Julie Vincent MMRS

So, after 20 years working in market research, I finally attended the MRS Annual Conference Impact 2017. I go to the Best of Impact event in Salford every year, which showcases some of the amazing presentations from the main conference, and try to get to as many of the other regional MRS events as I can. This year I treated myself and headed to London. I hope I manage to put into words here how much it was worth both the time and money.

Working in higher education, the sector can feel the dominant factor in your working life, but as market researchers we are of course part of a thriving profession. In times of uncertainty, and rapid and often unpredictable change, market research and insight play a significant role in informing decision making and action. Choosing between sessions was a challenge. I’m known for my ability to make swift choices from a food menu, this was a lot more difficult.

What I want to do is write and write about each session, but Caitlin Moran’s keynote was a highlight for me and she said that if you hit a truth, you should be able to do it in one line. So, for the conference my one line is the title of this post. And no, that doesn't mean that I don't think Kings have empathy, it was about how the conversations are evolving and changing. The Conference was 50/50 male and female speakers, and this was testament to an industry working hard to champion equality and diversity.

From the sessions, a few more highlights and lines below. This is by no means exhaustive and not all the amazing speakers from each session, just some of the insights that have stayed with me.

Opening Keynote: Nicola Mendelsohn CBE, Vice President EMEA, Facebook
Companies like Facebook don’t think about where they are now, they think about where the people in their communities will be in the future. Mobile best rather than mobile first, as an example.

Future Proofing Business and Brand: Future Proofing the BBC – Patrick Collins, Head of Youth Audiences, BBC & Matilda Andersson, Director, Crowd DNA
Engagement can be driven by understanding how the mood of the moment drives demand and content needs. To deliver this, organisational structure and behaviour can’t be orientated to the past. Also, that the BBC reaches more young people than any media brand in the UK, including for example YouTube and Netflix.

Testing and NPD: keeping up with the disruptors: Tom Benton, Head of Digital, Danone Nutricia, Early Life Nutrition, UK
Tom Benton noted that in the past there had been a risk of listening to creative agencies too much, and their customers not enough.

Lessons for brands from Brexit: Feel don’t think – what Boris and Farage could teach all brands – Kate Fanning, Strategic Insight Manager, John Lewis & Alison Bainbridge, founder ABA Research
The campaign for Remain was boring, full of facts and figures and nuanced arguments. The campaign for Leave was emotionally charged, citing both freedom and the regaining of control. Key insights included the authenticity of reactive real time dialogue on social, flexible thinking, adaptive processes and all of this underpinned by an old-fashioned plan.

Lessons for brands from Brexit: Facing it together: How Nationwide is using insight to support members through uncertain times – Laura Cullimore, Research Manager, Nationwide Building Society & Paul Child, Senior Research Director, Join The Dots
This was about the process of going back to first principles, and the heritage and history of the brand. Also, the importance of leadership and a good quote from the new CEO, “data and insight trumps highly paid opinion.” We heard about how the voices of members have shaped the experience provided by the Building Society, and it illustrated how this really wasn’t the case for most political parties at the moment. It highlighted the importance of listening and seeing the membership as a movement, of everyone being in it together.

Storytelling for Insight and Change: Using audience research to develop a drama script in Bangladesh – Sonia Whitehead, Head of Research & Sophia Wilkinson, Senior Health Advisor, BBC Media Action
The importance of understanding the expectations people have if you are telling a story; truth and authenticity are rooted in expectations.
Also, that the best presentation of market research stories inspire an authentic emotional reaction. 

The business of happiness: A panel session about disconnection from institutions, and what makes 'good' business and human happiness 
From panel member Louise Beaumont, when discussing how businesses can access funding for growth, she said that if businesses and corporations don’t trust you, they don’t deserve you. During the session audience member Bianca Bailey Wilson questioned the assumption that all consumers have been represented and have had a voice, and that this was now shifting from consumerism towards a focus on equal citizens. She provided examples of the power of the consumer driving the creation of products underpinned by diversity.

Are we having fun yet? Games and gamification for insight – Betty Adamou, CEO, Founder and Chief Designer Research Through Gaming
The best examples enabled participants to enjoy the process and want to do it again. Creating a game, such as designing your own gym gear, made the research and the relationship with the brand personal and co-created.

In early September Clare Riding, Emily Hargreaves and I will present “Big budget thinking: creative market research for HE strategic marketing” at CASE Conference 2017 in Birmingham, some of the things I learned at the MRS Conference will be there.

Before the Best of Impact 2017 at the Lowry in Salford in September we will again hold our higher education market researchers pre-event lunch. We will discuss further how we apply big budget creative thinking in an environment where demand is significant but budgets stretched. More information to follow.

What was clear from Impact 2017 for me was that some methodologies and scales of fieldwork can be prohibitively expensive, but inspiration is essential and so valuable, and creative thinking costs nothing. We heard from researchers from big commercial brands, who worked in large or small teams, but also interlinked with other teams and external agencies and consultants. Their actions were underpinned by the heritage of their brands, and driven and delivered by the vision of great leaders and teams. In the university sector, we share this.

For video and other content from Impact 2017, click here. For a list of the MRS Annual Conference Awards finalists, click here.