It's no coincidence that Next Generation Research is both the theme of Warc's next conference and one of the marketing industry's most pressing issues. How can clients adapt to, and adopt, the ever-increasing repertoire of new MR techniques available to them? And how can research practitioners best convince clients that these new techniques are worth their investment? Hopefully delegates at the one-day conference, which takes place in London on January 17th 2013, will get some answers to these crucial questions.
One man certainly not short of opinions on the state of the research industry is the conference's chairman, John Kearon, founder and "chief juicer" of MR agency BrainJuicer. When we met in London last week, Kearon offered his own broad definition of next generation research: new techniques that "reflect the way human beings actually behave". But, he added, the marketing industry has yet to truly take these techniques on, and is all the poorer for this timidity.
"Every company has gone public saying the old techniques are not good enough," Kearon explained. "Fantastic. But the way big clients are spending their money hasn't changed."
Moreover, the cash that has been diverted into next gen MR has not necessarily been spent effectively. Kearon said many brand owners are going for eye-catching, buzzed-about techniques – but are only using them for one-off projects, rather than part of a long-term, thought-out strategy. Chief among these is neuroscience – using fMRI scans and the like to unlock consumers' unconscious motivations and desires. Kearon's on record as decrying "neuro nonsense", or the tendency among some researchers to wildly overstate the technique's current capabilities. "Neuroscience is seductive, but it has limits," he added.
But there are many bright spots for those who want to move research forward. For one thing, the public sector is taking an interest. Kearon said that contacts in the UK, India and across the world are also impressed by the implications of behavioural economics, and are finding real success in using this technique – witness the British government's Change 4 Life health initiative. Kearon also sees this as a very hopeful sign for the industry as a whole.
There's also little doubt that the general public know more about MR techniques today than they did in years past. There's the recent furore over pollster Nate Silver, whose data-crunching model successfully predicted the outcome of the 2012 US presidential election. And recent bestsellers like Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit and Haler and Sunstein's Nudge have opened many eyes to the way that human behaviour can be tracked, analysed and – potentially – exploited for corporate gain.
Of course, these revelations haven't exactly been welcomed with open arms by the general public. This, naturally, is another issue the industry has to tackle, though Kearon saw the potential backlash as nothing new, comparing it to the horrified reaction many readers had to Vance Packard's classic ad industry-bashing book The Hidden Persuaders when it was first published in the 1950s.
All this will be discussed at Next Gen Research, and speakers already confirmed include representatives from Mars, EMI Music, Starcom MediaVest and Google Consumer Surveys. You can find out more – including booking information and a full agenda – in the Warc Store. We hope to see you there in January!