On 7 August I attended the MRSS Asia Research Conference 2014 at Fairmont Hotel. Despite the strapline – Brave New Digital World – invoking sci-fi dystopia, it was instead a day filled with inspiring and thought provoking sharing from 12 veterans of the market research industry.
The topics centered around changes in consumer behaviour with the rise in smart devices. The world is overtaken by digital media, albeit not overnight, but with evident footprints that are too deep to overlook.
President of MRSS, Joan Koh, kicked-off the conference with a strong message for brand leaders and researchers. She said that 70% of brands are still relying on traditional media, but smart devices are multiplying and shaping consumers’ lives today. Moving forward, it will be an exciting time learning and catching up with the consumers with the new technologies.
5 takeaways and implications on how we approach MR
1. Real role of mobile phone:
I was very intrigued by Dave’s McCaughan’s paper on “Who needs a nose!”: The truth about your fifth sense. I gave my personal vote to Dave as the best paper not because I learnt a new word from him – phubbing (check it out if you don’t already know), Dave put across a very interesting point, which really bugged me and made me rethink how we can tap into this behaviour when conducting research. In a piece of research, Dave found out that when people were asked to choose what they can’t live without, most choose their mobile phone over their nose! Mobile phone has taken on a very important role in our lives, helping us sense and interpret things around us.
Why did I say this bugged me so much as a researcher? Look at how we manage research sessions now – we always tell participants to put their phones away so that they can focus on the discussion happening in the room. But what also means is that we are actually asking them to put their 5th sense away!
I remember asking a participant to put away her phone during a workshop discussion. She told me that she was going online to look up what we just said about the product technology because she has never heard of it and found it really interesting. Imagine this for a moment – if we were to design our agenda and exercises such that participants are asked to go online to look for inspiration, ideas or images, the insights we gather will be rich, diverse and quick. Most importantly, we are working with consumers with all of their senses, including the new 5th sense.
2. Big data & big challenge:
Big Data is a buzz word that experts reckon brands and agencies are still working hard to make sense of , but let’s dive into it anyways as it sounds really important. From what I gathered from various papers shared at the conference, Big Data must be used with a strategy and end-game in mind. There is no lack of data, but to create meaningful connection with the data requires more thought.
Arno Hummerston, Digital Market Intelligence from GfK, gave his honest thoughts that big data is not a case of the more the merrier. In addition to that, Arno also raised some worrying challenges social media research faces with the use of multi-devices information channel and multi-delivery environment.
Recently, Jessica Owens our in-house social media research expert suggested 10 ways to add rigour into your social media research to deliver solid findings. One of the ways that Jess mentioned, “qualify your quant insights” is something that many clients have seen lacking in the market. Only data that are translated into meaningful insights offer new learning of the market and audience. At Face and Pulsar, we have researchers who are committed to qualifying mass amounts of data to create meaningful stories to inspire insights.
3. Tapping into new behaviour:
I had a geek moment when Melissa Gil, Director of SingTel’s Customer Intelligence and Living Analytics, presented the geo-analytics findings of SingTel’s big data. It is fascinating how traffic pattern informs shopping behavior, giving SingTel confidence to execute tactical marketing effort and staff planning.
Having covered the macro insights, capturing and understanding the actual audience behaviour is important to provide a holistic picture of the insights. In a research to understand people’s shopping behaviour, SingTel requested its research participants to upload receipts of their purchases. The information collected from the vast amount of receipts provided deep insights into shopping behaviour from a location, day and time perspective. This method of data collection was probably less feasible years ago, but now people are open about capturing and sharing personal experiences via technology. Since SingTel has ownership over the data, they can always call up the research participants to provide deeper insights into each spending experience.
I feel that Big Data has definitely blurred the lines of quant and qual further – in a good way. Starting broad and wide provides a direction on what to focus on. Focusing on selected issues provides a perspective on why things are evolving the way they are. We will definitely see more and more need for hybrid of intelligent minds to analyse data with both a macro and micro view.
4. It’s not only about the Gen Y and Millennials:
I must say that Benjamin Smithee’s talk was very captivating. It is a topic that I am particularly interesting and passionate on – the Gen Y and the Millennials. Yes, we all should know by now that the Gen Y and the Millennials grew up in the digital world, and that changes how brands should engage with them. But what’s more fascinating for me is how Gen Y and the Millenniums are impacting the upstream generation – their parents. When Ben talked about this, it dawn on me that it is so true that I have been influencing my mother’s lifestyle to a large extent! I introduced her to smartphone and tablet, I introduced her to H&M and Zara, and I introduced her to the world of YouTube and iTunes. Before, my mother consumed media solely through TV, but now she watches offshore cooking programmes on YouTube at any time of the day.
What does this mean? Brands should not be looking at this segment in the same way. While they don’t form the bulk of the “digital generation” as much as the Gen Y and the Millennials, they definitely are spending a fair amount of time and money online.
This also inspired me to relook into our research design and approach. Often we would be concerned about adding digital components for audience above the ages of 45, but this new insight gave me a fresh perspective. I feel that the digital world has made pure demographics less and less meaningful.
5. It is time for change:
In the closing message, Ray Poynter reinforced what Joan Koh started with – the context has changed but most thinking is still based on old methods. Ray pulled very interesting contrast between the landscape of 1974 and 2014. What’s most interesting to me are two areas:
#1: In the past the consumer’s role was passive, which has evolved to be reactive, and now it is collaborative. This changes how research approach should be designed – it is no longer about evaluation and feedback, but creation and refinement. At Face, we believe in co-creating with consumers right from the beginning of the process. It is a new era where brands and marketers should seek to work more closely with consumers.
#2: Marketing to global consumers in every local market. With technology and smart devices, people are no longer restricted to what they have and see in their own market, but globally. This gives brands a lot more challenge to create a unifying message that works cross-market, but also give brands a lot more opportunities to cross-sell.
Vijay Raj, Unilever CMI Director for Research Innovation and Protocol Management, made it explicit that it is no longer enough for brands to innovate to cope, but we need to proactively innovate to win.
It is encouraging that clients are excited to embrace this change. In fact, brands are expecting their research agencies to take leadership to transform and inspire approaches and thinking. It is exciting times ahead. We don’t know what the limit of digital technology is, but we know we will be limiting ourselves if we don’t adopt it.