The BIG annual conference has gone through a number of iterations since the heydays of the 3 day Chepstow boozy extravaganza.  Moving to a two day residential in Brighton and finally slimming down to a more manageable and, in these somewhat austere times, practical and affordable one day conference.  Whilst one affectionately looks back on the all-round anarchy and fun of the residential days, it is easy to forget that the content of the event could sometimes seemed secondary to the fun and games.  With the move to the plush surrounds of The May Fair hotel and the concentrated nature of a one day format, this has been rectified to the extent that the conference is now once again the ‘must attend’ event in the world of B2B research.

The conference was Chaired with no little style and wit by consultant and journalist Richard Young, but with the right level of keeping things moving along

The day got off to a prompt start with the sessions coming thick and fast.  Any discussion concerning Brexit will stimulate strident views and so it was with the first panel session of the day, Brexit: One year on.  A group of senior influencers from both client and agency side looked at how business was coping with the uncertainty and possibilities presented by the vote to leave.  Lively debate ensued, but the mood in the room could be summed up by a grudging acknowledgement that we just have to get on with it.

Throughout the day, panels and presentations looked at how, as researchers, we have to Overhaul B2B approaches to new client requirements, this being the subject for our second panel senior clientsiders.   Once it reached the conference floor, much of the discussion centred on solving the alchemical equation of delivering more insight for less money.

Given that over 95% of ALL businesses are SMEs or smaller and most research is commissioned by organizations much bigger than this, one of the conference themes was to engage with and sell to this sector. The problem being that it is hard to balance price with depth, quality and sheer quantity.  Amy Cashman (TNS) and Alex Wheatley (Lightspeed) delivered an excellent paper looking at Innovation in engaging SME respondents, it showed that, with innovative and cost effective approaches, market research is far more accessible, cost effective and valuable than smaller companies think.

Data visualization continues to be a hot topic and an entertaining presentation using video as a story telling medium was given by Paul McGhie from Leading Thought.

Ben Hogg of Lucid chaired an excellent session looking at the future of panel and research automation with analysis from research technology experts Steve Phillips and Ray Poynter, combined with industry doyenne Phyllis MacFarlane sharing her view on its impact in the developing world from her work on GfK’s Global training programme.

During the lunch break an engaging series of round-table discussions were held by industry experts on subjects including Behavioural Economics, Big Data, Mobile Ethnography and Automation.

The afternoon session kicked off with an impressive paper delivered by Pamela Ferguson and Richard Gush, of HSBC and Hall & Partners respectively, showing how a consumer style research approach using established digital typologies was adapted to a B2B audience to unearth emotional and cultural drivers behind their purchasing behavior.

It is a true achievement if you are able to use research to revitalize sales in a business area that does not lend itself to glamour.  Kathy Ellison and Jo Caley of Charterhouse and Legal and General demonstrated that business protection insurance, such as death or critical illness cover, could benefit from an innovative research programme that informed their PR approach and helped develop their support and training materials for their sales advisers.  The resulting sales increases were dramatic. More importantly, it shows that nothing is beyond the reach of innovation.

With the vast majority of the population now owning a smartphone, Mobile Optimisation and its effect on on-line research continues to perplex, the challenge being to balance information requirement with maintaining engagement. Research Now’s Luke Sehmer convened a lively panel to discuss its meaning for panelists, agencies and clients.

Continuing the theme of bringing B2B market research to SMEs, Jigsaw’s Alex Johnson and Phil Morrison from Whycatcher looked into the kind of problems SMEs experience using research for the first time, however, it also showed ways to help them to get most value out of using research.

The afternoon continued with Jane Frost CEO of MRS and Ginny Monk Network Research’s MD and Chair of BIG discussing MRS’s future focus on SME outreach and the inclusion of data analytics as a round-table open forum.

Fran Brosnan of Omobono discussed the impact of digital marketing and how it has changed the way organisations communicate and the need for marketers to adapt to this new landscape.

The final presentation was delivered by Andrew Dalglish from Circle that explored the health of the B2B marketing industry.

Following closing comments, the conference decamped to one of the bar areas for networking, drinking and a boisterous raffle conducted by Ben Hogg which raised a substantial sum for the MRBA.

All in all, it was an excellent event, held in a splendid venue and superbly organized by the MRS.  I look forward to next year.

Author:  Richard Sheldrake, Insight Perception Ltd.