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MRS Conference: Glasses Half Full and Half Empty

March 25 2009
Given a choice of good venues for their Tuesday evening eating and drinking, delegates could be forgiven for missing the start the next morning (we did). Could the mid-morning panel session on ‘Opportunities and Threats’ for MR wake them up with its promise of being ‘live, revealing and controversial’?

DRNO’s News Editor Mel Crowther writes:

Reports of last night’s after-show shindig, held at London’s river-view Skylon bar, were glowing. However, while some were partying and enjoying the official venue’s fabulous panorama, others attended The Research Liberation Front’s (RLF) ‘on board’ debate on the possible breach of respondents’ human rights, and whether opinion polls should be covered by MR’s ethical rules.

Mid-morning of day two commenced with a panel discussion examining some of the opportunities and threats facing the market research industry. Chaired by Richard Gilmore of Cello, the panel comprised Brian Gosschalk of Ipsos MORI; Beth Corte-Real from Coca-Cola UK; RLF co-founder John Griffiths, Above & Beyond; Andrew Needham of Face; Tom Crawford of Nokia; and finally Paul Edwards of Research International.

Unsurprisingly, technology was the focus of most answers under both headings – threats and opportunities. Whether you see it more as one or the other depends on your outlook, and perhaps on your familiarity with it. All panel members agreed that agencies need to find a way for clients to get closer to their consumers, and encouraged researchers to embrace digital technology as a means to kick-start this. The question of how to build new technology into the client’s ‘base plan’ arose as a major theme in the discussion.

Harnessing the insight to be gleaned from social media was described by the panel as one of the industry’s biggest opportunities. By implementing the tools which facilitate an understanding of this medium, the industry can provide clients with insight based on a real understanding of consumer data, according to Needham.

He suggested that Web 2.0 is informing researchers on why and how things need to change in the real world, and pointed out the challenge of integrating the online and offline worlds.

Younger researchers appreciate how to get the best out of these tools, suggested Corte-Real, which places agencies with junior researchers on the team in a great position to respond to the current research climate.

Corte-Real also described the need to ensure that language researchers use when talking to consumers who engage with social media, reflects consumers’ own terminology.

However, while technology is likely to drive a lot of new techniques, Gosschalk warned that it is important for researchers not to lose sight of the scientific roots of their profession.

With regard to the current recession, Griffiths pointed out that as some clients are currently under huge budgetary pressures, this has in some instances created a dangerous DIY culture, where non-researchers are conducting their own research. He defined these individuals as ‘scavengers’ feeding off the backs of ‘hunter gatherers’ (that’s us).

It was also suggested that social media strategy and planning agencies could seize business from former MR agency clients if the industry doesn’t adopt this technology. ‘As an industry, we have to bring rigour to that world,’ said Needham.

Finally, the panel cautioned that in times of recession it is tempting to revert to simply using tried and tested traditional methodologies, but – as Corte-Real suggested – what clients actually look for are agency partners with vision.

A good overview? Well maybe, but is Web 2.0 the only thing of consequence that’s happening to technology and society at the moment? You’d think so to listen to a lot of speakers at this and other research conferences, and you might never realise that a vast, wealthy, dynamic and in many cases tech-savvy segment of the population has little or no interest in Facebook, Twitter or reading or writing blogs. It would be nice to see researchers balancing the commendable enthusiasm they have for what may well be a massive new source and new kind of information, with an understanding that the world does not divide neatly into two groups, those who make constant use of 2.0 and those who have not yet discovered it.

MRS Conference reviews in full:

TV Scientist Kicks off MRS ‘Unconference’ - Sir Robert Winston’s keynote interview
Lies and Statistics - social research; getting the truth from respondents
Nerd-Free Zone? - in-game advertising; consumer engagement, YouTube vs TV
Research in a Recession - winners, losers and strategies
This page: Glasses Half Full and Half Empty - social scene; threats and opportunities to the profession
Virtual Ethnography - multi-sourced consumer feedback from social media and elsewhere
On Human Behaviour - views from an anthropologist, a zoologist and an economist
MR as Storytelling; and Conference Conclusions - how was it for you?