Last month was a busy month of conferences. Our team attended Greenbook’s IIeX (Insights and Innovation Exchange) in Atlanta. The event beat its personal record for attendance with almost 1,200 research representatives filling the halls.

With more than 225 speakers and 150 sessions, four of us weren’t able to dominate the five tracks of learning. But, we did put our love of caffeine and our quant skills to good use so that we could efficiently bring back the learning to our team and our clients who didn’t have the time to dedicate to the actual event.

We started by doing a quick quantitative assessment of the subject matter. We felt there were six themes that dominated: A.I Machine Learning, Behavior Science/Emotion, Case Studies/Sales, etc., Sampling, Agility and Blockchain. While these conversations aren’t wildly new, we felt they were sophisticated. The industry feels like it’s collectively smarter and we have moved from information gathering to application.

Here is the essence of what we heard:

Picture1A.I. & machine learning aren’t just for your smartphone. The conversation has moved from “what is it, and will it make me obsolete” to “here is what my team has done to implement some A.I., what about you?” One of the keynote speakers, Marie Wolfe, from Unilever did a wonderful job making it clear how her insights team has adopted the practice by thinking about it as Augmented Efficiency and found tremendous efficiencies because of it. They have created a platform called Answer Rocket where they can ask questions as if they’re talking to Siri, but specifically about Unilever and their own proprietary research. The platform makes it possible for insights team members to get answers in seconds that used to take days or sometimes even weeks.

Picture1Agile should be your middle name. Insight professionals aren’t ever going to stop being asked to do things fast, fast and faster. Almost every presentation included an element of “how can you stop asking for 100% of what you used to put in your filing cabinet and get the 80% that you actually need in order to immediately act?” The DIY research industry is continuing to evolve and become a more trusted tool when the need for speed is the key need for a team’s research.

Picture1Behavior sciences are becoming more important. When we started adopting Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 language, we started a really important trend of understanding the difference between what human beings say they do and what they actually do. We also started to understand there are things you just shouldn’t ask someone to tell you, because, well, they actually can’t. This year, many organizations talked about how they have meaningfully changed up their methodology based on a more predictably irrational human being. The ability to get at better insights because of this growing body of knowledge is really piquing.

Picture1Storytellers needed in insights-driven organization. Although not one of the dominant headlines of the event, there was a common thread throughout about the industry’s need for clear, concise, articulate storytellers. The need to move our internal audiences is equally as important at the internal level as it is to move the people who pay for our products. In fact, if we don’t do our jobs first, the second doesn’t ever happen. The consensus is that teams haven’t begun to tap out on developing the skill of turning data into stories.

Picture1Um, who’s taking my survey? Sample providers led many conversations about the need to focus on policing the quality of online sampling. It will be news to many that fraudulent online survey responses are now a HUGE business, bringing in about $7B of revenue. How and why, you ask? How: Bots. Why: Personal income – especially for tech-savvy citizens of lower-income countries. Look for the ESOMAR and sample-driven organizations to begin preparing better and more transparent practices in this area of research.

Picture1They’re heeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrre. Blockchain isn’t just for other people. It’s made its way into the MR industry enough so that there were presenters focused on getting noticed for being early to the game in order to shape the conversation about how we should start to become comfortable with it as a thing. What is it and why should researchers care about it? Rather than try to summarize it, we’re stealing the words from one of the industry’s leaders in blockchain, Nina Nichols who wrote a great piece on the subject in Quirk’s publication last November:

“In the future, for example, marketing researchers could see screeners becoming obsolete. We will no longer have to take a respondent’s word that he or she qualifies for a survey because their blockchain-authenticated data will speak for them. And each time that consumer provides data, that data will be stored on the blockchain, further enriching their profile for research. Think of a respondent who three years ago indicated via a survey that they used a particular brand of insulin. Now imagine being able to rapidly re-target that same person for a follow-up survey without having to re-screen.”

If you would like to peruse the library of presentations, the IIeX team has made them available here:

Becarren Schultz is Director of Client Development and a caffeine and conference aficionado