trade event coverage

Getting Your Research Dollar's Worth

Moderator: chucklin' Joe Plummer, Chief Research Officer, The ARF;
Panelists (glued together left to right): Bob Woodard, Vice President, Global Consumer and Customer Insights, Campbell Soup Company; Grant McCracken, Research Affiliate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; John Zogby, President & CEO, Zogby International; Maddie Hamill, Managing Director, Market Evaluer, LLC; Lynn Bolger, Executive Vice President, Agency Development, comScore; David Cohen, Executive Vice President, US Director of Digital Communications, Universal McCann Interactive;
(Wordcount: 504; Pages: 2) Wow, being engaged in lunch conversation with a bunch of researchers is like trying to have a serious discussion behind the reasons Brad dumped Jennifer for Angelina. Nothing new was said (despite all the brain muscles flexed) and the rest of us have moved on. The conversation was eye-wateringly boring. And so it was that another trip to an ARF conference started and ended in the same fashion: a bunch of corporate geeks who exist to give their bosses the temperature, and letting them figure out how they should dress for the weather.

But you can't blame researchers for their blandness and lack of enthusiasm in the subject matter they spend their time on. Corporate researchers react to corporate management, and frankly, many members of corporate management just don't know what they want; and when they get it, they look at it different from how research would prefer, and always subjectively; and to the chagrin of research, doesn't always like to integrate the temperature into long-range plans.

This follow-on review of our May 2004 review takes the further stance that management is not necessarily to blame for not advancing ideas in the research function. Any layman observer will quickly note how protectionist, hierarchical, feudal, and territorial researchers are, particularly since their "business" is modeled after academia.

The purpose of this conference was to find out what's next in advertising research. Sadly, the answer is nothing, as the conference mostly dwelled on what's "now". I popped in only during the segment regarding human insights, and was marveled at how researchers are finally getting around to asking "why" the temperature is hot or cold. More astounding still was how in their attempts to answer the "why's", models and consumer segments were introduced like 28-month old newborn babies.

In fact, the entire affair seemed to me an exercise in reframing - saying the same things as always in longer, denser sentences, to misdirect the listener from the parts of what the researcher is saying that is actually stuff everyone already knows. But that wasn't the only valuable nugget gleaned from this snoozefest. The best perspectives will almost always come from researchers who founded their own firms. This is because their perspectives are borne from practice, not just theory. And when they speak about their findings, it's always with enthusiasm and risk-taking, which inevitably percolate throughout corporate research departments, securing their place in the upper echelons of innovators. Hint, hint.

Far be it from me to disparage the ARF in this review of just one segment of just one conference; the ARF has way too many Ph.D's thinking about how to get consumers to pay more attention to marketing and buy more stuff we don't need for it to not be relevant in any strategic conversation. However, in this reviewer's humble opinion, I believe that the ARF should spend more time fostering innovations in methods and ideas rather than falling prey to academic tendencies to accept old ideas as new and discussing tried and true approaches as experimental.

Al Berrios is Managing Director of al berrios & co., a pure strategy consulting firm, specializing in advising organizations + entrepreneurs on managing their enterprises in a service economy. Write or Subscribe to Consumer Strategies Report.


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