ESOMAR Congress 2023
I confess I have not been a very active ESOMAR member in recent years. The previous Congress I had attended was held in my hometown of Montreal back in 2008. I regretted missing the COVID-delayed 2022 ESOMAR Congress in Toronto, so to make sure that I did not miss the next one, I bought a super early bird booking for the 2023 Congress in Amsterdam.
I was not disappointed.
ESOMAR is a global organization for market research professionals and over 1,000 delegates attended from all around the world. The conference venue at the Beurs van Berlage, in central Amsterdam, had a congenial layout for presentations, company booths and mingling. I was somewhat surprised how few old contacts I knew there, but no matter. It was an easy environment to introduce yourself to fellow researchers and make connections. Sometimes these conversations might be related to capabilities or a specific project; sometimes it was swapping notes on research pain points and sometimes it was just chatting.
I could imagine that behavioural science principles had been used to nudge people to meet. The food was small, high quality and easy to eat whilst talking. Waiting staff offered drinks in various areas around the conference rooms. Chairs and small tables were scattered around. In this setting it was quite natural to have ‘water cooler conversations’ during line-ups for refreshments and to sit down with new acquaintances. Well done ESOMAR for getting small details right which can have such a big impact on the delegate experience.
In these conversations, I do recommend that delegates have a very clear and simple pitch as to their service offer. If this is done well it can lead to a quick result. Within ten minutes of meeting one new connection at ESOMAR it became apparent that we could work together on a project. This was commissioned a few days later and has now been successfully completed.
My own pitch is that I provide pricing consultancy with a focus on MedTech and cleantech. One of the main reasons I attended the conference was to consider what opportunities there are for pricing consultancy and I was particularly interested in the papers relating to sustainability. I also wanted to understand how my research peers are thinking about AI. With that in mind, let me summarize what I learnt.
In brief, I came away from the ESOMAR conference of the opinion that pricing expertise is now widely relevant to projects delivered by research professionals.
To kick-off the sustainability theme, Thosten Fehr from the European Space Agency (ESA) provided the Opening Keynote about Taking the pulse of our planet from space. He described how the ESA is collecting a huge amount of data about our planet which shows how rapidly it is changing. The ESA is dedicated to peaceful purposes. A key objective of the ESA is to engage with partners, and the rest of society, to achieve sustainability goals. My takeaway from this talk was how this data can change the debate about how we tackle climate change. We can move from conversations about whether climate change is happening or how serious a problem it is to being able to use this vast amount of data to validate models and identify the effectiveness of actions to tackle climate change.
Here are my pricing reflections from the research presentations I attended.
- Ben Liang, Will Goodhand and Chris Wallbridge gave a paper about Your Attitude is Not Sustainable! The project was based on interviews with business / sustainability KOLs to understand how research can best support sustainability. Market research on sustainability needs to 1) Talk in dollars and cents NOT traditional metrics, 2) Be specific to sustainability action standards, 3) Guide how to action a business case. From a value / pricing perspective, having a focus on pricing and profits is key to enable clients to drive their sustainability efforts to new heights.
- Rebecca Posner and Lucy Farrow spoke about Innovation Takes the Wheel. I had not realised how well advanced the UK Department of Transport was in planning for self-driving vehicles with autonomous buses already available in a number of cities. Research was done, using a variety of different techniques, to understand how UK customers would react to this radical new technology taking into account that (to quote Henry Ford) “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. The progress that was being made in the UK did make me wonder whether Tesla should start small with their FSD autonomy offering, in a tightly defined geographical area, as a first step towards their autonomous Uber vision. This would allow them to pilot test this technology in the real world and generate evidence of the level of public risk. From a value / pricing perspective, research should be creative in understanding the value that radically new technologies will deliver to customers (as the basis for how they should be priced).
- Oscar Santamarfa and Jordi Crespo presented Sustainability at High-Speed. High-speed rail in Spain is the most extensive in Europe and the second largest in the world behind China. Iryo has launched a new train service on this high-speed rail network. Rail produces 10% of the emissions per km compared to flying. Research involved a substantial pricing and fares definition CBC approach which helped define four types of ticket classes and their pricing. From a value / pricing perspective, there must have been high level company support for their pricing research for it to lead to such a substantial impact on their product’s offer structure (my impression is that this is being done more than in the past).
- Anthony Syams described how The Foundation of the circular economy relies on 360° Data Traceability. The European Commission is developing regulations around Digital Product Passports with the vision that “digital product passports could provide information on a product’s compliance with EU rules, composition, origin of components, as well as repair and dismantling possibilities.” 360° Data Traceability involves building vast quantities of data. From a value / pricing perspective, those investing in building data to support Digital Product Passports are thinking about how to monetize this data (reduce over-stocking, transport efficiencies).
- Richard Shotton educated us about Behavioural Science in his Keynote Hacking the Human Mind: How Behavioural Science Helps Us Understand Customers Better and his follow-up Running Behavioural Science Experiments. He introduced us to the EAST framework; an acronym for understanding behavioural triggers which are Easy, Appealing, Social and/or Timely. I think this is especially relevant to diagnosing the causes of a ‘say/do’ gap. An earlier sustainability paper used an example of the ‘say/do’ gap as that between the ‘60% who say they are concerned about climate change’ and the ‘20% who do actions which are climate-friendly’. Richard described how monadic experiments can reveal how people really react, avoiding unrealistic comparative effects. He described a monadic price test for a car which revealed that there was a higher willingness to buy when the price was presented at a daily rate than an equivalent annual rate. He also described a test of the same washing product with different branding which showed that the ‘green’ product was not thought to wash as well as when it was branded in other ways. From a value / pricing perspective, behavioural science principles can be used to test for how customers really act on price.
As I suspected, we should anticipate AI to have a profound impact on how we do research.
- Virtual Incentives provided a 5-minute presentation about AI Generated Open Ends – What to Look For. They described how there are two types of bad actor to look out for – the survey farm and the unethical panelist. In their experience, human content tends to be simple, short and clearer.
- Cecile Carre and Eva Wittmann talked about the threats to market research from AI with their paper Human or AI? AI is already making a substantial impact on survey completion and will continue to grow. The threat of AI varies by type of project (country of field, complexity (high v short LOI), mobile friendly or not, sample source selection (blend), nature of the target). Managing AI is an industry challenge and there is a need to take pressure off online panels.
- Ben Page provided a Keynote with a focus on the benefits of AI to research in his presentation Supercharged Research in a Polarised World. As history shows, it is difficult to predict the outcome of transformative technologies such as AI. The impact of AI is currently with qualitative technologies; they have found little benefit with quantitative data. They have a plan of ‘doing things faster and better’ with qualitative research; ultimately getting AI to generate topline data summaries.
Here are some connections I have found helpful – Episto for global social media generated samples; ESOMAR for professional standards; Generation1 for recruitment in Toronto; Huuray for global honoraria distribution and IDR for recruitment of senior decision-makers.
Old Amsterdam is a fascinating city to walk around. If you have the chance, take a morning walk to see children being taken to school as passengers on their parents’ bicycles. If you love old maps, as I do, I recommend the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Palace. In the evening, take a drink or two at the Café Papeneiland and imagine yourself back in the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century.