If you read my blog regularly, it should come as no surprise that I am an ardent fan of using mobile devices — whether mobile phones or tablets — for market research purposes. I have discussed how consumers are already forcing our hand into the world of mobile and that market insights professionals are not conducting mobile market research but instead are conducting market research in a mobile world.
Given this, I was both delighted and dismayed when attending this year’s ARF Re:think 2013 conference. Why was I delighted? There was a marked increase in the number of talks that focused on the role mobile plays — whether as a research technique or how it plays a significant role in consumers’ lives. Of just the talks I attended, which were a lot, almost 60% of them discussed the role of mobile. And a lot of these “mobile” talks were in the main track session. Talking with colleagues who attended last year, it’s clear that mobile has definitely moved front of mind compared with ARF Re:think 2012.
But I was dismayed that it was still just talk, talk, talk. At the conference, I was surrounded by tablets and smartphones, and people were using them all the time. And while we’re living this mobile life, we’re listening to speeches telling us how we need to start thinking about the role of mobile. Dare I say that we need to do a bit more than just thinking at this point in the game? We clearly have to get our act together soon.
Our industry has a track record of coming to the party late. In fact, other topics that I was surprised we were still talking about at a conference like the ARF included how we need to tell a story with our data, the role of data visualization in presenting our data, why we need to embrace change, and how to get a seat at the executive table.
These topics are important, but if we are to advance as an industry, we need to focus our attention on solutions, best practices, and what is on the horizon instead. I want a conference to blow my mind about the possibilities of what our industry can and should look like. I want to hear new ways of using data. For example, it would have been great to have a talk on new data sources — such as 3D sensors or even Google Glasses — that can push us to new depths of consumer understanding. Or to see case studies that laid out best-practice steps of exactly how a market insights department embraced change and got a seat at the table. Or a workshop on how to leverage data visualization step by step, so that when you got back to your desk after the conference, you had a clear idea of what you needed to do.
Every conference is a delicate balance between actionable insights and more forward-looking ideas. This ARF conference definitely gave me food for thought about what I need to focus on. However, I’d love to see at least one or two tracks at one of the upcoming conferences that examine the adjacent possible, with speakers from completely different industries talking about innovation. That’s the only way to let go of our navel-gazing.