Browse all of the available papers from ESOMAR Congress 2012.

Atlanta, the location of this year’s ESOMAR Congress, is seen by US film fans as the Zombie Capital of the World. Maybe that’s why the conference started with a boost session to wake-up the jet-lagged – and somewhat zombie-like – delegates. There was lots of jumping around the stage and banging of thighs by the six young men leading the session. And, as this is America, they wore combat trousers rather than Lederhosen. Take your pick…

To get the day going, Sherry Turkle, Professor for Social Studies at MIT, gave the opening ESOMAR Congress keynote. She observed that we are now expecting more from technology than from each other and live in a world where the ubiquity of always-on mobile devices is taking us away from real conversation. "Many of my students cannot concentrate by just being present (in the classroom) without also being somewhere else (via their smartphones)," Turkle said. Mobile technologies are psychologically very powerful and seductive: we rather text than talk to cover up our anxiety over real-time conversations and interaction. To Turkle, the new mantra is simple: “I share therefore I am”.

People go online and usually present themselves in the best light. Facebook profiles show the self we want to be, not the person we are. On the other hand people also become totally uninhibited when they are sharing and publishing. Turkle’s warning is that typical MR interviews generate answers more akin to Facebook profiles, and thus not the truth.

The first session dealt with the impact research can have on business and growth.

In Research without Borders (full paper viewable by Warc subscribers, or by taking a free trial), the authors argue the MR’s role is to shape decision-making. In large multinationals, the global structure of the marketing organization usually determines that influence. The real threat to MR is not just competition from management consultants but a diminished role in general where research “will become a more regional or local function with tactical focus” and global MR professionals “may find themselves starved of funds and left managing brand trackers and a few other multi-country efforts”.

The story of the research behind the award-winning Smirnoff Be There campaign is re-told in Were You There? The presenters reveal how an online community was used to mirror the reality of the proposed roll-out of the campaign. The challenge was to create an approach to research that would help establish the brand idea in a compelling way by creating online communities in the US, the UK and Brazil to observe co-creation and engagement levels.

Ode to the Unsung Hero is Coca Cola’s take on managing today’s increasingly complex business reality with a global research landscape. The authors gave a preview into their research practices that aim to protect the position of one of the world’s most-visible brands in increasingly complex beverage markets, where major new macro forces are rapidly changing the landscape. Combining local knowledge from over 100 countries while keeping a global protocol poses real challenges for the research team, as shown in their very detailed paper.

In Designing the Club of Tomorrow the theme switched back to alcoholic beverages (Heineken) and co-creation. The brand’s latest global design project invited emerging designers from around the world to co-create the nightclub of tomorrow. Over three weeks a 120-strong MROC (Market Research Online Community) of clubbers visualized their needs, perceptions, experiences and motivations and posted over 2,000 comments. The analysis of these discussions resulted in over 20 key learnings.

A common concern for many publishers is to attract a younger audience, and again, co-creation seems to be the answer. Creators in Their Own ‘Write’ demonstrates how the Meredith Corporation empowered its readers to re-launch Ladies’ Home Journal by allowing readers to produce the majority of its articles. The company used its existing online community of 300 women who had been providing unique and actionable insights over the past few years.

Digital ethnography is the central theme of How Cars Really Get Bought. The study invited respondents to self-record relevant experiences via a mobile phone while deciding to buy a new car. The resulting data helped track the real effect of ads (greater), influence of test drives (less so, but with huge potential), the importance of word of mouth, dealers and online research. Three buyer typologies emerged (speedy choosers, benefit maximisers, car enthusiasts) and the traditional purchase funnel model was largely abandoned.

The next session focused on creative solutions deployed by market researchers.

A provocative idea is posed in Research in a World Without Questions. The authors argue that MR without directly asking questions is a better way to get at what people actually do, not just what they say they do. Their research is shifting from interrogation to observation, behavioural economics, ethnography and other emerging methodologies of a ‘post-respondent’ world.

Next followed Measuring Emotions Through a Mobile Device, a paper that documented an iterative process to develop, test and validate the use of mobile phones to measure ad recall and emotional impact of advertisements through facial decoding.

Behavioural economics made another appearance in two papers. The first, The ‘Irrationalisation’ of Surveys suggests that replacing survey methods that assumed rationality with methods that allowed for “predictably irrational behaviour” would lead to greater accuracy. The traditional, best-in-class (monadic) approach was tested against a discrete-choice exercise. Across four CPG categories (frozen meals, male and female deodorants, cat litter) the techniques inspired by Behavioural Economics predicted actual market volumes better than traditional techniques.

In the second paper the author of The Difference Between ‘less bad’ and ‘much better’ argues that conjoint analysis neglects fundamental insights from ‘Behavioural Economics’, which can result in various distortions. The author proposes an “open source correction algorithm” to bridge the gap between rationalistic conjoint analysis and realistic insights from ‘Behavioural Economics’

The final session focused on opinion polls, a topic that deserves more exposure. Polling may account for only three percent of all MR investment but opinion surveys strongly influence the public’s image of the MR industry. Who's Afraid of Opinion Polls told the story about a pollster and a public policy advisor, who put public opinion polling at the forefront of public debate. The story twists and turns, and includes politicians, the news media, academics, bloggers, and tons of spin. The second paper looked at The Case of Tunisian Elections Following the Arab Spring and the role of opinion polling in new democracies. A topical end to an interesting day.