Impressions from the MRS Conference 2014

Tote-bag-tasticAsk people about the most memorable moment from Impact 2014 was and I’ll wager the adolescent alliteration of a performance poet will be top of mind. Counter-scoring the orchestration of heavyweight keynote speakers, brassy agency methodologists and cutting-edge client organisations ensured Charlie Dupré, the posh boy from Barnes stood out. Different for the sake of being different? Perhaps, but no less effective.

As usual attending the full two days of the conference leave you seriously synapse-wilted, blinking into the bright light of condensed ideas.

A whistlestop tour of what made an impact:

Caroline Hayter ‘s Adventure into the unknown made me feel like us researchers really have an easy job:  child psychotherapist Valerie Sinason described working with a patient for 16 years before being told “I think I’m beginning to think I’m starting to trust you.” Trust to Sinason is a dangerous concept – to expect someone with a traumatised upbringing to trust you is delusional. She emphasised the importance of stepping outside your assumptions, and checking to see where your blind spots are. Dr James Thompson, senior lecturer in psychology at UCL talked about the effects of trauma, extrapolating the effects of the financial crisis to a societal level. A key point was that “Anger latches on to adventitious things” – suggesting anger that might well be directed at targets out of reach gets expressed closer to home.

Clare Gough from Waitrose took us through an innovative approach in getting Waitrose Partners closer to customers. Senior decision makers sponsor an investigation into a theme (e.g. affordability) and 20 or so colleagues spend a day:

  • Framing the problem – reviewing all existing knowledge (9-11am)
  • Spending time with customers – shopping, at home, online (11-3pm)
  • Action planning what they need to change as a result (3-5pm).

The main takeouts? The approach fits retail quick turnarounds, makes people challenge long-held assumptions about who the customer is, and energises them in a way a mere presentation cannot. Having a senior “route back in” for actions seems particularly apt. 

Psychologist Professor David Canter discussed his innovative spatial analysis of serial rapists in the 1980s in his keynote “Following in killers’ footsteps: secrets of geographical offender profiling.” Observing where offenders offend, he noted a wheel and spoke spatial progression. The role of proximity to their home, habit, and the need to vary locations within a known area he developed IT software to help predict future offending. Predictive analytics with a real world benefit.

Andy Hobsbawm, from tech company Evrythng explained “the internet of everything” in a way we could all understand which was no small feat.  His company produces software that connects products to the web bringing them closer to people. This creates vast opportunities – or as he put it “use cases”. Given a unique ID and a way to connect to th web (e.g. via smartphone) a product can note your behaviour passively then make suggestions – as well as the fridge ordering milk, your book can trigger an invitations to a book festival, and your guitar can suggest the right gauge of strings for playing Neil Young. Unintended consequences abound – but for Hobsbawn it is about a creative way to look at how things are made – challenging yourself to add new value – not harvesting data. The future made possible by this passive data collection is personalised, dynamic – where products adapt to the consumer.

Layla Northern (Boots), Olly Taylor (Innocent) and Sally Kirby (Swinton) gave us agencies some useful feedback in their fun interactive workshop Insider information: Inside the mind of the client. Tip: make sure your proposals have a summary page, a menu of costs and share your debrief decks 48 hours in advance…

Overall? The keynote speakers were of particular quality, and we came away with ideas and new contacts – which is what it’s all about isn’t it?

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About Simon Shaw

I'm a Director at a communications agency. I'm interested in marketing, market research & consumer psychology. The views expressed are not necessarily those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Conferences, Consumer Psychology, Events, Market research, Marketing Research, Methods, Qualitative research and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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