By Marc Dresner, IIR USA Ah, Memory Lane’ You won’t find it on Google Maps, but it’s probably the most trafficked road in the world. You don’t need directions to get there, and if you ask for them you may get lost in someone’s fog.Let’s take a ride together anyway’ I attended my first EXPLOR awards a decade ago, when the awards were in their infancy. And while I can’t recall the nominees, specifically, I do remember feeling that this was the beginning of something very special. At the time, online research was still a shiny new toy, and not without its critics. In fact, it might have been at that same event that Dr. Gordon Black ‘ representing an upstart called Harris Interactive ‘ was still being ridiculed for his heretic online sample weighting schemes. Some flimflam man, huh? And Tom Payne, CEO of Market Facts ‘ we know them today as Synovate ‘ was also getting flack for toying with the crazy idea of migrating one of the industry’s strongest panels ‘ a postal mail panel ‘ to the Internet. What a loon. Just ten years ago, folks. See that cemetery over there on the left? Would you believe it was once a shopping mall? Those aren’t gravestones; they’re clipboards decades old. If you look to the right, we’re now passing the house that Jack built. Jack Honomichl, the man with the list. It’s been remodeled so many times that I barely recognize it. And there’s the old zoo! Who knew those survey monkeys would draw such a crowd? Quick ‘ straight ahead ‘ there’s a bridge! It crosses the River Sample. Used to be a creek. Some people laughed when that bridge was built. Try wading across now. ‘Uh oh, I see a hitchhiker! Looks like a client, so maybe we ought to pull over? I know it’s dangerous to pick up hitchhikers, but some of the old landmarks are gone, and I’m afraid we may be a little lost. A second opinion couldn’t hurt, right? Chip in for gas? Ok then, let’s roll! ‘Welcome to EXPLOR!’ Nice sign. Looks like a nice, prosperous town, too. I’m glad we took a chance on that hitchhiker after all’ Seriously friends, the one thing that struck me most about my first EXPLOR ‘ and I’ve attended many since ‘ is that somehow when you introduce a committed client, everyone settles down and actually listens. This is how we learn from one another in research. And it’s how we help each other. It’s the glue that turns competitors into a community. It isn’t just because the client holds the purse strings, either; it’s because the client has a real map, the genuine article. Clients have gravitas because when they listen to us, they hear things that we don’t when we try to listen to ourselves, they carefully weigh the options based on what they know about their business and they make a calculated research bet. They take risks that, frankly, we’re often unwilling to take in our own businesses. If they bet on something unconventional and succeed, among other things they get an EXPLOR award, alongside their research partner/s ‘ who also took risks. This is why EXPLOR is so much more than an award; it’s a forward. Look at this year’s client nominees: A massive, publicly traded water utility; a major bank; and an online auction house. These are highly conservative businesses ‘ even the third one ‘ that have invested in research to help them get past themselves. The real beauty of EXPLOR for me is that ten years later, the case studies still excite, provoke and inspire. And most of all, they still have that innate ability to get researchers ‘ who specialize in listening ‘ to stop shouting over one another and listen. More to come’