IIeX Reflections: “Different” Doesn’t Mean Abandoning the Old

This year’s IIeX North America conference did not disappoint. The organizers delivered a jam-packed 2½ days that left my (and many other’s) brains in information saturation mode. There were many sessions and conversations worthy of discussion, but here’s three that particularly resonated with me:

  • Doing things differently
  • Celebrating the hedgehogs
  • The power of insights to change lives

Sounds cryptic? Read on to get the full story.

Doing Things Differently

Consumers are changing. Businesses are changing. Insights departments and their roles are changing. We know this, but sometimes reminders come at the right time.

J Walker Smith, from Kantar Futures, talked about the Third Age of Consumption, where people want to ‘Live Large-Carry Little.’ In his IIEX presentation, he discussed the resulting shift from brand and product centricity to relationship centricity. This is important in and of itself, but it also speaks to shifts in businesses and what they need from their insights departments.

The new requirements and changing role of the insights department was explored in Zappistore’s ‘Iconic Brands Panel’. Panelists from Wrigley, Verizon Telematics, Viacom and Clorox talked about their day-to-day life. For example, what happens with that 80-page deck after it is received from the agency? It gets synthesized into a “small and highly potent version” of the original deck. Why – because they understand the internal audience and what will resonate with them. They often include additional information (that wouldn’t be known or necessarily available to the agency) to round out the picture.

In terms of the ask of their departments, it isn’t about doing more with less. It about doing it differently.

In terms of the ask of their departments, it isn’t about doing more with less. It’s about doing it differently. Central to this? Agility. Switching gears at a moment’s notice. Going smaller with research studies but conducting them more often. This means instead of doing four big studies a year, there are now 15 small ones that build upon each other.

Celebrating the Hedgehogs

With doing things differently, insights departments now need new tools, such as automation and other technology. This may lead us to think that certain skills are becoming less valuable or perhaps even redundant.

However, Reg Baker, MRII Executive Director (who filled in for a last-minute cancellation) reminded us this isn’t the case. In recent years, there has been more emphasis placed on the need for generalists (the fox).  A breadth of knowledge is most important in today’s world. However, those that have a depth of expertise (the hedgehog) are equally vital. The traditional market research specialists –data scientists, statisticians, survey specialists, ethnographers and so on – are essential to delivering high quality, robust insights. They round out the triad with the polymath (the generalist, or fox) and the business consultant in doing things differently.

The Power of Insights to Change Lives

While there is a change in the way we do things and the composition of the team who do them, a core pillar remains. We want to understand people and make their lives better.

One standout presentation was delivered by P&G’s Sion Agami. He spoke about the ‘symphony of knowledge’ used to drive the development and launch of a new adult incontinence product. Sion discussed the need for the right research, at the right time, in their new product development work. This was powered by a curated group of research partners (I am delighted that Revelation is one of them).

This curation of insights was a powerful combination and notable in its own right. However, even more powerful was the empathy and passion that Sion brings to his work. This was evident in the way he talked about research participants and his role in creating a new product experience that can really change their lives. Being part of research that empowers people to move with confidence in their day-to-day without fear, shame, and embarrassment. That. That is what it is all about.

That’s a Wrap

While there is change in the way we do things and the composition of the team who do them, a core pillar remains. We want to understand people and make their lives better.

Wrapping up my time at IIEX, it strikes me that as much as the role of insights is evolving, many of the fundamentals remain constant. Yes, new innovations are continually added to our toolkits and different approaches employed. At the same time, we can still draw upon the methodological principles detailed in our trusty textbooks. Even when considering a new mode such as mobile. Similarly, we need the specialists to guide us as much as we need newer skills to navigate today’s environment. Furthermore, our core purpose of understanding people remains intact. It’s only when that need disappears do we really have to worry!

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