by Frits Spangenberg

Marrakech could not have been a better choice as a venue for a Conference with the theme THE EVOLVING HUMAN, in a period where most people in the world are aware they are one way or another affected by drastic changes in their respective economies and social systems.

Marrakech combines on one hand the authentic beauty of unique architecture, traditional handicraft and genuine hospitality. And on the other hand postmodern hedonistic luxury in a rapidly modernising society where social control is still a matter for every citizen and the new phenomenon of equal rights for women seems to go together with other features of western lifestyles. Consumers are changing not only in their buying behaviour, but also in their attitude towards market and opinion research. The human is evolving, but do the professional researchers evolve in the same speed? Of course not, but everybody seems to realise that life becomes more complex and that changes come faster than ever before.
Decline in Trust

With John Gerzema, Chief Consumer Insight Officer of Young & Rubicam from the USA as a keynote speaker the tone of voice was set. In his recent book The Brand Bubble we can read it all in every detail, but it is worth while to see and hear the Master speak about the disentangling and more strategically behaving consumers. Societies that were affected more heavily by the recent economic crisis see a strong decline in trust, like a virus that has diminished the trust in particular brands by 50%. For the consumers of today values like glamorous, stylish and trendy are less important compared with authenticity and high quality. In general there is a strong tendency from outer to inner directed attitudes and behaviour, which means that unapproachable and arrogant behaviour is even much less appreciated as before the crisis, we as consumers are now looking for kind, friendly, social responsible and high quality leadership. This cultural value shift creates a different consumer behaviour and requires new management principles. It may sound as very simple, but few organisations will be able to respond adequately to the new rules of high ethics and fair play, empathy and respect and the whole idea that value concerns more than dollars, euros or other currencies.

Irony has killed authenticity

The excellence award nomination winning paper of the first Conference day,'Even better than the real thing, Understanding generation Y’s definition of ‘authenticity’ for the Levi’s brand', by Joeri van den Bergh & Tom de Ruyck from InSites Consulting and Dirk van Kemseke, Levi Strauss Europe, Middel East and North Africa from Belgium was exactly in line with John Gerzema’s thesis that reality is changing and that the battlefield is not as many of us still think it is. Irony has killed much of what we elders still think and believe is ‘authentic’. For the younger generation authenticity is what is perceived and not the old definition origin plus history plus heritage. All this means drastic changes for market and opinion research. Simple, straight forward question and answer approaches do not represent the reality anymore as they used to. “Nobody needs research, we need inspiration while insights die in the Power Point culture we still live in today” said Nicole Reinhold from Philips Design.

From ratio into the subconscious

Although the Conference was aimed at qualitative researchers, most of the presentations showed as in previous years how rapidly qualitative and quantitative techniques are merging to the benefit of a more holistic understanding. As the real underlying research questions tend to become more complex we have to improve our techniques to a greater depth and this was impressively demonstrated in the Grand Qualitative Bazar. In parallel four interactive groups discussed and explored new techniques in the qualitative landscape. Ralph Poldervaart, Motivaction International, Netherlands took his group into their subconscious mind to reach back and visualise unbiassed fundamental experiences.

A session in the grand qualitative bazaar lead by Neil McPhee and Di Tunney
Co-creation instead of questioning

The excellence award nomination winning paper of the second day 'Brand and consumers co-creation', by Carla Mayumi from Box 1824 and Fabio Paiva from PepsiCo do Brasil, both from Brazil was a good example of a series of most instructive examples how ‘affectionados’ of a brand or a product can be mobilised to a level of involvement that goes far beyond the definition of traditional market research.

Also the very stimulating presentation by Benjamin Smither of Spych Market Analytics, USA proved that youngster can be empowered in 'Shedding light on the digital grey areas of teen dating violence'. Chrystal Nathan from The Nielsen Company took inspiration for her presentation 'From spinning a yarn to weaving a rich tapestry - Inspirations from Bollywood and cricket' and showed the audience how sexy market research can be.

In a super dynamic interactive session, facilitated by Andrew Needham, FACE, UK all participants came up with challenges, constraints, pro’s and con’s of all the innovations or improvements of newly introduced techniques. Main conclusion; no replacement, but to be added on to the existing knowledge and techniques. Busy times ahead of us professional market and opinion researchers! This was a great conference in a magical city, what an excellent combination.

Frits Spangenberg

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