ESOMAR Congress 2017 Review

By Adam Warner (originally posted in RW Connect)

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It’s me, the content chef of market research and your favourite conference blogger. And here I am in Amsterdam pulling together the myriad flavours of ESOMAR Congress to create a balanced and nuanced Michelin standard dish straight out of the hot content oven.

In full transparency, I’m an ex-ESOMAR staffer, this is going on an ESOMAR platform and I’m a marketer, so I am totally biased. But for the first time in around a decade I was attending as a pure delegate, nothing to organise for ESOMAR or the Keen as Mustard team, apart from the usual client catch-ups. And it was a dream.

ESOMAR Congress is becoming more and more a barometer, a reflection, of the industry as a whole. Even in terms of setting and atmosphere Congress owes more to tech events like The Next Web, than other market research events. As the overlap on the tech/MR Venn diagram becomes wider, as we see more and more new ways of collecting insights and data coming from the tech industries, and as we see that influence grow and we see more movement of people from that side, particularly those in marketing functions, it’s important that the industry is offering something relevant. Not just in content, but also in look and feel.

This year the theme of Congress was “Visionary”, its aim was to look at the future of research. Unfortunately with a theme like this will always end up with a few predictor presentations – this is what research will look like in year X – type stuff. For me these presentations are redundant, they generally look at mainstream tech around at the moment and ladder up; “what if AI, but more”. There’s nothing you can learn there that you can’t see just by being aware of mainstream technological progress. Luckily ESOMAR did show us how these technologies are being applied in research. We heard how automation has revolutionised ad and product testing for Coca-Cola Japan, and how they adopted a small UK based start-up, ZappiStore (Zappi numbered 4 people at the time) to achieve that. Massive shout-out to Hisae Endo at Coca-Cola Japan for her first ever English Language presentation, she was great! Frank Buckler, of Success Drivers in Germany showed how AI was being applied to unlock emotional vehicles in ad testing. While the team over at SLPV Analytics demonstrated changing energy consumption behaviour, through the Internet of Things. It demonstrated that you don’t need a presentation that tells us how these technologies are going to change research, because they already are.

As a marketer, ESOMAR Congress was provided some of the best research related content for marketers I’ve seen in recent years. The paper from Sally Wu of the BBC in Singapore and Patrick Fagan of Crowd Emotion, that explored    the impact of emotional triggers in content marketing should be passed around and taught in colleges, its essential reading for anyone involved in marketing. On top of that there were a series of fantastic presentations that show the impact research can have in advertising; Coke and ZappiStore demonstrated how automated research solutions can allow even the biggest brands to early test all of their creative quickly and cost effectively; Exterion and COG research shared the results from the biggest neuro study ever conducted underground as they sought to understand engagement on the London Underground. We also heard from the The Association of National Advertisers in the US about the inspiring #SEEHER campaign. As a marketer it was a conference of rich content, and although I spoke to a couple of trad researchers who perhaps didn’t find the content as exciting as I did, but again it felt the content reflects the changing landscape of the industry.

One of the key elements of Congress for me is the social research side. ESOMAR do a great job of championing social research that specifically sets out to improve the lives of people across the world. The SKIM presentation of the perceptions of refugees was a phenomenal piece of research, the same goes for the TNS Cambodia paper on Transforming LGBT Opponents into Allies, a beautiful story of how good research and communications can have significant impact and improve lives monumentally. We were shown qualitative video ethnography was helping to improve the lives of street children, how behavioural research has transformed the Red Alert approach to prevention of sex-trafficking in India. There is no other mainstream research conference that champions this type of research in the same way that ESOMAR does. And the commitment to it is admirable, ESOMAR give it central stage, even when these sessions don’t attract the same numbers as the more commercial sessions. But this is the type of research that paints the industry in the best possible way, and more conferences should follow ESOMAR’s lead, because this is the type of research that can inspire the public and drive a good perception of the industry.

ESOMAR Congress is changing, it’s a lot different than my first Congress eight or nine years ago. But the change reflects the changes in the industry. I’m sure there will be members of the industry that will have found it hard to connect to a lot of the content, some will definitely not have enjoyed the more casual ESOMAR gala dinner. But as we know, it’s an evolve or die industry out there, and for me ESOMAR are evolving in the right way.