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The end of QUAL360 NA in Washington DC marks the close of Merlien Institute‘s Qual season! We’ve been delighted to take part and present our talks on stage to the industry’s finest, both client and agency-side. Jenny Kieras, our Global Head of Key Accounts, hit the stage with our talk, “When Innovation Fails: why the industry needs qual at quant scale to design the right thing, the right way.”

Devra Jacobs, our US-based SVP, was also in attendance. When our teams weren’t making waves with insights and balloons in the presenter’s hall, they were connecting with frontrunners in the qual sphere and learning from the other speakers’ fascinating talks. So, in this blog we caught up with Jenny and Devra to find out more about what QUAL360 NA was all about.

What was unique to QUAL360 NA in comparison to the EU event?

Jenny Kieras: The venue in NA was beautiful! The speakers’ space had big bright windows letting natural light in, it really elevated the attendee energy. Jamin Brazil opened the event and did a great job of getting us to interact and engage with each other straight out of the gate, which really emboldened people to ask lots of questions. We were all eager to continue those discussions and interactions throughout the breaks.

Overall, the audience seemed extremely engaged and keen to participate – it was tangible in the air at the event and by the number of requests for conversations.

What were the emerging themes and exciting developments? Furthermore, in your opinion, what characterises the current pulse of North American innovation?

Devra Jacobs: A key theme I noticed was ensuring the consumer is at the heart of every decision – focus was totally on highlighting the consumer voice. The speakers continued to beat the drum that making decisions without the consumer in the room can be detrimental to growth – something we’re already very passionate about at Catalyx.

Gallup CEO, Jon Clifton, at the start of the conference said – “Quant needs Qual… and we need more of it”. As the conference took place at Gallup and they are known for their quant polling, this was a nice connection to our emphasis on Qual at Quant scale.

An added bonus was people elevating the power of their storytelling to ensure stakeholder engagement. I saw this highlighted by Mirena Zannou with the use of visuals, metaphors and emotional connections to help your audience, in sharing the roadmap to epilation which was a P&G grooming example. The combination of strategic investment, creative partnerships, executive advocacy, teamwork and consumer-centricity were all interwoven as the pulse of innovation. We got to see how this was executed for maximum company-wide impact by Erich Wiernasz at Bose on their landmark research.

What resonates most for Catalyx really is the knowledge that getting a true consumer view is both imperative for decision-making, and traditionally tough to obtain.

– Jenny Kieras

Interestingly, Sago CEO, Isaac Rogers also said that only 5% of us are actually fully implementing AI, even though everyone is talking about it! So, there were a fair share of thoughtful discussions around where AI can be leveraged without compromising on the need for human insight to elevate. For example, Sago’s approach focused on embedding AI throughout the existing supply chain to accentuate the human voice – not just on reporting in real-time with smart analysis, but earlier in the process. This would include planning for sales, bidding and ops, audiences augmented with synthetic data and fieldwork with applications to speed up data collection.

With companies like Nestle’s Frank Gregory fuelling insights with additional capabilities, there was definite emphasis on the intersection of social intelligence in trend “fast culture”, foresight for “slow culture” movements behind the trend patterns, and marketing analytics seeking product opportunity and size-of-the-prize.

How are our solutions primed to tackle the current interests and challenges of this territory?

JK: The conversation continues to circle AI. In the 9 months since MRMW Atlanta back in June, I have seen it move from trepidation and resistance, through cautious acceptance and optimism, to now quite structured plans around usage, guardrails, best practices and next steps.

The phrasing has shifted from ‘human in the loop’ to ‘human at the helm’ which is not only catchy but a clear representation of how we as people (and the MR industry at large) are adjusting to the changes inevitably occurring as a result of this seismic shift – which is about far more than just tech. What I’ve also observed is that while we adjust to the role of AI in research as well as in our lives and careers, we are having to revisit many more well-trodden topics of conversation:

People are now asking how to bring stakeholders on the insights journey.

The industry wants to know how to socialise findings in a way that drives the impact that researchers have gone to great lengths to surface.

Finally, there’s the question; how do you truly democratise research to build multi-disciplinary/ multi-phase learnings?

In my opinion, we’re challenged now to reflect on what any piece of research is trying to determine and in turn reflect on the processes and methodologies to achieve that. What resonates most for Catalyx really is the knowledge that getting a true consumer view is both imperative for decision-making, and traditionally tough to obtain.

Currently, teams are still seeming to be stuck in a choice between depth or breadth, which made our talk about qual at quant scale poignant. Talking to peers and hearing how people are exploring and utilising the opportunities presented by the increasing speed and ease of human interaction is always a fascinating discussion to be part of. Speaking for Catalyx at least, we can’t wait to take it further.

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