TMRE Speaker Track 6 MMR Research Associates

Integrated Learning: Our POV from TMRE 2017

Walter Blotkamp, Bruce Forni, and Patricia Houston attended TMRE 2017. Their perspectives are shared below.

A consistent theme that permeated TMRE this year was the need for triangulation and integration of learning. Whether it was Adam Alter’s notion of thin slices creating first impressions particularly in how we set up and start presentations (as so well demonstrated by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic); understanding and predicting behavior as it relates to brand choice; or just the value of “power partnerships” and working together toward a shared vision, the ability to adapt, to pull together different perspectives, to incorporate new information and processes, and the desire (and knowledge) to use all of this to drive business action will be the recipe for research success.


Researcher as Business Partner

Nowhere was this theme more evident than in the CMO panel where executives from Hershey, PopSugar and Chobani commented on this need. From attracting a diversity of talent to ensure wide perspective, having research focus more on the longer term “mysteries” rather than short term “puzzles” better solved by AI/Big Data/Algorithms, or yearning for researchers to be partners in helping CMOs make the final decisions, it was clear that the researcher’s role is not only that of “data gatherer” but even more importantly “data interpreter.”

Our POV:

– Researchers MUST have a point of view. More than telling a story or creating a narrative, the essential job of researchers today is not to weave a story around insights but to give a point of view based on new learning about a business issue at hand.

– Be a business partner first, and a researcher second. Spend time learning your client’s business functions to create wider and deeper knowledge and better inform the POVs needed and demanded by the executive suite.


Focus on Impact, Not Method

With these two takeaways, it remains a bit puzzling how so many of the presentations at TMRE focus on “getting insights into the organization” or a new technique. It is always important to consider new approaches to data gathering and analysis but too frequently these developments are not evaluated through the filter of “how might this change the point of view on the business issue at hand.” For instance, how will adding Implicit Association techniques to a choice study alter the POV developed? It might – or it might not – it might just bolster the POV with a deeper understanding of motivations which could be valuable depending on incremental costs. Our POV:

– Research partners need to help their clients take the business “over the bridge” by separating out true foresight from “insight noise.”

  – The executive suite does not need to hear about the technique used to get there– they trust you to make that call to separate what flows under the bridge from what’s needed to cross it.

As researchers, what POV do we need to provide to help spur innovation whose funds, as Peter Horst (@peterhorst) mentioned, might be set aside and “protected” from the “turning the crank” research efforts needed for everyday business operations? There are many things that can work against getting a POV across and it’s our job to manage and avoid them. Perhaps paradoxically in this time of big data and analytics, what might change a point of view could come down to the dual art of inquiry development and questionnaire writing – two topics that are rarely addressed at larger conferences.


Brand Choice and Connecting with Consumers

Another intriguing TMRE topic was devoted to the best way to understand and predict behavior as it relates to brand choice, as well as how brands can best connect with consumers. The emphasis on how to understand emotions / personalities / values / points of empathy and other non-conscious decision mechanisms as a better predictor of behavior was interesting. These claims have some degree of legitimacy and are worthy of intellectual discussion, however, the implied dismissal of people’s ability to accurately articulate how they “feel” about brands, and the implications on how this affects purchase disposition toward brands, seems somewhat misguided. By diminishing the value of consumer conversations and direct questioning (versus combining conscious and non-conscious inquiry), we face the risk of losing specificity in discovering what drives brand affinities and purchase decisions. 

Our POV:

– Truly understanding “why” people feel the way they do (e.g. values, world views) has very legitimate value in guiding the creative / brand communication process.

– Non-traditional approaches have value in setting the tone of a brand message, making the brand communication more comfortable and compatible with the targeted audience.

– Traditional survey methods lend critical value, however, in fully understanding elements that drive brand choice.

“We need both emotion and reason to sufficiently explain and predict behavior.” – Aaron Reid, Sentient Decision Science via @JHenning for MRII


For us at MMR Research Associates, the upshot – and the upside – of TMRE takeaways is that there seems to be shift in the industry to focus more on providing a perspective on the business issue that drove the research in the first place. This shift is not without its tension as the industry continues to evolve in response to the business needs of our clients. MMR continues to believe that context is the crucial filter to developing valued perspectives – whether it is in deciding if and/or when to use any of the various new approaches, understanding “why” people feel the way they do about a brand, or in a larger sense, how to interpret data to deliver actionable recommendations for driving profitable decision making.

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