Sept 11-13
by: Michael Dorr, Managing Director – Hotspex UK

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the ESOMAR Congress in Amsterdam. This year’s conference celebrated ESOMAR’s 70th anniversary and the theme was “Visionary”. More than ever, our industry needs to be focused on the future amid ongoing disruptions and ever-rising expectations from our clients and stakeholders. This year’s conference challenged us, as researchers, to think bigger and to embrace the future, while still promoting and upholding high standards for quality research.


Several themes and topics were discussed, debated, and explored at the conference, but the over-arching message for me was: the role of insights needs to evolve (both inside our clients’ walls and for suppliers as well). Some inspiring messages that I heard…


Andrew Geoghegan (Diageo, UK) spoke about the role of insights at Diageo and explained that his insights department’s goal is “to (boldly) lead the total business with ideas and insights that sell more”. This grounded and inspiring goal was illustrated with a case study on Johnnie Walker.

Andrew explained that Diageo is committed to delivering both insight and foresight for their brands; that is, a grasp on the past and present, but also a perspective on the future.  Through continuous expert interviews, trends research, and cultural observations, the Diageo team identified changes among its base; specifically, whisky consumers are younger, there are more female drinkers, and new whisky drinkers have an evolved attitude toward style, esteem, and status.  These insights helped preemptively inform a new direction for one of their pillar brands: Johnnie Walker. A new brand positioning was developed to better convey status (without being elitist) and to shift its historically masculine persona to be more gender-neutral. I think this is a prime example of thoughtful and bespoke research design; and the need for research to be (a) nimble (b) ongoing and (b) multidisciplinary (mixing qualitative and quantitative with primary and secondary insights).


Another topical example of evolving research was from Blauw Research (from the Netherlands) who has helped evolve their approaches by leveraging Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow.
For many, Byron Sharp’s book has acted as a friendly refresher course in marketing & behavioural sciences. Several ideas that Sharp espouses are long-standing principles (e.g. non-conscious behaviours, nudge theory, framing effects, etc.)

At Hotspex, we have seen our clients embrace Byron’s Sharp’s revolutionary (and often controversial) ideas, which has resulted in a step-change in how we approach research. How Brands Grow has definitely helped influence us in how we approach measuring distinctive brand assets and overall brand distinctiveness.

Blauw’s presentation at ESOMAR outlined some clever examples of putting this new thinking into action. According to How Brands Grow, consumers cannot reliably answer “why”. To address this (in research practice) Blauw bans the word “why” from focus groups, forcing moderators to use “what?”, “with whom?”, “when?”. As simple as it may seem, this change is quite bold (given how accustomed we are, as researchers, to asking “why?”). The result? Blauw’s research findings helped their client uncover new category entry points and triggers.

Does this mean “why?” is irrelevant? Of course not. It simply means we need to be thoughtful in how we design our research to uncover the whys (and why nots).


Two things sum up these great examples: an openness to new ideas and an agility to change. I felt that nearly all speakers at the conference helped to reinforce this point. In a way, it felt like a rallying cry for the research industry. In response, I felt that the conference attendees left feeling motivated, optimistic and ready to get to work. I certainly did.

See you next year, in Paris, ESOMAR!


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