Visualise a conference where leading data mining experts from both Google and Yahoo present the power of social media mining and search trends, along with an expert discussing the evolution of behavioral economics in marketing? Or a conference where the leading experts discussed if brand equity was still a valid concept (held 2 decades ago, shortly post Marlboro cigarette’s price cut that triggered a stock market run).

Welcome to the world of ESOMAR conferences – where the most significant trends in marketing, advertising and media are presented and discussed by the best minds in the business.

ESOMAR is the global organization for marketing research (www.esomar.org). It organizes both conferences regionally as well as specialist ones on qualitative, digital, fragrance, social research, client-side research etc. throughout the year, culminating with the annual global congress.

I have been a part of the ESOMAR conferences on a few occasions and was impressed by how it was organized and IMHO this diligence in its design and preparation makes all the difference.

The process for each conference begins nearly two years in advance, when the location of the conference is first settled and a program committee recruited. This committee includes both regional representatives (and at least one local representative), usually senior accomplished marketing, advertising and research professionals. And since they are from various countries, sectors and disciplines it helps lend a more rounded perspective.

I think what is critical is how the program is set up: whereby a conference theme is chosen and the program designed around it. Conference themes are usually topical (like the brand equity conference mentioned earlier). Typically a conference is spread over two days with sessions dedicated to various topics covering the conference theme.

This conference program is then announced with a ‘call for papers’ and this is usually a year before the actual conference date. Practitioners from all disciplines including marketing, media, academics and research are invited to submit their ideas for papers.

Regional conferences usually receive over a 100 submissions (synopses), and the program committee selects around 20 papers, with this shortlisting process taking  a couple of months. Once the finalists are announced the detailed written papers fleshing out the initial synopses need to be submitted within a period of another two months.

This process tries to filter out submissions that are mere sales pitches, and also minimize the overlap in discussions (especially if this topic was presented by someone else earlier). The papers submitted need to be approved by the committee, and the hit rate of immediate approval of a paper is around one in three, as the committee might seek clarifications or have suggestions and comments to help make the papers more appealing to the audience, and also ensure all commitments made in the synopses have been met.

After the papers are finalized, it’s time to work on the presentations and usually the session chair helps in making this as best a dynamic, engaging and interactive presentation as possible.

The results are there for everyone to see and its impact felt across the various industries including marketing, media, social, government sectors. Some of the most break-through thinking is revealed at the conferences with supporting case studies and practitioners sharing their experience and learnings.  It goes far beyond merely academic learnings.

An ESOMAR conference succeeds in doing this thanks to the rigour & the process involved. The conference also becomes an initiative to further develop the local industries, and experts both global as well as local are invited to talk on different subjects.  The profile of speakers includes explorers, creative industries as well as leading experts from companies at the forefront of innovation.

Not all conferences can be attended, and the papers therefore serve as an affirmation of the bountiful learnings that each conference generated. My understanding of brands, marketing and advertising has been vastly enriched thanks to some fabulous papers. Here are a few of my favorites, and of course, I am partial to Indian authors – and this is just a sample from the recent conferences.

  • Satyam Vishwanathan’s paper on socio-cultural changes in India: A wonderful summary of how leading Indian brands are incorporating and addressing the emerging socio-cultural dynamics in India like women’s empowerment, corruption, LGBT rights etc.
  • Poonam Kumar et al on “Shedding the chastity belt” – a powerful comment on how Indian women are evolving and if brands are addressing this rightly and responsibly in their advertising.
  • Shobha Prasad’s “Change-constancy conflict”- possibly her best paper yet – this encapsulated well how changes in brands affect consumers and how they resolve these be it in packaging, logo or formulation and contained some excellent case studies to make the point
  • My all-time favorite and what I consider ESSENTIAL READING for all marketers is “The Evolution of Marketing” by Mary Goodyear published and presented first in 1999.This paper is one of the best strategic models to help understand the different stages of branding as markets grow and consumers evolve.

ESOMAR conferences are nowadays streamed live and one can watch the proceedings by registering at the website. Post the conferences the papers are available both at ESOMAR as well as through WARC.com.

I’d highly recommend the marketing and advertising fraternity to examine the wealth of knowledge available through ESOMAR conferences, and benefit from the break-through ideas discussed there – as chances are that’s where you are going to hear them first.

 

 

PS: (Refer to Disclaimer)

 

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