TMRE Day Two Delivers, Too!

By Marc Dresner

The more things change’uhm’the more things change?

If there was any doubt that TMRE’s exceptional Day One symposia were a fluke, and that Day Two would revert to the predictable market research conference fare we’ve seen elsewhere over the years, those fears were put to rest friends!

Day Two was filled with all sorts of twists, turns and surprises (yes, I am actually referring to a market research conference).

To wit: I thought I was going to start my day by hearing Wired magazine’s Chris Anderson ‘ probably best known for ‘The long Tail’ ‘ discuss his latest opus, ‘Free: The Future of a Radical Price.’ Instead, I got a jolt that put my coffee to shame; there would be no book plug, but instead a crash course on how tablets ‘ the non-prescription, computing kind ‘ are going to take over the world!

Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but Anderson did make a strong argument for why tablets are about to replace PCs and how closed-Web apps will to a large extent supplant the Internet as we know it today.

Btw, guest TMRE blogger Kathryn Korostoff posted a fascinating analysis here yesterday on what this all means for research. It’s a must-read!

Next, we were treated to a panel of EXPLOR award finalists moderated by Cambiar’s Beth Rounds and uSamp’s Matt Dusig. By now, of course, we know who won, but every one of these case studies deserves an award for innovative, real-world application of research. No naval-gazing here.

  • - eBay and Invoke leveraged a real-time hybrid approach that included storyboards in their project to help consumers grasp abstraction and let the ideation juices flow.
  • - ANZ National Bank (New Zealand) with help from Touchpoint in a twist used VOC research to illuminate and empower the folks on its front lines ‘ instead of just the suits upstairs ‘ which rocketed the bank’s position from 2nd worst in customer service to 2nd best.
  • - And our EXPLOR winner, American Water, was as much a case study in courage as it was research innovation. With partners Digital Research and Thinkvine, American Water ‘ the largest such U.S. utility, operating in more than 35 states and traded on the NYSE ‘ turned its entire business development approach on its ear. I mean radical change here, at the grass roots level, in a very conservative industry. Thanks to an analytics engine on steroids fondly known as TIP (Target Identification Project), the organization ‘ which historically depended on its field reps’ relationships and gut instinct for business development ‘ now relies on objective data for strategic business development and much more. The C-suite even uses the product to promote American Water on Wall Street! Bear in mind this initiative began with extremely limited budget and no initial executive-level champion, and it had to take on the very constituents it was intended to serve. I conducted an exhaustive interview with the players, so you’ll be hearing more about this incredible story in detail next week.

Moving into the session tracks, we heard from 3M on the prickly topic of DIY. For understandable reasons, this isn’t exactly the type of story research agencies typically like to hear because building one’s own internal supplier kinda removes them from the equation. But there’s no denying it’s a trend with legs if you’ve got the right people in place in the right organization. The upside for providers is that this sort of disruption keeps the rest of us on our toes and pushes us to perform even better. So it’s little wonder that 3M walked away with NGMR’s 1st annual Disruptive Innovator award in the client category later in the day.

Next up, we witnessed how research can help an organization to a healthy serving of its own humble pie by bucking conventional wisdom. Or as IFC/Sundance Channel’s Kent Rees quipped, ‘This of course was difficult for our head of marketing to hear’but I got over it.’ (chuckles all around) Essentially, the proverbial ‘indie’ channel thought it knew its audience so well that for a long time no one upstairs saw any need to pony up the dough to confirm it. Luckily for IFC, VP Research Daniel Marcu is the persistent type. Enter Sachs Insights, which segmented their audience and then heaped on the insights via ethnographic video. As a result of this study, IFC undertook a complete brand overhaul and its president, Evan Shapiro, calls the project ‘a great moment in our network’s history and something that we will return to as we evolve.’

Btw, it has come to my attention that for a large portion of the day yesterday, I was apparently being stalked by another of our TMRE guest bloggers, Bill Weylock of Brand3Sixty, who coincidentally attended many of the same sessions as I did. In fact, you’ll find a detailed account of the IFC presentation courtesy of Bill on yesterday’s TMRE blog, along with some of the other sessions I’ll reference herein. Seriously, Bill’s coverage is exceptional and I’m sorely tempted to plagiarize.

Anyway, following the IFC session, we broke for lunch, which gave me the opportunity to shake Weylock from my tail.

So I was about to tuck into a relaxed, collegial meal when my lunch was literally and figuratively disrupted by a second set of awards: NGMR’s Disruptive Innovator awards. NGMR’s founder, Tom Anderson, presented awards for three categories:

  • - Individual: AJ Johnson, Ipsos, and Sean Conry, Techneos
  • - Agency: Communispace’
  • - Client: 3M

Congratulations to all! We’ll hear more about the disruptors in a panel session later this morning, which I’ll cover in my next summary.

