Mapping New Frontiers at IIEX North America 2019

Texas Capitol

By Arundati Dandapani


What happens in Texas does not stay in Texas. It travels and has far-reaching impact. Thus proved the IIeX North America Conference in April 2019 in Austin City. The local vine had it there were six shootings at the preceding SXSW conference so if that was true, then it was also a city of well-kept secrets. Either way, I was looking forward to participating in my first ever conference as a speaker and IIeX attendee. I had never been this far south in the US fondly known as Silicon Valley Part 2 for Austin is this new tech utopia and growing cosmopolis where at least three weary Californians joked they could move to in a heartbeat: the weather and culture (TexMex) were most inviting. I arrived with a pretty strong contingent of small to big companies and individuals on Air Canada, and you can say the plane was packed with IIeX heavyweights both ways.

Experts spanned the gamut of technologies and platforms waiting to break the next big insight or opportunity maybe, and I was attending IIeX 2019 Austin to speak and mostly learn all about new ways to leave a mark in the marketplace and to understand what people gained from such annual conferences as autonomous entities. To meet more clients or grow my verticals or horizontals, new dimensions welcome. There were many useful sessions and the following thoughts kept emerging at IIeX 2019 in Austin:


Emotion continues to power commerce: physical, electronic, metaphysical, so it was heartening to see lots of talk around consumer emotion that drives behaviour. System1 Group harnessed audience emotion to ideate on ad ratings. The machinery of emotions is complex demanding resources and tools equipped to deal with so many behavioural factors and real-time contexts. Many companies on the floor were thus offering different tools to track consumers’ behavioural data to predict user intent.

Microsoft leverages AI for tackling the world’s biggest problems including climate change and commits to their pursuit for more accessible survey research design in a world where disabilities impact over 1 billion people worldwide. Their presentation’s central premise was that whenever you design surveys/research, you should design inclusively for all rather than segregate your research for abled vs. disabled.

AI was on steroids but human-led – thank god?! Refer to Ms. Laarni Paras’ slide from Sklar Wilton and Associates below with data from her presentation on their Canada AI tracker:

AI seems to do domestic work better than offer financial guidance

If your greatest pain defines your purpose, it was certainly worth paying attention to the things that made your dream client go “urrrrrrrr”, suggested Little Bird Marketing’s CEO Ms. Priscilla McKinney. She prepared a ton of worksheets to help us nail down who our ideal client was and what we wanted them to say – her favourite being, “I don’t understand hashtags”. What’s your favourite client problem?


Ms. Jackie Anderson, Co-Founder of Scale House shared more gems in her session about taking your organization from growth to scale. The security you can gain from providing a structural framework or blueprint to your business woes whether it is in start-up or scale-up phase is worth the hard work it takes to identifying your ultimate target, and knowing which parts of your business are primed for growth versus scale.

AI powered Remesh’s CEO Mr. Andrew Konya instigated conversations about brand ethics with relation to consumer privacy, user (ongoing) consent and path to purchase/adoption/behaviour change in an era of waning trust in brands.

Blockchain was made more digestible than ever by Measure Protocol CTO Mr. John Martin who samples on the blockchain, having established their expertise as an early stage adopter in consumer data collection with blockchain for improving sample quality, respondent security and transparency. Their CMO Mr. Paul Neto writes at length about the importance of using blockchain to benefit from our own data. This is reminiscent of consumer electronics expert Mr. John Ellis’ arguments about our need to benefit from a data economy with his “zero-dollar car” theory, so blockchain did seem like the logical next step.

I also wanted to hear about Potcoin and Hempcoin, but that’s for another time.


Right from the inaugural speakers to the concluding ones, speakers were seen yearning to free themselves from the status quo of “how we did things before” with “there’s got to be innovative ways of understanding consumer emotion” and “more accessibility” was a key part of the conversation and it was agreed “there’s not enough talk (or action) on inclusivity”. Leveraging cultural understanding and behavioural insights remained an objective to attaining answers that were relevant to (and extended to) all. The recommended phrase “humanity-centred” design came up — which I think fosters good debate. Free yourself from the banality of rating scales and move towards deeper richer conversational tools using behavioural science suggested MarsWrigley and Protobrand.

Speakers talked about the content being speedy and hard-hitting (which it was), and warned against trying to make deep connections. But I found the opposite fulfilling: seeking continuity and connections in a methods-weary and tech platform-driven marketplace of “hipster aggregators” as some might label this movement. The question to ask here is how do you establish and seek relevance in such a “won” or digitally transformed marketplace: and the answer begins in the personal, because trust and credibility stem (and flower) there.

The importance of micro-moments was amplified however, and matters a lot in the freer world, and the 22 year old presenter from Zebra IQ Ms. Tiffany Zhong wove together a string of really exciting micro-moments about her generation’s quirks. Asynchronous, authentic, autonomous, non-linear interactions and a sharp straightforwardness sets her generational cohort apart, demanding our quick understanding of their new lingo and technologies, and understanding why they are so tuned in to being so busy (talking to strangers all the time etc.). Generation Z are actually the rarest to find sample and her company can help you find them.

I was inspired by the unique ways firms were demonstrating how they put “people” first, as AI grew more complex or sophisticated. Moral compass seemed to be steering the thinking researcher’s toolkit finally, and data privacy/security was obviously at the helm of all this, proven by the presentations from Remesh, Microsoft, RBC, CRIS, at the least.

Ms. Archana Mohan of Labbrand, NY goes into the art and tech of naming brands. A total treat for anyone who loves naming their brands (“We are all namers,” she said).
Confident Mr. Hannibal Brooks of Olson Zaltman Associates, Pittsburg, PA, wins the best New Speaker Award on stage with Dr. Annie Pettit. (His presentation highlighted the role of social validity in the innovation cycle across the ages, through time-travel.)

Never having spoken at a conference like this before, the experience of watching others wear the same shoes / hat was hectic but also exciting. My own talk about cannabis research made me think so much about new ways of seeing (CPG, tech, opinion research, conferences, etc.) and primes me for so much more.

It was a wholly packed and exhausting conference if you included travel and hadn’t sat in a plane to anywhere for over 3 years, say because of messaging apps and holograph conference calls. I really enjoyed the evening events as well including Blanton museum’s art exhibits and the Hotspex Brand Builders dinner. The corporate fortune teller prescribed green tea daily for 3-6 months for overall well-being and asked to keep a green tea journal. Maybe this was some new nudge in sustainability habits and I have been following it to the tea.

This was so nice!

The conference energy was great. I was most lucky to have collided with such different and similar fellow attendees, models, brand and insights leaders, and those who Little Bird Marketing might actually call “ideal buyer personas”.

Thank you IIeX!

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