CONFERENCE FEATURE: Forward-Looking Statements
Predicting the future was very much the order of the first day of the MRS Conference in London. The Keynote address, the workshops and the papers teemed with it and with new words describing it. Who better to navigate its infinite delta streams than our Features Editor Teresa Lynch?
The role of the opening speaker at any conference is to inspire the attendees and make them glad they made the decision to pay to come. Magnus Lindkvist did not fail in this regard. He had promised the organisers that he wouldn’t repeat any of the content from his much admired talk last year and he was as good as his word. As usual the ideas in his ‘Five Future Skills for Market Researchers’ came thick and fast. Lindkvist thinks that we are all suffering from Infobesity; that we have moved from a society in which information was in short supply and now suffer from an overload. Not only are we overloaded but we are overloaded with the wrong stuff, and might be in danger of suffering from Futurexia (defined as seeing the future in too simplistic a light). He demonstrated human beings’ ability to absorb the wrong stuff by comparing the number of people in the audience who indicated that they knew the value of pi to more than 3 decimal places and the much larger number who knew of any celebrity who had recently been in rehab.
He told us that we can’t predict the future because that involves ‘knowing what we don’t know’ and we need to be careful of FOMO (fear of missing out). This is probably good advice for the rest of the conference. In conclusion he urged us to create a new job title in market research companies and then take that job ourselves: C.IM.O. (Chief Imagination Officer). He then took off all his outer garments to reveal a yellow and blue (presumably Swedish) ‘Morph’ suit which he pulled over his head to much admiration from the crowd. A show stopper and we hadn’t even had our first bit of market research.
The first workshop of the day was called ‘Futurecraft: Imagining and playing the brands of the future’. It was led by Nick Gadsby of Lawes Gadsby Semiotics, another returnee from last year when he led the very popular ‘Nerdtopia’ workshop. Using his skills as a gamer, Gadsby helped the workshop attendees create a dystopia and brands to sell in it. There was a table of randomness and dice throwing and all the usual hurdles that marketers could expect when bringing products to market. This was a very enjoyable workshop that treated the future as another country, not as an extension to the present, and therefore avoided falling into the futurology trap.
However the session entitled ‘How communities will bring together big data and qualitative insight’ was definitely about some members of the MR industry’s plans for the future and quite a different one it was too. Firstly Ray Poynter of Vision Critical and Katie Kaylor of Phones4U put forward the idea, based on Phones4U’s existing data collection process with its users, of mega communities of 100,000 to 500,000 members all contributing and being dealt with not by moderators but by bots. Johnny Calder of Research Now followed on the same topic and how these mega communities could work, how they would be recruited, measured and tracked. He said that the main barrier to implementing them now was not technical but financial and that it was definitely a case of ‘No Money, No Honey’. He suggested syndication might be the answer. Concluding this session Kristin Hickey of Ruby Cha Cha coined the third new word of the morning: Quintegration, which she defined as researchers of the future using both qual and quant skills and both their left and their right brains. During the Q&A there was a level of doubt about whether these giant communities were manageable robotically and about whether they were communities at all. Poynter’s response to the former was that the bots would need to hand over to human being when the conversation got too complicated and to the latter was ‘Yorkshire is a community’.
The fun doesn’t stop there - tomorrow we can look forward to Marcus du Sautoy discussing how we might make predictions by turning our lives into numbers and exploring the patterns that emerge.