The afternoon track for me kicked off with an issue that I thought had been resolved a while ago, but apparently is still alive in some quarters ‘ and for good reason: online sample projectibiity. Anne-Marie Davidson of outdoor lifestyle outfitter REI outlined results from side-by-side testing of landline, online and ‘ as an added bonus ‘ cellular samples (this last group was very small and included more for curiosity with the knowledge that the number of cord-cutters is increasing). Davidson ultimately determined the online group was not sufficiently projectible for REI’s purposes. I’ll reserve judgment, but I must admit I’m perplexed that with telemarketing backlash and sugging, in the caller ID and Do Not Call list era, telephone sample could still be deemed more projectible than online sample in the U.S.

An interesting side note: Davidson referenced a study by WaMu years ago (pre-Chase). My friend Ron Gailey ‘ now heading research for Coca-Cola Asia-Pacific ‘ was head of WaMu’s research team at the time. Ron did quite a bit of groundbreaking R-O-R in those days, and one learning that always intrigued me was that he found an inverse correlation between survey participation frequency and a person’s interest in financial services products. Davidson suggested this could provide evidence for the need to weight for survey participation. Does this conversation sound familiar to anyone? ;)

The last track session of the day for yours truly was also the most interesting for me, and clearly a lot of other folks felt the same way, because when I arrived, there wasn’t even room to stand, so I had to plant myself on the floor in the center aisle.

I’m referring to the presentation by Microsoft’s Reed Cundiff, who took us on a fascinating trip inside the software giant’s market research organization with an absolutely shocking and wonderful level of candor.

Not surprisingly, it seems many of the techie geeks at the world’s premier software developer like to program and field their own online surveys. Rampant DIY has forced Microsoft’s legit researchers to assume a diplomatically aggressive posture when it comes to data quality ‘ when they’re not too busy cleaning up after shoddy amateur surveys, that is. The problem is unresolved, but they’re making inroads.

Another issue the MR function must contend with is that Microsoft ‘ like many others ‘ today is so ‘awash’ in information from so many different sources in so many different directions that Cundiff expressed genuine concern that someone may well drown in data.

On other fronts, he counseled against succumbing to victim status when left out of the loop and then consequently confronted with an internal client’s emergency; he made the case for researchers to be flexible, open to change (there’s that change theme, again) and willing to experiment with the unorthodox or new; and he offered an arboreal metaphor for his philosophy on internal politics with regard to the MR team by noting that sometimes to keep a tree healthy, one must saw off a branch or two.

Finally, he disclosed that the Microsoft recognizes a talent shortage in the research area, and in lieu of always hiring in talent, has invested in internal professional development both from a technical side and in terms of softer but no less important skills like communication and consultation. But while researchers’ focus has most assuredly taken a turn toward strategy and addressing business needs, Cundiff emphasized that management neither expects nor desires research to be McKinsey. ‘They don’t want us to play management consultant; they want us to be research consultants,’ he said.

I mentioned in my recap of day one that a major theme I saw emerging in the research space was this ying-yang notion of simple complexity. Well, at the end of the day yesterday I hit the jackpot with back-to-back presentations by Central Michigan University’s Dr. Michael Garver and Jonah Lehrer, author and neuroscience authority.

Garver schooled us on the latest in segmentation, max/diff, predictive analytics and adaptive choice modeling. I must confess much of this presentation went right over my head, which means this man is either a terrible teacher ‘ doubtful considering his professional affiliation ‘ or this is pretty complex math (one of my many weak points). My point is that here we have a prime example of research becoming increasingly sophisticated.

By contrast, Lehrer ‘ while no less cerebral (pardon the pun) than Garver ‘ spoke simply of how humans are not wholly rational decision-makers, but rather tend to defer to our emotions when we make choices. In fact, drawing on multiple very compelling anecdotes, Lehrer illustrated that pure reason is not a gift, but a handicap, and that while our great thinkers have long disparaged emotion in favor of reason, our emotions are actually much more powerful than our cognitive resources. Emotions are deeply empirical in nature and enable us to process vast amounts of information and learn. So what does this mean in terms of decision making? Distilled to its essence, Lehrer said the concept is simple: relatively speaking, losses hurt more than gains feel good. Therefore, loss aversion exerts more influence over our decisions than the pursuit of gratification. That simple insight alone should radically change the way we think about how we market and brand.