Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Future of Consumer Intelligence conference in San Francisco. This week, when I reflect back on the conference topics and energy, I realize how fitting San Francisco was as the location of the event: Much like the essence of the city itself, the conference speakers and attendees showed ingenuity and optimism around the challenges and opportunities that the market research industry faces. I also thought about the same conference that I attended last May (IIR Market Research Technology Event 2012) and the key themes that I gathered and blogged about: Big data is here, integrating survey and behavioral data is powerful, and behavioral economics has huge implications for market research. For me, the big difference between last year’s conference and this year’s is this: A year ago, market insight professionals were sizing up their challenges with the future of market research. This year, they are taking the bull by the horns and embracing both the challenges and opportunities that technology in market research presents. Here are the main themes I gathered from the event:

  • Market research is undergoing major change and disruption. In 2013, there are many more devices, more touchpoints, and more content. This all means more data. Yes, “big data” has become something of a buzzword, but consumers are creating a lot more data and market insights professionals need to adjust and reinvent their role if they want to analyze it. This is a time of change and disruption — and the most innovative market insights professionals view it as an exciting time. I think it’s a telling sign that something in the industry has changed when the rock star keynote speaker was a data scientist — Nate Silver, author of The Signal and The Noise; he gave his suggestions on how to deal with gleaning meaningful insights from mounds of big data.
  • Big data is a reality for market research. Many presenters and attendees emphasized the importance of integrating survey data with behavioral data. Larry Friedman from TNS gave a wonderful presentation that stressed the need for market researchers to face the new reality: With customers producing so much data, old approaches to research are no longer appropriate, and therefore, the market research role in marketing needs to be broader. For me, the most powerful part of his speech was when he said that triangulating multiple data sources to get a broader picture of the consumer doesn’t need to mean “hard integration” right away — where marketers have all survey, social listening, and behavioral data fully integrated. “Soft integration,” where data sources don’t necessarily all come from the same sample and are not fully integrated, can still be incredibly insightful and much less intimidating for market researchers to embrace. My colleague Roxana Strohmenger gave an insightful presentation about Forrester’s own experiences with integrating data from three dimensions and the challenges she faced in combining mobile, survey, and qualitative data from one sample to get a holistic view of the consumer. Finally, Rick Smolan, photographer and author of The Human Face of Big Data, shared his truly fascinating project where he visually shows the impact of big data on people’s lives around the world.
  • Market insights pros are (finally) leveraging better tools and methodologies. There were several presentations that demonstrated that market insights professionals are embracing innovative research tools and methodologies. Bill MacElroy from Socratic Technologies shared how surveys can incorporate gamification techniques to create more engaging, game-like experiences within the survey-taking process. For the conjoint and discrete choice modelers in the audience, Ely Dahan from the UCLA Medical School dazzled us by not only sharing impressive models where he combines conjoint, crowdsourcing, and consumer choice modeling to predict consumer choice but, more impressively, showing us that it can be done using just five or six survey questions! Innovative survey methodologies like prediction markets were often widely discussed. Jared Heyman from CrowdMed shared how his company uses prediction markets to successfully crowdsource medical diagnosis. And while it’s great to see what new technologies vendors are supplying, it’s even more exciting to see how companies are using them. It was very exciting for me to see Beth Schneider from Intuit share how her company is using social chatter to understand what’s being said about the company and its competitors and how social chatter is making Intuit aware of competitors to which it needs to pay attention.

What about you? Did you attend the Future of Consumer Intelligence Conference 2013? What were the key themes for you?