Reflections from the Global Data Analytics and Insights Congress 

By Arundati Dandapani

It was a privilege for Generation1.ca to be invited as a media partner of ESOMAR’s 2023 Annual Congress that played host to nearly 1200 attendees from all over the world in Amsterdam, Netherlands this fall between September 10 and September 13, 2023.

I attended donning many roles of founder, insights anthropologist, global citizen, professor / educator, author, publisher, colleague, peer and leader. Some highlights are worth encapsulating again from this grand annual industry conference.

Memory: The last time I visited Amsterdam was on a short detour from a business trip to the German city of Hamburg. I remember loving the city’s heat and its walkability, but also being shocked by the bikers-first culture, intercepting sharp-edged buildings and narrow alleys at that time, and again recently. In this visit, I was pleased to note that nothing had changed in these decades in Amsterdam, except for the increased volume / velocity of tourists and international business travellers in what remains one of Europe’s most visited destinations.

Welcome: As Wiepke van der Wal, the Netherlands ESOMAR Representative reminded attendees in the official welcome, her country is the birthplace of the microscope, the fire hose, the speed camera and Vengaboys (Der Vaal, 2023). ESOMAR Director General Joaquim Bretcha remarked then about the exponential growth of the data, analytics and insights community and changes impacting the profession since the very first ESOMAR conference was held in Amsterdam in 1948 that was attended by only twenty nine researchers from seven countries. Contrast that to the 1100+ attendees in 2023 (Bretcha, 2023)! (Hear our Congress special exclusive interview for our LBA series below). ESOMAR President Ray Poynter further pointed the gathering to how superlatively international the audience was and yet how united everyone was in their pursuit of insights for better decision-making and actions (Poynter, 2023).

I interviewed ESOMAR’s Director General about his journey and learnings from the profession

Recognition: A red-letter moment for me was being honoured with a star in ESOMAR’s Avenue of Excellence as one among 75 global industry data and insights legends at the welcome entrance to the annual conference. Moreover, the overall joy of being at home with the very best in global insights ensured a strong kick-off to my fall 2024 season and semester as an academic and leader.

Surper-charging:  The question about what supercharges us as a growing industry and profession kept reflecting back in the words of the keynotes, business leaders, researchers, and industry participants. Jim Collins once said that “technology is not a transformer, but a mere accelerator of change, and definitely never the cause of greatness or decline.” Yet that’s far from how technology or technology adoption is perceived across the breadth and depth of industry and consumer groups. So what really supercharges data leaders and insight mavens? Could it be a culture of ongoing learning? Could it be a culture of active curiosity and collaboration? Could it be a culture of sharp observation, self-discipline and a bias for sustained action and innovation?

Innovation: Jori Van De Spijker of DVJ Insights said that basing an innovation on a strong insight is the most important driver of success; an insight consists of the current situation, the friction, and the solution. Also, product ideas that are built on hedonic ideas versus utilitarian ones are the ones that perform best, according to Spijker’s presentation. But different cultural dimensions define the success of products in different markets. Radical innovation is harder (we need to explain the need it solves more clearly and its biggest barriers are intrusive technologies and privacy issues) than incremental innovation. Measuring innovation begins with carefully listening to consumers (De Spijker, 2023).

Human-centric: The broadest takeaway probably was that we still need people to tell stories about employees, customers, citizens, and consumers, despite all the advancements in technology and hyper-technology, if that’s what we want to call the scaling of AI, Web3 and other new technologies. So perhaps the supercharging was all about people connecting with one another with a greater understanding of each other’s capabilities and prowess than before, and how we can lead with more impact in our own respective spheres, and also together.

