Now that ESOMAR 2019 is in the books, we're looking back at the big takeaways from the four day congress, which has long been standing as the premier gathering of the top minds in market research both in Europe and around the world.
The theme of the conference was Pop Art, and like the revolutionary artists of that artistic movement, speakers in Edinburgh presented on a range of groundbreaking topics, highlighting emerging trends in the world of market research.
The Galactic Age of Marketing
The congress started out Monday morning with a keynote address by Chris R. Burggraeve, former CMO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, who spoke about challenges of marketing in the 21st Century: the so-called 'Galactic Age.'
Setting the tone for the remaining presentations over the following days, Burggraeve presented a manifesto for successful marketing in a post-globalised society through the use of consumer insights as so much more than just an industry buzzword, and by encouraging financial literacy to support the business value of market research.
"Insights will drive powerful value propositions, [which] will drive brand health, and brand health today is pricing tomorrow," said Burggraeve.
Moving into this new age of market research also requires a degree of self-reflection. Traditional methods are being outpaced by the sheer volume of consumer data, and the barrier between data gathering and data analytics is being broken down because of it. Now more than ever, market researchers need to think of themselves more as data translators, rather than data collectors, according to ESOMAR President Joaquim Bretcha. Emerging methods were highlighted by many speakers: AI and machine learning, social media listening, and questions of data ownership all being the recurring themes of the congress.
Lingering Privacy Concerns
"Behind every piece of information, is an individual," said Bianca Marcu, Sr. Advocacy and Standards Program Coordinator at ESOMAR.
There's an interesting dynamic emerging between consumers who are more frequently establishing unequivocal ownership over their own data, and the increasingly long reach of marketing into consumers' private lives. As featured in a number of talks throughout the congress, there has been a noticeably strong push for social listening to compliment traditional research methods, with one case study by Intel even asking whether it could eventually replace surveys (the answer is no, for now).
Largely absent from this conversation, however, was the implications of this practice. With even more consumer data regulations on the horizon, unchecked social listening is sure to raise bigger questions about access and data ownership. A study by ESOMAR and Here Technologies surveyed 10,000 respondents across 10 global markets, and found that while 70% of respondents were willing to share personal data, with the focus of this study on geo-location information, 75% had strong concerns about doing so. It's easy to get caught up in the potential of easy access to consumer data, but researchers should tread carefully into this largely uncharted legal and ethical territory.
Humans versus Robots
Two opposing camps struggled to find common ground during the congress: proponents of advanced AI/bot integration and those who advocate for a more human-centric approach to research. The general consensus on both sides, however, is that AI-based analytics methods, combined with social listening, are the inevitable future of market research. The incorporation of digital personal assistants (Amazon's Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple's Siri) into social listening also presents challenges stemming from recent controversies regarding recording and listening through these devices.
The benefits of digital automation are now being realised, but a few speakers also addressed the limitations. Presentations on semiotic studies given by Preriit Souda of PSA Consultants Ltd, and William Landell Mills from Amaranth Insights highlighted the importance of the 'human meaning' behind big data. In addition, a number of talks on diversity and inclusion rounded-out the congress, challenging researchers to not lose sight of these human aspects of market research.
Exciting as emerging technology may be, it won't be completely replacing established methodologies overnight. Although they can be effective moderators, bots and other research and analytical methods reliant on AI can miss context that human researchers will immediately recognize and explore.
According to ESOMAR, year-over-year there has been a higher number of market research professionals under 35 participating in the congress. As a whole, the industry is getting younger. This was showcased in the standout presentations from the 11 Young ESOMAR Society (YES) presenters, who each gave a 60 second pitch on original research, with three finalists chosen to deliver a longer presentation.
The finalists represented a diverse range of companies from around the world: including Sky Broadcasting Group speaking about in-the-moment research for TV shows, Skim Group looking at the value of a like, which as it turns out, is approximately 3.5 'Likes' per 'Love', and finally Kantar USA with how memes can be used to confront dishonesty and encourage genuine self-reflection in survey responses.
The 2019 Highlight Video is still being wrapped, but here's a look at the best moments from the 2018 Congress in Berlin:
ESOMAR Congress 2018 Highlights Video