Round up from Miami: the 2011 ESOMAR Digital 3D Conference in review

05 Jan 2012|Added Value

USA VP of R&D and Offer Innovation, Zoë Dowling, takes a look back at ESOMAR’s 2011 3D Digital Dimentions Conference , and reviews the challenges facing researchers in a digital age…

In the two years since I last attended the ESOMAR Online conference, it is interesting that relatively little of the conversation has changed in that time.  Reoccurring themes  included what to do with social media, the usefulness of online communities & co-creation, mobile as poised to take over the world and Web surveys being in real trouble. Gamification was a prominent newcomer which made quite a splash throughout the conference, while notably there were a few absent topics: panels, data quality and, to a degree, neuroscience.

Attendees and speakers were almost unanimous in agreeing that social media and text analytics are still in their infancy. With the validity of the data in question (sample, cleanliness, sentiment and so on), many are skeptical about this new passive mode of data collection. That said, two papers demonstrated that there is value to be found within social media research.

The first was by Koki Uchiyama, who used social media to investigate shifts in values within Japanese society after the earthquake on 3/11 by analyzing blog content pre- and post the disaster. In addition to it being an extremely sobering and moving account, it demonstrated some clear possibilities using social media for insights that couldn’t be garnered using any other mechanism.

The second, by Simon Atkins at IPSOS Mori, researched public opinion and sentiment around the UK Royal Wedding using opinion polls, surveys, mobile ethnography and social media. They showed that without the social media element, a big part of the story would have been missed as the pre/post data collection did not capture the volume and sentiment of the conversation on the day.

Co-creation and online communities are still going strong, delivering great insights, especially when used in creative ways as demonstrated by outstanding research presented by Isabella Hoi Kee Wong of Philips Design.

Isabella outlined two pieces of co-creation research that used innovative, creative and unexpected ways to work with the participants; ‘MenuMenu’ on food preparation within Spain and Italy and the other on young men’s personal care within Brazil.

Mobile is the next big thing. No really. This year is the year. It’s time has come. All of the mobile papers presented at the conference put forward figures around the extraordinary growth of mobile, smartphone penetration, dramatic usage numbers and so on. However, sadly lacking were any accounts of how people have used mobile to great, or indeed any, effect. Reg Baker commented that ‘mobile is all dressed up with nowhere to go’, in my view a fair observation. Nevertheless, there’s no arguing that the medium offers opportunities to be explored.

It is dark times for Web surveys. With mobile ready to jump into its place, qualitative methods continuing momentum and social media allowing for passive data collection, the mode faces increasing challenges. The industry needs to do better. Clients will ask for better. Our respondents demand we do better. However, this was the extent of the conversation, with no real discussion around data quality and nothing said about panels.

Gamification emerged as the idea de jour. It was seeded through a number of the presentations – from actual content through to a gamified presentation by TNS SA’s Adhil Patel.

A Fringe Discussion concluded that Gamification is here to stay, that is it not all hype or simply a fad. I’m not convinced –  while gamification promises to revitalize the industry, it still has a way to go to prove its worth. The advocates of Gamification were just a little louder than the skeptics. Some of the measures that the Gamification supporters promote in terms of Web surveys are in essence the basics of good research design. So perhaps it is just new name for the basics. Other approaches of gamified research change the nature of the question or task asked of respondents, which raises a whole new set of questions (something Bernie Malinoff touched upon within his presentation ‘How far is too far – traditional, flash and Gamification interfaces, and implications for the future of MR online survey design’). Bottom line, the use of Gamification needs to be fit for purpose.

This point was well made by BrainJuicer’s presentation ‘The Researchifcation of Games’, which won best presentation of the conference. (Incidentally, the best written paper went to Carl Marci, Innerscope & Greg Lieberman, CNN on the Impact of Shared News Content on Consumers.)

In brief, Peter Harrison argued that research games can be used to put the respondent/participant into the same emotional mindset as they would be when interacting with a brand/product in a real life situation, resulting in being able to better understand and predict behavior. He showed the example of their ‘Mopopoly’ game – based upon Monopoly where in this instance they got participants to explore their household frustrations via the gameplay. [A good summary of this presentation is written by Jeffery Henning]

Continuing with emotion, there was a very interesting presentation on the use of facial imaging to measure emotional response to marketing stimuli using software called nViso. The technique only requires respondents to enable their webcam during completion of the task, e.g. watching an advertisement. Their emotions – via changes to their facial expression – are recorded and mapped against what they viewed.

Facebook’s Sean Bruich presented a keynote on the second day which covered a number of different topics from the amount of information they can get from a one question poll to debunking Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of key influencers. Sean argued, by way of an Oprah clip and substantiating Facebook gathered data, that every individual is an influencer to their close community.

The opening keynote was by Philip Sheldrake (presentation available on his website), whose newly released book, The Business of Influence: Reframing Marketing and PR for the Digital Age’ “outlines his vision of a business world where an “influence scorecard” was fully incorporated into the C-Suite. Everyone in an organisation is in the influence business, posits Sheldrake, and managing the flows of influence between and among consumers, competitors, and your internal stakeholders is essential for success. Unfortunately, most CMOs and COOs are unprepared for this” (referencing from the 2011 IBM CMO Study). [Summary from Tom Ewing’s post]

I concluded my ESOMAR round up two years ago by saying: The overarching theme that emerged from Chicago is that industry is in a period of rapid change. I got the distinct impression that panel companies are feeling uncomfortable about their long term viability. Companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and of course Google are the new data holders / sample providers. I heard from more than one person that it is the largest companies that will struggle in this climate with their inability to react quickly to the new environment.

Perhaps the change isn’t quite as rapid as I naively thought back then but it would be foolish to think that the status quo (with Web surveys via panels as the dominant mode of data collection) will remain. We may well be reaching the critical point where demand for survey respondents is outstripping supply. The changing world around us is another driving factor in how research participants are prepared to interact with us as researchers and also with the brands for which we do the research. It is also fair to say that companies such as Google, Facebook are the holders of ‘big data’ and this will also prompt a shift within our industry.

Challenging times for sure but also ones with opportunities such as the need for shorter market research surveys, brands having more engagement with their consumers – via surveys, mobile and online communities and of course gamified research such as our very own CharacterLab.

Written by Zoë Dowling, Vice President, R&D and Offer Innovation, Added Value USA.  Follow Zoë on Twitter: @zoedowling

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Additional links:

More detailed accounts of the overall conference and individual presentations can be found at the following links:

Tom Ewing’s Research Live conference recap: ESOMAR 3D: Winners and Losers

Official ESOMAR blog

Overall recap and list of posts from three of the core conference bloggers

New Buzz words and concepts emerging from ESOMAR 3D conference

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