Five themes struck me as noteworthy and different from other years:  

1. AI versus Humanity is a false dichotomy

  • Collaboration: There were a few presentations that compared human skill and abilities with AI’s steroid like scaling features, especially with the use of prompt-engineered Generative AI and ChatGPT to automate survey creation. Yet all presentations concluded that human intelligence was supreme in any AI-Human collaboration.  
  • Augmenting Productivity: Encourage your workforces to improve their productivity with AI. There are a range of tools from conversational to generative and beyond that can offer enough tools to enhance your output as well as impact.  
  • Ethical Frameworks: These will continue to be important from ESG to responsible AI use. Humans will need to be able to tap into their moral and emotional intelligence to create fit-for-purpose frameworks that empower human intelligence, leadership and judgment.

[My longer article around AI literacy is forthcoming in another publication.]

2. Future of Work is about Employee Wellness:

It always helps to remind the industry and employer community that talent is truly the most coveted commodity today across contexts with access to more upskilled and dynamic talent than before. Employees are thus your first or most important customers. When you look to quantify some of this for workers in man-hours, the presentation by Meta and Mintel stood out in figures for how they discussed the time spent working and why worker wellness matters. Judo bank had another interesting and award-winning presentation on how they were leveraging employee experience measurement technology towards bringing about radical and incremental organizational change (Hibbs, Griffiths and Chandler, 2023). Some of our employers participating in Generation1.ca’s virtual insights career fair both in the summer and in the fall came to my mind as true exemplars in advancing the experience of industry leaders and professionals as they looked to recruit from diverse audiences and communities like ours.

3. Consumer Centricity and Citizen Understanding is rooted in behavioural science:

One of the opening keynote speakers Richard Shotton of The Choice Factory remarked that the market researcher in the room is the one who understands human behaviour the best, paving the case for behavioural science or “the study of how people actually behave versus how they say they behave,” based on high volumes of peer-reviewed studies and experiments. Shotton suggested companies adopt the EAST acronym framework, where behaviour-change should be made more easy, attractive, social and timely.

Shotton’s key insight was that we need to spend as much time studying the barriers to use of a product, service or brand as we spend on understanding the drivers of use backed by various experiments. Lastly, bridging the intention-action gap for consumers / citizens is not just about boosting motivation associated with the desired actions, but also creating an implementation plan tied to a time, place or a mood attached with your product/ service/ brand. For example, associating “Snickers” with removing that feeling of being hungry and angry (hangry).

Overall, eliminate barriers to use, turn attention to memory, by making your value as concrete as possible. Make your product look popular by building social proof, and find / create the time, place and mood people should associate with your products in order for you to harness the true power of behavioural science for customer centricity and citizen understanding (Shotton, 2023).

Stephan Gans and Claudia Sciaretta similarly discussed how their roles in Pepsico (every day 1.5 biliion people are consuming a Pepsico product, a company that brings in revenues of US$ 80bn each year) are helping them transform the insights function to support their brand’s transition from an FMCG company to a Food and Beverage or “consumer-first” company. They are doing this with a combination of people, partnerships (using “global might for local fight” e.g using local research suppliers to gain diverse market advantage in global markets), tools and data (using their common “Ada” platform). This is helping them to create a sustained impact organization-wide long after their insights are “done”. Their three-pronged strategy includes digitalization and globalization of capabilities, constantly building and nurturing strategic partnerships, and taking a glocal approach to truly transform their work of insights (Gans and Sciaretta, 2023).

4. Data Storytelling is nuanced:

In the presentation by One Inch Whale, “How Alpro revampled its pack designs by colour science & predictive intelligence,” the hierarchy of tools that impact the data storytelling for a given audience is shown. Colour is the most powerful tool, followed by shapes, numbers and then words. Think about this when you create your charts and graphs.

From data to insights to action, much can be lost in translation. Insights start with good data and data quality and according to the hyperlinked ESOMAR paper, depends on skills, survey design, survey length, screen out procedures, quality assurance procedures, assessing and measuring survey satisfaction, tackling drop out, evidence of good survey design and importance of regular review.

Now that we have good data, can we cite, frame and dissect it to build the greater context that aids improved decisions with greater speed, accuracy and cost-efficiency? I am often asked by learners what does storytelling mean and if it is synonymous / interchangeable with data visualization.

