Reflections From Market Research Conferences 2023

The last 3 months have seen several large-scale market research conferences in the UK, not least the annual MRS Insight Alchemy conference and The Quirk’s Event both held in London earlier this year.

Market Researchers are a wonderful animal. In possession of an intellect and diligence which makes them sceptical of #TheNextBigThing, but by their very nature researchers love to learn. They love new things. So, they absolutely cannot resist and love to know about the #TheNextBigThing despite their scepticism!

And this is why at current market research conferences you will find standing room only in any talk to do with AI and Chat GPT. And why you will also find furrowed brow, scrutiny, and a little eye rolling!

I love this about market research. Yes, we’ll get on board. But only when we’ve kicked all the tyres and made sure they’re real.

Market Research Conference Key Learnings

Aside from this observation, here are 3 things you may have missed if you couldn’t get to a conference this spring:

1. Have we finally reached a tipping point for representation in market research?

The MRS conference was a particularly heart-breaking reminder of just how far UK Market Research still has to go when it comes to equality in the workplace. There is honesty and braveness as people share their stories of discrimination. But, having been at this 20 years, very little actual progress has been made sadly. Agency leaders – sort this out. Now. We can’t change the country. But you can change your agency, quickly actually if you want to.

More hopeful is the progress being made in sampling. Some great companies are emerging to make a business out of representation. Specialising in finding ‘harder to reach people’, getting good at it, and helping clients get the truth they need. If you’re not adjusting methods for neuro diversity, you’re missing out on up to 20% of the UK. If you’re not building samples to actively seek out and represent race, religion, gender, differently abled, you’re not representing the UK and your conclusions could be way off.

Historically, the economics are tough; lower IR = higher £. But now, with pressure from the MRS and major blue-chip clients demanding diverse samples, the tide is turning. ClearView Research gave a particularly energising vision of the future at the MRS conference. For this to work, the economics must work. Good sampling has got to be good business. B corps and innovative new companies are making that happen. Great news!

2. Chat GPT is here and should be used wisely

AI is nothing new in Marketing Research. What is new is the ability to delegate vast chunks of research to a computer. If your agency doesn’t have a team at least exploring this subject, you’re at risk of being left behind. There is a spectrum of headlines from ‘Chat GPT – over hyped and dangerous’ to ‘Chat GPT – fire all your workforce and get a better laptop’… in the middle you find the quieter majority. The smart folk around the edges of the eye-catching presentations kicking the tyres and exploring.

The best summary I’ve heard so far is, ‘Chat GPT gets you to average far quicker’. This sounds like a put down, but it’s massive. We spend a lot of time doing the work to get to average. Imagine if every time you started a questionnaire (and I’m not talking about a templated ad test or tracker here, I’m talking a difficult ad hoc challenging brief) you already had a pretty good draft. Sure, it may not be totally accurate and might overreach in places. But you can fix that easily by using your human thinking brain (technical term) to finesse and make it brilliant. Now apply that to any part of MR – analysis, reporting, sample planning, data analytics… and you’ve got a new engine firing for you. I’ll leave the wider worries and ethics to others. What I know is that I like things that make market research easier and let my team think about bigger things for their clients.

3. The impact of the rise in the cost of living

I saw several great sessions from multiple perspectives. This simply can’t be overstated. People have less money. They will buy less. Joining the dots across a few sessions, we get to this insight: for your brand to stay strong it’s got to be absolutely razor-sharp. 100% super relevant. It’s not that people won’t pay for products. It’s that they absolutely cannot afford to pay for something that’s just ok.

This is actually good news for market research and anyone in the business of finding superiority in experiences. Anything launched on a hunch in this market is taking a huge risk. But some luxuries are thriving. It’s not just about the price point, it’s about how well you’re meeting someone’s need. Interestingly, given all the change, this has always been the case, it’s just become even more important. And so, we market researchers humbly get on with that important work: understanding and meeting needs.

Richard Heath - Managing Director at Blue Yonder

Written by Richard Heath, Managing Director at Blue Yonder Research

Richard joined Blue Yonder in 2018 after 20 years leading insight work with some of the world’s most famous marketing teams. Richard is a Brand and Communication Insight specialist. He’s worked with C Suite teams around the world to find growth, and help leaders make stronger, insight driven decisions.

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