Baqmar Conference 2013:#unexpected Insights

By Stephan Bral

On December 12th 2013, I had the honour to be a guest of the BAQMAR (the Belgian Association for Quantitative and Qualitative Marketing Research ) Unexpected Conference: a conference that brings together the “fine fleur” of Belgian and International Market Researchers.

The theme — Unexpected — could not have been chosen more fitfully.

For me — the outsider — it was the equivalent of a 9-year old’s first trip to FAO Schwarz. A world of new and shiny toys.

For me — the informed outsider — it was the equivalent of trekking in the Himalaya. You know you’re in for the trip of a lifetime — including mortal peril.
Allow me to elaborate.

My take on Unexpected.

MRX will eat MRX

If it was clear by the end of the afternoon, it became crystal clear by the end of the evening: the possibilities in (Big) Data Science are impacting Marketing Research with the force of tidal wave.

The “Data Science & Analytics”-track — in the afternoon — set the scene, in form of the presentation of Dieter Debels, founder of Geo Intelligence.

A founder with a healthy “no nonsense” spirit, a company with a compelling offering: predicting a retail outlet’s sales potential. The explained data mash-up leading to these predictions was jawdropping. Even more so the contractual guarantee — within reason — of that prediction to clients. So much for the neighbourhood. No army of researchers, no focus groups: Algorithms and ROI.

Kyle Nel, Director of Innovation Labs at Lowe’s, went in for the kill during his keynote: moving from traditional Brand Trackers to Google Consumer Surveys had delivered Kyle’s team superior insights — at 2%(!) of the original cost. If that doesn’t send chills down an agency director’s spine, I don’t know what will.

Big Data is having lunch, MRX is the dish of the day.

Griet Verhaert, representing Direct Social Communication (DSC) , a fundraising agency for non-profits, provided another taste of what will come to pass.

Fundraising is all about cash, so there’s no business with a more tangible idea of ROI. DSC — no exception to the rule — works at the bleeding edge of direct marketing. The result is a Data Driven “Kriegspiel” of the highest form. No emotional, social or psychological stone is left unturned in the quest for donations. Her examples (involving shopping bags, dog lovers and pens) were both inspiring, disturbing — and a sign of things to come. A world of vast databases, careful parameter selection and multivariate testing till you drop.

In other words, the empire of ROI is here to stay, and it will only expand. Already an abused concept — it will only become more specific, with demanded returns only moving skywards.

On a final note — as Tom De Ruyck rightly pointed out in his keynote — market research needs a mental switch: Lean Startup Thinking is the order of the day. Research is automatizing, and Big Data is further integrating into the mainstream. The market researcher needs to become a full-time networker, a connector-of-the-dots sort of speak. Clients will not tolerate the overhead cost of large organisations. Instead, a researcher will be advising clients on the right questions with the right tools, at the right timing. He will be a curator of methods — and of suppliers. Ever less “big budget” research setups, but a fragmented universe of tiny questions. This might not be a reality yet: Europe in general, and Belgium in specific might not see the same speed of change that eg. the US faces, though there’s is no question that the wheels have set into motion. An evolution that affects all.

MRX better be ready.

MRX will stay MRX

There is another — exciting —  side to this market research apocalypse. The core of the marketing research — helping people understand — will never change.

On the contrary. It will be ever more relevant.

No better example than the exposé of Matthias Meul, Customer Intelligence Analyst at Deutsche Bank (DB). The project presented concerned the integration of customer analytics into sales actions, resulting in a higher amount (vs traditional methods) of new “core” customers for DB. The success of the project lay not only in the quality of the work  — but in talking the talk and walking the walk with the sales teams. Sharing results and providing actionable insights led to full support of sales: success ensued. The key lay in the most basic of market research functions: pro-actively pointing at opportunities — based on rigorous analysis — and helping stakeholders understand the reality behind the numbers.

Another benign effect of the tidal wave: never before will so many companies have had access to so much data. The democratization of market research — traditionally the exclusive domain of large corporations — will open up possibilities to thousands of SME’s, and will allow the realisation of ever more continuous research projects, rather than big one-off efforts, adding to both the relevance of results and security of income.

The shift from traditional product and brand marketing to true customer marketing will enhance the need for research, while the reduced cost of research will allow researchers to pitch projects pro-actively to prospective customers — the actionable data already in hand.

In that sense, Colin Strong of GFK was right: Marketing Researchers are — and will be — true gatekeepers. The explosion of data science will mean absolutely nothing without context.

If everything is important, than nothing is.

The right questions, at the right time with the right means: as dramatically as the context has changed, even so dramatically has the content remained untouched. Providing context, making people see, is as important as ever.

The world is on fire, the flowers are blooming

This was my take — as an outsider — on Unexpected.
I saw technological changes that are driving the profession of market research in a wild variety of directions.

Some directions lead to imminent doom, some to slow demise, and others to exciting new adventures.

As an aspiring entrepreneur myself, I can’t stop thinking about the adventures.

About the contributor:
Stephan Bral is an Entrepreneur & a Marketing Strategy Consultant at Pb-a.
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