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MRS Conference Review: Online Connections

March 28 2006

Papers on online research generally draw good audiences, and the session on Friday afternoon was no exception. Despite the difficulty of finding the theatre and the sessions being held in complete darkness, a capacity audience attended, according to our reporter Phyllis Vangelder.

There has been a good deal of work on automatic voice recognition methods in market research. The program presented by Craig Kolb, Ask Afrika and Dr Peter Millican, Oxford University, in their paper 'Connecting with Elizabeth: using artificial intelligence as a data collection aid' goes further in being able to deal with probes and open-ended questions. This simple form of artificial intelligence, commonly referred to as 'chatbot' technology, has several advantages: for example, its inability to wander off topic is, in the interview situation, a useful characteristic.

Four criteria are proposed specifically for chatbot-based interviewing: relevance of interviewer questions; avoidance of suggestion; relevance of respondent answers and maximisation of the volume of information elicited. Elizabeth performed well against these criteria, significantly outperforming self-completion methods. Further information about the approach can be found at www.eliz.millican.org

'Demystifying blogs; embracing objective conversations' presented by James Mundell, Ipsos MORI and Will Corry, the Marketing Blog, positioned blogs as a powerful tool in the marketing mix. There are evidently 80,000 new blogs on the Web every day and it is predicted that there will be 26 million by the end of 2006. As a consumer-generated form of communication, it reverses the power of customers and advertisers. The paper looked at the types and forms of blogs and how organisations can used them to competitive advantage.

The paper presented by Luke Allen, Nunwood and Corrine Green, Nokia, 'Connecting insight with the organisation: knowledge management online' described the implementation of Nokia's MACK (Market and Consumer Knowledge), which was designed to manage and disseminate information throughout the global organisation, by means of an online document management system. This was a dense, technical paper, but very useful as a case history of information management in a large organisation. The approach sits well with the internal culture of openness within Nokia. Collaborative working zones within an organisation provide greater return on investment, financially and socially, both in geographically diverse organisations or simply across the same office.

Innocent Drinks

The Conference ended on a high with an entertaining address by Richard Reed, the young co-founder of Innocent Drinks.

He charted the success of the company since its formation in 1999. It is now the number one smoothie brand in the UK and Reed talked honestly about the journey to that position and the values to which he and his co-founders adhere. While doing little formal research, they are committed to the concept of consumer input, adherence to quality standards and sustainable goods. They see no paradox in the concept of fmsg (fast-moving sustainable goods).

Reed described his first foray using customer choice - dustbins for collecting empty bottles at a music festival marked 'yes' and 'no' to the question 'Should we give up our jobs to make smoothies?' - a convenience sample which pointed the way to Innocent's success.

Perhaps a fitting note on which to end our Conference coverage. Should we give up our jobs to go to Conferences? Well, perhaps once or twice a year, tops. At least, if they're held in London, but then next year the MRS is returning to Brighton.

Our thanks to Phyllis for covering this one for us in such style!

All articles 2006-20 written and edited by Mel Crowther and/or Nick Thomas unless otherwise stated.

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