I’m one week out from an inspiring (and exhausting) few days in Austin for IIeX 2019, an event which remains my favorite conference in the insights business.
I have a personal and unique relationship with IIeX. IIeX was where I met Zappi and where I first sat down with Steve Phillips, Zappi’s CEO, over beers during the 2014 WorldCup, It’s also where I’ve built so many of the relationships, friendships and ideas that have sparked Zappi’s growth and focus since.
I have had amazing experiences at this event: from getting my initial role at Zappi as our North American lead to finding out five weeks early that my oldest son Declan was coming while I was on stage and jusssst catching the last flight to Boston so I could be there, to sharing annual thinking with the industry around our work in automation, advertising, product development, sample quality and analytics to sharing how we are applying our technology and talent to help brands like PepsiCo completely transform how they do insights.
In many ways I use this event as a brand tracker for our business to see how we are doing with our biggest customers and to gain inspiration from complimentary sectors.
Here are my key takeaways from this year’s event.
I was very impressed by the massive increase in businesses using technology and strong behavioral and emotional science to get at better learnings in a more scalable way. I also was pleased to see a broadened representation from across the industry with a strong presence from major consumer players including P&G, Coke, Pepsi, Microsoft, CVS, Wendy’s, Target, Amazon, Google, Facebook and so many more. The level of talent across these organizations was as exciting as their openness and desire to learn and innovate. There is a need now more than ever for consumer centricity and organizations such as these to recognize that.
Five years ago I was on a constant tangent about the need to take the grunt work, low-value work, and repeatable work out of the equation. It was rather lonely outside of some of the initial innovations in programmatic sampling field launching.
Now there are more and more companies who are automating parts of the process associated with collecting data, analyzing it, and helping organize it across multiple customer touch points. Being efficient is becoming table stakes.
The rare few being efficient and cost effective but still delivering tangible, predictive insight will be the true winners when the dust settles. The companies that are more efficient are less reactive and work closer to speed of the changing consumer and competitive landscape.
Some of the work Black Swan is doing in mining social media and internet forums to spark trends that at scale inform foundational insight is going to enable companies to more efficiently get at growth opportunities which they can amplify using platforms like Zappi.
Open and Friendly
There was a collegiate vibe in the air. At conferences there is a divide… vendors pay to play and brands come to learn. This typically results in varying degrees of tension.
Because IIeX is coined as an innovation exchange I feel like there is a growing tolerance of pitching even in the content sessions because people are there to get new ideas and inspiration. I personally found a huge amount of value in having conversations with a variety of people whether they were customers, people from brands we don’t (yet) work with, competitors, or complimentary suppliers. As a father of three, I appreciate the opportunity to, in a week, gain more marketing understanding than I could normally in a quarter.
Transparency, Predictiveness, and Quality Matter
Speed and cost savings are just table stakes. We need easy to use approaches, high value consulting, and high quality, transparent techniques. Kirti from P&G’s talk addressed this and I couldn’t agree more.
Austin Is So Bad Ass
Isn’t Austin just a wonderful place? The food and nightlife is incredible and the ‘weird’ element of Austin being so hip yet so Texas in the same breath is refreshing. The evening events each night were excellent, from a BBQ on the roof of our AirBnB, to a Hotspex dinner I attended , the customer dinner we hosted on Tuesday, to the best karaoke place on the planet.
I loved getting to know people I work with daily better on a personal level as well as the opportunity to spend some quality time with my colleagues Steve, Ken, Katie, Julio, Rob, Eileen, Justin and Cait.
Shout out to Aaron from Sentient, this is his phrase but I love it! There is some cool work going on around better ways to quantify and access consumer emotion with varying degrees of accuracy and predictiveness. This is an important topic to get at the core of what people are thinking but
I will admit that at times I feel like sometimes there is too much emphasis on the academic side which without balance runs the risk of not being accessible. One of the things we’re doing is using in-context plug-ins to test ads, balance facial coding, and correlate what we find out to what specifically is going to help predict performance.
I am a fan of getting at the best answer for the situation which at times means slowing down and going deep.
Few of the innovative new solutions or organizations they are meant to serve are properly set up to scale (yet). This doesn’t mean we won’t get there, but there is major behavior change needed as well as a general acknowledgement that if you are on the cutting edge of innovation, you will bleed a bit metaphorically so we need to be ok with taking some calculated risks.
The technology and human capital providers in the space have work to do to connect the dots for clients. Clients have work to do across all levels of their organization if they truly want to be consumer centric. There is C suite buy-in required for multinational portfolio businesses to enable true scale across all consumer touch points in a way that insights is available at the point of decision making.
And a day-to-day shift needed for how insights are organized and deployed once that deck is cleared. I am passionate about this and am working across many organizations: Pepsi, Mars, McDonalds, Vodafone, Danone and many others to scale best practices.
We are meeting on this topic frequently through our Zappi Insiders program. If you are passionate about driving the business forward and work within a brand, an innovative consultancy or technology provider, get in touch to apply to join the exclusive community to get access to our content and best practices around change management and our events surrounding conferences like IIeX or in a city near you.
Feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to connect, share ideas or get involved in Insiders. If you are interested I am giving away free consultations for how your organization can digitally transform consumer insights