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Montreux, Pecha Kucha, and 21st Century Market Research: Highlights of the 2009 ESOMAR Congress

At this time last month I was in Montreux, Switzerland, attending the annual ESOMAR Congress. After four days of schmoozing, over-eating, and lots of listening—and after several weeks of reflection—some recurring themes have continued to resonate with me; ones that are currently influencing how we understand and conduct market research.

Diverse perspectives expand our viewpoints and uncover insights.
Communispace was invited to represent North America in the “global expedition” Pecha Kucha session, which was challenging, a lot of fun, and also eye opening. Each region presented their perspective on the global financial crisis—we heard, for example, that Switzerland (representing Europe) was alarmed by their nearly 4% unemployment rate (which is several points lower than what we have seen in the U.S. in over 40 years), and the representative from Nigeria reminded the audience that Africa has been in a recession for 100 years! While the fact of global diversity is not new, the contrast among these regional perspectives was refreshing, and underscored the importance of actively seeking situations that challenge our assumptions. No matter how well we think we might understand a topic or consumer group, we need experiences that shake us out of our own frames of reference, remind us that there are multiple realities, and inform us about unique and specific contexts.

Technology-supported, humanistic methods are critical for engagement and will be the next generation of market research. This was a resounding theme in the Congress’ interactive Master Classes and formal presentations; and one task for market research going forward is to embrace a “21st Century” approach to insight generation and actionable research:

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These approaches are becoming more main-stream, yet they still challenge us in fundamental ways. The industry is witnessing—and online communities are integral to—the emergence of a new market research model. These humanistic, large-scale, technology-driven methods offer huge potential not only for the creative and innovative ways we can engage people and measure behavior, but for the quality of the data itself. Embracing these methods, however, requires researchers to also accept reduced power differentials, self-selecting samples, collaboration between participants and researchers, combining multiple methods and media, transparency, and the particular quandary of having a theoretically infinite supply of conversation snippets (or video, or still images, or collages, or what have you) to analyze and mine for insights.

But are researchers ready to step down from behind the one-way mirror, doff their lab coats, and just be human?

Our experience suggests that they are—at least a forward-thinking, vocal minority; Communispace clients are innovating along these lines every day, delegates from across the globe provided examples of such at the Congress, and council members indicated they were revising ESOMAR guidelines to incorporate reliable and ethical uses of online methods. As Julie and I state at the end of our Pecha Kucha, what consumers and researchers need now is “a level playing field where neither of us has a lot of power but we both have just enough to learn from and honor each other’s perspective.”

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