Two Key Themes from IIeX North America 2019

By: Roddy Knowles,
Director, Product and Innovation Research

IIeX can feel like chaos – but not in a bad way. With a day of workshops, two full days of four and a half tracks of speakers, and all the fun Austin has to offer, it’s a lot to take in. In fact, taking it all in is impossible. All you can do is try to find what interests you most and make peace with not being able to see half of what you wanted to. At least that’s what I did this year and it worked out just fine.

Now that the dust is settling in my brain (it never completely settles), a few themes stick out and I’ll explore just two, both of which may fly a bit under the radar but are important in understanding the current and future state of the research industry. Sorry blockchain, I’ll talk about you later.

Navigating A Sea of (Big) Data

There was a distinct lack of “big data” talk this year. To be fair, the fall of the once mighty buzzword has been a bit gradual, so this was not shocking to observe. But the reason it has fallen out of favor is not because massive datasets/streams are unimportant.

It’s quite the opposite, because what was once novel to market research is now so fundamental that we don’t have to talk about it so darn much. The focus has shifted from pointing at the sea of data that is available to discussing solutions built on big data, or to continue the metaphor, vessels constructed to negotiate this sea. Do machine learning and AI play into this? Absolutely. And does slapping AI on your booth and/or presentation slides turn some heads? Yeah…for now. But the focus seems to be less on the tech itself and more on the tools. Enabling non-data scientists to access data at scale and integrate data from multiple data streams with user friendly tools (or at least easily obtainable reports) has the ability to significantly improve the insights function. It feels like we’re close to making this a reality, or in some cases, already there – at least compelling presentations by Dstillery & ScaleHouse, Black Swan Data, and PRS IN VIVO make it seem so.

Now, think beyond what you usually think of as “big data” to what you may just think of as that mess of data my company has collected over the years that no one can seem to find, share, analyze, and navigate. (Is this still big data? Maybe.) Other companies focused their presentations and related products on solving these problems. KnowledgeHound & Telus provided a compelling case for how democratizing access to data can make research much more efficient and actionable. And MarketSight explored how analytical tools can foster productive sharing of insights across an organization – and beyond. Taking a step back and viewing things from the shore, it seems the industry is focused on building some pretty cool boats, rather than just saying, “Hey, come in, the water is warm.”

All Things to All People

The Insights Innovation Competition is one of my favorite parts of IIeX. This year, six companies vied for a $20,000 prize and more important, the recognition associated being the winner: StoreImpact, QualSights, UXReality, Survature, CRIS, and Adrich. Congrats to UXReality for taking home the prize!

While these companies all had interesting and varied approaches to solving different research problems, there were several points of commonality. An interesting one cropped up as the judges inquired about their approaches toward what they provide and how the deliver. Is it DIY? Is there support to work with a client on setup and interpretation, essentially holding the hand of clients who don’t want DIY? Is it full service or can you provide more than just data? Unsurprisingly, the answer to these questions was usually, yes, yes, and yes, though in most cases it was easy to tell which of these buckets the companies would prefer to fall into. For early stage companies, adopting a hybrid service approach to reach the largest client pool possible is common. However, as I watched other presentations and spoke with people from larger, more established companies, this hybrid service approach kept coming up. While there is some risk in lacking focus and trying to be all things to all people, I’m more inclined to see this as a shift in how research companies are successfully adapting to a market where in many cases it is necessary to give clients options. It very well may not be enough to only offer DIY or only offer full service. Providing both of these options, as well as consultative middle path, seems a savvy approach to meeting the needs of today’s researchers.

It’s an exciting time to be in research. IIeX hammers that point home more than any other. There’s nothing like stepping outside the research cave and into the wilderness to make one enthusiastic about the future. Even as my head stops spinning and I return to my day to day, I’m pretty sure I’ll continue to feel this way.