My reply often hinges on, storytelling is about maximizing your ability to utilize innate human superpowers (distinctive of your strengths, motivations, knowledge and experiences) to transform audiences (those who pay you now or in the future or act in a desired way) with the stories you tell yourself, your colleagues, your stakeholders and clients and the wider world. Technology can be a powerful collaborator in this storytelling process, but so can other diverse-skilled humans; so empathy is the starting point of all storytelling, and audience-empathy grows into / is a form of client-empathy.

Data visualization, however, is just a subset / tool / manifestation for effective storytelling itself which has a much broader remit. Bel Kerkhoff-Parnell of Global Project and Change Management (GPCM) at Windesheim Honours College offered insightful tips in her presentation about how to make research communications more inclusive and less racist, less ableist, less heteronormative, etc.

5. Data observation starts with self-awareness

The European Space Agency‘s Head of Atmospheric Section, Earth Observation Science, Applications & Climate Department, Thorsten Fehr, PhD, talked about how his passion for earth observation (“looking at the earth from faraway” with satellite pictures) had led him to lead the charge on earth climate tech with climate research data. He explained the ESA’s gravity mission to help uncover what’s happening inside the earth and what’s not plainly visible, for e.g. wind movements, ocean tidal waves, the critical electronic and magnetic field of the earth which is protecting us from the sun and without which there would be no life on earth. Their work in data spans three buckets – science, copernicus (working with EU to find data to help citizens in daily life – e.g. food and agriculture) and meterology while working with global partners as well. Fehr encouraged the audience to look for and explore all the open data at the ESA (requires a simple registration to access a range of ESA Space Weather Service Network data to better understand the planet and improve our relationship with it (Fehr, 2023).

One of today’s top 25 leaders and futurists in the metaverse Amelia Kallman offered a fitting closing keynote on the great “techspectations” ahead detailing both the exciting potential of new capabilities and moral dilemmas new advancements pose for the human race, and how we can better prepare for uncertainties and unknowns, and what I’d really call the top skill of the century (Kallman, 2023).

The sessions at Congress 2023 including connecting with the exhibitors and other industry leaders were truly inspiring and many will keep being referenced in my articles, publications, courses, and more industry gatherings in the future.  Thank you ESOMAR for a memorable conference. Come find Generation1.ca next in Austin, Texas for X-Day between October 25-27.

Arundati Dandapani is the founder and CEO of Generation1.ca. She also a data analytics and insights professor at Humber College.

References

Bretcha, J. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [Conference Presentations]. ESOMAR.

Der Vaal, W. V. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [Conference Presentations]. ESOMAR.

De Spijker, J. V. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [“Innovation As Growth Driver” Conference Presentation]. ESOMAR.

Fehr, T. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [“Earth observation: Taking the pulse of our planet from space” Conference Presentation]. ESOMAR.

Gans, S. and Sciaretta, C. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [“Leveraging your scale for competitive advantage” Conference Presentation]. ESOMAR.

Hibbs, L., Griffiths, B., Chandler, G. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [“Judo Bank JEDI” Conference Presentation]. ESOMAR.

Kallman, A. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [“Great Techspectations: The big picture until now” Conference Presentation]. ESOMAR.

Kerkhoff-Parnell, B. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [“Write to include!” Conference Presentation]. ESOMAR.

King, A. and Moschos C. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [“The Death of the Debrief: If empathy is at the heart of insights why are still presenting insights in PowerPoint?” Conference Presentation]. ESOMAR.

Page, B. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [” Supercharged Research in a Polarised World” Conference Presentation]. ESOMAR.

Poynter, R. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [Conference Presentations]. ESOMAR.

Shotton, R. (2023, September 10-13). ESOMAR 2023 Annual Congress [ “The Choice Factory Keynote” Conference Presentation]. ESOMAR.

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