Dispatches from the MRS Conference


Written By: Monique Slevison

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This year’s MRS Impact conference was a clarion call for the industry to step up and drive transformative change in market research (or, as Sir Martin Sorrell puts it, ‘Data Information Management’). Using the analogy employed by keynote speaker Tim Harford, we need to go beyond the marginal improvements made famous by the British Cycling team, and learn to take risks like Nobel prize-winning scientist Mario Capecchi.

Here are some of our highlights of the conference.

Engaging stakeholders:

Clare Gough, head of insight at Waitrose, Debbie Newbould, & Carol Garbutt spoke enthusiastically about their new Pulse ‘consumer closeness’ programme. Whilst the approach didn’t strike us as being particularly new, we were impressed by the level of buy-in they’ve got from senior management. Their mission to “move stakeholders from passively knowing insight, to experiencing it” very much struck a chord with BAMM’s philosophy. We also loved the image of stakeholders “using scissors and sellotape to cut the deck up” – presumably metaphorically as well as physically?

Visualising patterns:

Professor David Canter was a lively presence during the lunchtime session on Day 1, with a refreshing candour (particularly towards his pop-psychology rival Jon Ronson, whose book he described as “utter bollocks”). As a Visual Thinking agency, we were particularly drawn to his use of visualisation to help him to see patterns in the behaviour of ‘Railway Rapist’ John Duffy.

Flexible outputs:

An enlightening interview with Tracy Faulkner, VP of Global Communications at Shell, heeded an implicit warning to the industry. As large organisations such as hers increasingly seek to resource many of their research needs internally, the challenge for agencies large and small is to align themselves with the business and produce research which is truly ‘fit for purpose’. We need to continue to develop ways to ensure that our research outputs always focus on the problem at hand, and are flexible and tailored to the needs of senior business leaders.


Importance of narrative:

Day two of the conference began with an interview of author Will Self. Self shared some of his musings on storytelling, brand communication, and Dyson hand dryers, affording the audience an insight into his complex and razor sharp mind. He made some really interesting points about the role of narrative in branding, suggesting that storytelling presents powerful opportunities to enhance consumer connection with a brand, yet can be catastrophic for the brand if the consumer does not identify with and believe the narrative.


Engaging clients with creativity:

Client-side research managers Layla Northern (Boots), Olivia Taylor (Innocent) and Sally Kirby (Swinton) led an engaging workshop on getting inside the mind of the client, providing practical tips on how to make clients happy. Some of our favourite tips included: put time into getting to know the loves and loathes of the client research manager; never being afraid to challenge the client at all stages of the research; and pushing the envelope when it comes to delivering outputs that are creative and inspiring. This last tip is key to our approach at BAMM, so it was great to hear how much the use of video and imagery in debriefs is valued by clients.

The power of imagery:

The conference concluded with a talk from UK paralympian, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. Speaking from her experience, Tanni talked about how success is made possible by focusing on what you want to achieve, and doing “some really dull stuff” (and lots of it!) to move towards that goal. Tanni showed the audience a picture of herself winning a race, which she used to motivate herself whenever she didn’t feel like training – a nice example of the powerful role of imagery to wrap up the conference!

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