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Frontiers of Research 2012: Conference Round-Up

market research conference 2012Well, another conference is over, perhaps our best ever. A great roster of speakers, a room full of engaged attendees and a great location was a terrific formula for a memorable conference. Some highlights from the various sessions:

Lenny Murphy, Editor-in-Chief of the Greenbook blog opened with a wide sweep discussing the waves of changes rocking the market research world. Pulling from the GRIT survey, his discussion with emerging and established players, as well as his itinerant investigation, he was able to convincingly make the case that change in the MR industry is happening. Now. He talked about emerging technologies such as mobile, social media and text analytics and how academic expertise was a key to unlocking a future of new ideas. It was a perfect set-up for the group of academic presentations that were to follow.

Next up was TRC’s own Pankaj Kumar talking about the practicalities of choice research. As a former academic (he used to teach at Cornell), a current practitioner and a pioneer in Bayesian analysis, he was well positioned to talk about the usage of HB analysis to choice problems (as in discrete choice and Max-Diff). Highlighting some common problems in existing choice models (such as non-compensatory decision-making, rigid competitive sets and lack of social influences) he outlined potential solutions.

The first academic speaker was Olivier Toubia from Columbia who has a long history of doing original work in the choice modeling area and followed Pankaj’s presentation by discussing his most recent innovation to overcome respondent in attention. Conjoint Poker. That’s right, two words you didn’t think went together. Olivier described a system he has developed where respondents play poker but are providing conjoint data. He showed impressive looking equations to support his claim (to polite smiles) but also some hard evidence.

The afternoon sessions started with Uma Karmarkar of Harvard giving everyone a tour of the brain. In an elegant presentation she quickly established what “neuro” is and isn’t and what it can and cannot do. Then drawing on some recent work she and others have done, she was able to show how data collected from brain scans compared with behavioral ratings that market researchers were used to. The point that this was an evolving field in its fascinating infancy came through clearly in this colorful presentation about grey matter.

Jehoshua Eliashberg from Wharton has spent decades studying the movies. Not just as a consumer like many of us, but as a researcher by running models and trying to understand what works in the movieplex. The audience, the distributors and the producers all have their priorities and j3newh has worked on all sides of the problem. He showed how a movie theater can schedule its movies for maximum revenue, while also discussing his innovative approach to predicting success just based off the script. As he put it “movies are a lot more fun than diapers!”

The last presentation of the day was on behavioral economics by Shane Frederick from Yale. Shane has the distinction of being a collaborator of Nobel Winner Daniel Kahneman, the god father of behavioral economics (who cites Shane’s work in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Beyond highlighting some very interesting issues that behavioral economists have grappled with about how human decision making has plenty of “irrationalities” not accounted for by classical economics, Shane also shared what it was like working with a living legend. Wonderful, apparently.

I personally had a great time interacting with each of these speakers in the short Q&A session I did after each presentation. Even though I know each of them personally and am familiar with their work, it was still inspiring to see them present work that was dear to them and then patiently answer questions posed by me and a very interested audience.

I can’t wait for the next conference.

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