainJuicer

John Kearnon was the first (of many) speakers to discuss Donald Trump. The frequency at which “the Donald” was mentioned at IIEX actually validates much of John’s thinking. According to him, any emotion is better than none and distinctiveness “trumps” differentiation. His talk was entitled “Fame, Feeling and Fluency”; a model for successful marketing and predictor of human behaviour which he believes explains Donald Trump’s success. For all our sakes, I hope we think more than he thinks, we think!

“It’s time to get over our obsession with precision”. Jake Steadman, Twitter

Jake’s talk was perhaps the one I looked forward to most before IIEX. As someone who’s trialled social media listening in a number of different ways, I was interested to know what Twitter themselves felt “the opportunity in 140 characters” was for market insight and intelligence.

As a Star Wars fan, I loved the comparison between past Star Wars movie launches as an illustration of how far we’ve come in terms of how we engage with opinion leaders and consumers of products, media and services so differently nowadays. In 1977, George Lucas took Star Wars to Comic-Con to promote his film and to hear from his eager audience. In 2015, Star Wars launched its trailers via Twitter to connect with that same audience. Tweets drove the narrative in the press and Star Wars had the most tweeted (1.2 billion tweets) film opening weekend ever. However, it wasn’t this example of the scale of twitter that I found most compelling. I think we all know “the force” of social media by now and if you don’t you should “awaken” to that opportunity (forgive the Star Wars fan!)

Jake talked about how as researchers we need to look to get over our obsession with precision and how live twitter data can give directional insight. I’ve personally enjoyed my foray into social media listening and have found it a great tool for understanding the “what” or the “who” behind trends, but it’s undoubtedly “messy”. Data is unstructured and in my experience works best when anchored to an occasion (such as a film opening) to make sense of it.

When we talk about innovation in research, I often find the discussion can focus too much on the perfect research experiment with theoretically perfect structure and actually delivering true insight needs to be agiler than this.  I’ve been told before that “80% of human communication is non-verbal” and, of course, I know traditional surveys are predominantly text based, but I hadn’t truly challenged why until recently. It was, for this reason, I looked forward to hearing from Protobrand at IIEX.

“80% of human communication is non-verbal…why then is the traditional survey so text based?” Anders Bengtsson, Protobrand

As researchers’ we seek to understand behaviour and meaning. The adage goes a picture tells a thousand words, so in associating images with brands or products how much does that tell us about a person? We can capture deeper thoughts and feelings through visual association. I don’t think this is “new thinking”. I also don’t think it’s new to hear that “40-minute surveys are unreliable…they cause respondent fatigue…the data becomes less reliable” and yet we still see surveys of this length all the time. Why is this? To steal John Kearon’s line, “we think much less than we think, we think”?

Now, there’s usually a reason for fielding a 40-minute survey – we need that much time to get that much data. However as researchers’ I think we need to look at ways of breaking this down into more manageable blocks for respondents, to keep them engaged and the quality of their responses high. This is why Protobrand stood out to me as one of the best new tools at this year’s conference.

“A game is a decision to keep playing”. Pete Cape, SSI

Gamification, would it be a market research industry conference without someone talking about it? So why therefore am I writing about it now you may ask? Well, this was one of the more practical applications of gamification I’ve seen presented. There weren’t elaborate animations crawling around the computer screen, you weren’t answering questions while duelling with dragons. It was a much simpler message, which was that a “games don’t have to be fun” but “a game is a decision to keep playing”. As I mentioned above when talking about Protobrand, we need to become better at getting respondents to keep playing. To keep them engaged throughout the entirety of the research.

“In the car industry there are composers for the sound of closing a card door”. Cato Hunt & Gemma Jones, Space Doctors

Firstly, I’d like you to think about this job for a moment…what strange mesh of experience does one need to interview for that job?  It wasn’t just this wonderful discovery that stood out from the Space Doctor’s presentation, though. They spoke about “Choco-Phonica”, an exploration of chocolate through sound and taste. Their challenge was to use soundscapes and taste experiences to see how it influences our understanding of brands and products. The presentation was part of a great afternoon session focusing on non-conscious impact measurement, which also included Kirsten Hickey’s (Kubi Kalloo) presentation on colour theory. “Humans can see 7 million colours” but what do they mean to people? Can people describe their feelings in colour? Can advertising change that colour? Often, insight innovation can focus on new technology and “the next big thing”. I enjoyed these afternoon sessions perhaps most of all because it spoke to a different type of innovation. Not trying to change the wheel or even completely re-inventing it.

Space Doctor’s describe themselves as “Semioticians” and semiotics is the study of meaning-making, of sign and meaningful communication and what these sessions spoke to was that “everything communicates” – sound, colour, taste all impact our understanding or feeling towards a brand and yet, how frequently do we see these incorporated into research design? “As we sense, we also make sense” and “felt experiences” matter in the ways we perceive people, brands and products.

“The thinking is the innovation. The technology is the enabler”. Matt Lynch, Big Sofa

Throughout this blog, I’ve spoken about new tools, new technologies and new approaches. However, I felt Matt Lynch (Big Sofa) put it best when he said that “thinking is innovation” and “technology is the enabler”. Conferences are an exchange of information and a forum for learning, so what you take from these sorts of events is in your own hands. Some will go away and focus on new technology others new approaches. One of the themes from this year’s conference was certainly automation (and although I’ve not spoken about it in this blog, it doesn’t mean it’s without merit). In the closing remarks from this year’s conference Ray Pointer presented his “Top five things insights professionals should do in 2016” and his number one was to “be an automation winner”. However, I would add to that, don’t automate the thinking.

“Every collaboration helps you grow”. Ian Murray (House 51) & Caroline Bates (Chime Insight)

To finish off this blog I’d like to mention Ian Murray (House 51) and Caroline Bates’s (Chime Insight) presentation about collaboration. Some of you reading this may have found it odd for me to keep mentioning other researchers’ so frequently throughout.  However, I was reminded in this presentation how much of a collaborative experience the research process is. We partner with specialists, local agencies, translators, freelancers and even other (competitor) agencies all the time and we learn from that process.

I see this as an exciting time in research. Potential partnership opportunities with data owners, aggregators, software suppliers and wearable technology developers are starting to present themselves and with it access to “big data” sources and a deeper understanding of consumers. At the same time, our understanding of explicit and implicit research questioning is improving and evolving and the combination of these two areas will bring us closer to answering our clients’ business questions.

As you might expect from a conference such as this, there was a lot of predictions for the future. So, I think it’s right to end this blog with one of my own. The agencies that “win” at research in the future will not be those who develop the most sophisticated research tools or pieces of software. It’ll be those who learn to marry those tools with improved implicit and explicit measurement.

As Kristen Luck (ESOMAR) concluded, there is a “science of data but an art in insight”.