Highlights from the 2015 ESOMAR Congress Day 2

Day 2 of the ESOMAR Congress was as good as day 1—perhaps even better. Here are my highlights and some reflections from the entire conference.


Outrunning cancer with Vanessa Oshima: For those who don’t know her story, Vanessa Oshima (Coke’s VP of Corporate Strategy & Planning in Japan) has been running at least 5 kilometers per day every day for over three years to support and inspire her friend Caroline who was diagnosed with breast cancer. When the tweet went out before the Congress from Vanessa asking attendees to participate, I was hesitant. Market research conferences can be arduous, and six o’clock alarms don’t really work well with the usual evening festivities. Nevertheless, I threw my running shoes in the suitcase. I’m glad I did. We ran with her on day 1113.

As I mentioned in my first post on this year’s Congress, I find ESOMAR a place where I never fail to serendipitously meet fascinating people. I met many on that run, including Vanessa, who is an amazing woman doing an amazing thing. I encourage you to learn more about Vanessa’s story and donate generously.

Outrunning cancer with Vanessa Oshima

Outrunning cancer with Vanessa Oshima

Wow, You Do Research Where? This session was a good as I had hoped it would be. The speakers were warm, passionate, intelligent, and funny as they told stories of their experience that gave those of us who operate mainly in developed markets a clear indication that the “issues” we normally face are distinctly first-world problems! From Marita Schimpl conducting interviews in wood huts in Myanmar to Fatima el-Khatib overcoming the strict codes of Saudi Arabia, we were given a very different and inspiring perspective of a very cool part of our industry.

Fatima el-Khatib talks about doing market research in Saudi Arabia

Fatima el-Khatib talks about doing market research in Saudi Arabia

The Path to Purchase: Stephen Needel did his best to kill the term “path to purchase” for its models that were overly complex and dissociated from outcomes. He proposed a return to a classic social psych model called the Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975), which specifically allows for things like perception, beliefs, norms, and persuasion. It was smart stuff, interjected with a bit of levity that somehow involved a discussion of toilet paper consumption.

Hooked on Shopping: AOL’s Vicki Draper and Andrew Consky led off this truly revelatory session continuing the toilet metaphor when they shared that 51% of millennials indicate they have made a purchase while on the porcelain throne. On a more serious note, their data showed something vitally important. Online shopping meets all of our human emotional need states. With technology that provides us a limitless opportunity to shop, it’s no wonder this is happening. Their segmentation should stimulate marketers to rethink their content strategies and online retailers to pay far more attention to the emotional element of merchandising.

Segmenting the emotional needs online shopping fulfills

Segmenting the emotional needs online shopping fulfills

You Call It a Snack? Brett Ao, one of ESOMAR’s Young Researcher of the Year nominees, shared his work which, founded upon an understanding of Chinese culture, perceptions, and practices, helped a European snack brand position its product and design packaging in ways that would resonate with Chinese consumers. Brett was poised, witty, and confident, and his work was of high quality.

Less is More: Vanessa Oshima (The Coca-Cola Company) and Dave McCaughan (BIBLIOSEXUAL) reminded us how easy it is to fall back on tried-and-true methods which, when we turn to them reflexively, cripple our creativity. Using the simple idea of deprivation, in one case forcing an interviewer to not ask questions and just respond with nonverbal cues, they found that participants ended up creating their own narrative that led to far deeper understanding.

Client Talk Show/Brand Tracking Revelations: Whether you’re a research supplier or a client, few assignments are more perilous, more anxiety inducing, more politically charged and contentious, than changing trackers. This sort of change requires having adult discussions about tradeoffs that, frankly, few on either side are able or willing to have. It was thus refreshing to hear mature perspectives from the panel (like Alexis Vernon from Barclay’s) as they reflecting on the evolution of their tracking programs in the digital age. Reed Cundiff from Microsoft perfectly encapsulated a key challenge when he said data democratization is here, and researchers have to focus on shaping the discussions with their internal stakeholders.

One aspect about this conversation that disappointed me was listening to them talk like they could wait on becoming mobile first and device agnostic. Having been through these changes as a client and a supplier in some very difficult contexts, I get that this sort of evolution is really hard, especially in big companies where compensation is tied to tracking results. It effectively corrupts any insight aimed at people under 35 and dramatically reduces sample availability. I got the sense that Orange, France’s largest telecoms operator, was lagging on this and I was taken aback. I’ve said this elsewhere: it’s not suppliers who are forcing this change, it’s consumers themselves. We don’t have a year or two to wait.

The Awards Dinner! I can’t say it any better than Lightspeed GMI’s Jon Puleston:

Wrapping Up

I missed a couple of sessions at the end of the day as I had a variety of meetings. And clearly my view here is limited by the fact that I couldn’t be in two places in one time. I have heard from others I spoke to throughout the two days that there other really good sessions. Have a look at Kristin Luck’s timeline on Twitter, for example. She seemed to catch more of the career and young researcher sessions specifically. It’s also worth perusing the tweets with the #ESOMAR hashtag.

Regrettably, I missed some good content on Day 3 but I needed to take a midday flight. But upon reflection over these past days, I am left with these parting thoughts:

I confirmed my theory of serendipity. I have not been to any other market research conference where I have met so many interesting, talented, diverse, and genuinely nice people. It really is a pleasure to be there.

ESOMAR is a great place to see important and relevant work. Kudos to Simon Chadwick and the organizing committee as well as Finn Raben and the ESOMAR team for making this the best of the recent ESOMAR Congress’ I’ve been to. The entire event was very well done, and Dublin was fantastic.

Multiple methods are the only way to build competitive advantage. In a world awash in data, the most thought-provoking and meaningful presentations in terms of business impact were those that sought to break free of the reflex to use rigid quantitative approaches to seek greater understanding and consumer affinity. It’s hard to do this. It’s probably a bit longer and costlier as well. But I believe fundamentally that this will distinguish winners from losers.

Hope to see you all next year!