I recently came back from the 2011 The Market Research Event (TMRE) conference in Orlando, the biggest marketing research conference of the year. There was plenty to like, not the least of which was the scale of the event. Rarely, if ever, do we get to see an exclusively market research event that is so big. Kudos to IIR for putting it together.
The highlight of the event for me was the Keynotes, of which there were eight. I couldn't catch all of them, but my favorite was Sheena Iyengar from Columbia, author of the best seller The Art of Choosing (and sister-in-law of my friend Raghu Iyengar from Wharton). In a beautifully choreographed and clear presentation, Sheena (who is blind) talked about the problem of plenty in consumer choice and ways to avoid it for both sellers and buyers. The Keynotes were all held in a massive room and very entertainingly emceed by Cayne Collier, an actor and improv artist from Second City Chicago. Discussions with a variety of people indicated that the Keynotes were the favorite part of the conference for many.
The NGMR Disruptive Innovator awards were an interesting addition to the usual conference fare and featured several innovations. While an award ceremony and a panel discussion were held (moderated by Tom Anderson of Anderson Analytics), I would like to have seen more attention paid to the finalists and winners. It is not that often that one gets to see innovations celebrated publicly in our industry and a bigger spotlight might have helped more people appreciate the work and be inspired to develop some on their own. Perhaps the finalists could have been given a special booth where they could display descriptions of their innovations, and conference attendees could get the opportunity to discuss with them.
The main conference was organized with 7-8 parallel tracks and about 4-5 sessions per track each day so it was impossible to hit everything. Looking at the agenda it appeared that there was heavy representation of client-side presenters and a few co-presentations involving client and supplier side presenters. Many of the people I spoke to (particularly on the client side) were wondering why there weren't more supplier side presentations. Perhaps the organizers were afraid they would turn into sales presentations? But effectively sidelining a big part of our industry (especially the part where a lot of innovation happens) does not seem like an effective strategy. Maybe a competitive track can be created in parallel to the Disruptive Innovators Award, so that more research suppliers can compete to talk about their work.
I would also like to have seen more academic representation in the conference presentations. So much interesting and original work is currently happening in academic market research. It would not be too hard to get some of those folks to share the knowledge and therefore help develop the relationship between academia and practical market research. Events like TMRE have sufficient size and prestige to attract academics who normally tend to attend only their own (often highly technical) conferences. Panel discussions involving academics and practitioners would be another idea that would really help practitioners understand the state of research in academia and how it can be made practically useful.
The massive Peabody in Orlando was a nice hotel to hold a conference of this size. Minglesticks were an interesting innovation that allowed participants to quickly (and cardlessly) exchange information. Overall it was an interesting conference to attend and something that I would recommend for every market researcher, to learn and be inspired.