IIeX Amsterdam 2016

Earlier this month, our very good friends over at GreenBook hosted IIeX 2016 in Amsterdam, so Colonel Mustard, Lucy Davison and myself hot-footed it over to Amsterdam to discover what was happening on the cutting edge of technology in market research.

Let me first say that IIeX Amsterdam is a great event in the European conference calendar. There’s a fantastic atmosphere; one of the best at any MR event I’ve attended in the last decade. It’s also great to see the event as a milestone in the continued journey that is GreenBook. In the last few years GreenBook has gone from a directory and blog into, what I feel is, a legitimate industry body with a growing team, driven by a genuine desire to help drive the future success of research, data and insight.

As always IIeX is based around the technology of research; this year’s conference focused on agility and automation. And there was some great stuff there, particularly within the automation arena. Stephen Phillips of Zappi Store made a good point that the true value agencies provide lies in the consultancy before and after the, easily automated, sampling and fieldwork stages of the research process. This of course fits in very well with general trend towards agencies as strategic consultants rather than data suppliers. However what became apparent to me during the client panel, was that agencies have yet to make that pivot in the culture of their businesses. Too often it appears that an agency will head down a “client is always right” path, when in fact the client is not always right and is even asking to be challenged. This same aspect of the client/researcher (or fieldwork agency) relationship cropped up at ESOMAR’s Congress last year as SSI presented data that indicted surveys were actually becoming longer overall rather than shorter. At the end of the day a research project is a piece of strategic communications; an agency needs to commit to and be able sell through strong communications, a solution that provides the most impactful insights for their client, based on the bigger picture. Without being able to do that agencies will find it difficult to become the strategic consultants we desire to be.

One of the stand-out sessions from IIeX this year was the diversity panel, chaired by Kristin Luck. She was joined by Anita Nayyar (Britain Thinks), Eric Salama (Kantar), Kristin Zuhlke (Knowledge Hound) and my old boss at ESOMAR, Erika Harriford-McLaren (International School of Amsterdam). It was a top panel, especially considering the Insight Innovation Competition judging panel was, sadly, almost entirely made up of middle-aged white men. Diversity in the industry is a problem and it’s fantastic to see the subject get exposure at an event like this, although I must say the session was criminally under attended. The diversity discussion in the industry often focuses on gender equality, as this session also did for the first half, and although it’s of vital importance, I feel there’s not enough time spent on subject of racial diversity. So I was delighted on the half hour mark when Anita brought the subject to the fore of the session and shared her experiences.

I hope that everyone who attended the session took something away from it, in my view. Industry bodies need to be doing more to promote the message and encourage diversity. I say this because I worry about conferences as a tool for change in the industry.

I enjoy a conference, it’s kind of nice to see some of the same old faces and it feels like a community. But that has the potential to be a problem. More and more I’m seeing the same companies putting the same people on stage, and often they’re telling the same story. I understand this is probably not the fault of the conference organisers as they are tied by the submissions, but I would love to see some new faces and hear from some new companies. As an example I know that InSites Consulting do great work; I’m a huge fan. But I can’t remember an industry conference where they haven’t presented, and I’m fairly sure I’ve seen their Insight Activation Studio presentation at least three times in the last 12 months. What InSites do, which I think is excellent however, is that they’re committed to providing their young researchers an opportunity for stage time, where most other agencies seem to generally favour their “face.”

So, while it’s great from a conference producer perspective to approach a conference with a “let’s change the future of the industry together” vibe, when it appears to be the same 1,500 people attending and listening to the same people from the same clients and agencies; when price is too prohibitive for many SMEs and younger researchers to attend,; and when the culture in agencies is to provide only the top brass with opportunities to speak and network at events, I question whether  conferences the right platform to lobby for industry change? Or should industry bodies be looking toward new technology and digital platforms to make the content more accessible for all those in the research industry – and beyond?

So much incredibly engaging and vital conference presentations, content that could certainly drive progress within the industry, is kept out of reach of many researchers, particularly young ones. The cost of attending a conference can be prohibitive to many because it often relies on attendees being able to justify it through business development and lead generation. While content continues to become of secondary importance to attendees and recordings of conference presentations, when they exist, are kept behind paywalls, conferences will find it difficult to be the agents of change we would like them to be.* So, ultimately, that’s what I’d like to see from a tech-led MR conference; technology being used to change the medium in which the message is conveyed. There is a compelling need for industry bodies to democratise their content, and stop being so precious about it.

*Addendum
A few days after we posted this blog it was highlighted to me that the IIEX team do in fact post the videos from many of the IIEX presentations on the event website after the event. If you head over to iiex-eu.insightinnovation.org you can view some of the past presentations and the presentations from the most recent event in Amsterdam will be online shortly.