In the lives of kids and teens, you have your birthdays and your “half” birthdays. In the world of market research conferences, you also have main events and “half” events—the main events are the IIR TMRE Conference (in October) and the MRA’s Corporate Research Conference (in late September). These are the coming-of-age events—lots of attendees, many tracks, guest speakers whose names you recognize, and clients from the world’s leading brands.
In my role at CMB, I participate in a lot of conferences. In addition to the large fall conferences, there’s a lot to be learned at the smaller conferences that bloom each spring. As you think about what you want and expect from your conference experience, crisscross the country with me as I share a little about 2 great “half” events:
MRA’s Insights & Strategies Conference (ISC)
The MRA ISC is perfect for low pressure networking and conversation, and the content is great. Here are some reasons to register:
- Your boss will approve of the cost, and your family will love the shorter duration. This conference was located in New Orleans this year—which is a convenient nonstop flight from most US locations—and, with a civilized 1pm check-in, you can get a full day of work in before you go. Less expensive than other comparable events, this conference offers several tracks, covering dozens of topics with 45 speakers. In contrast with the super large conferences (which many extroverts like me love and attend in Q4), this conference has a manageable ~400 attendees.
- Learn about new innovative companies and techniques, and reconnect with your key research vendor partners. Unilever’s Marie Wolfe introduced me to two nicely positioned qualitative research solution companies: Discuss.io and WeSeeThrough. These two innovative qualitative research companies offer new options for online qualitative—rapid online interviewing from Discuss.io and sensor technology from WeSeeThrough. Companies like CMB are there too, mixing new and proven techniques with tried-and-trusted rock solid execution.
- Exceptional networking. Networking is essential to remaining vital in the workforce, even if speaking to strangers isn’t your favorite thing to do. ISC builds in a lot of natural networking functions with different types of people in mind—sessions are small, large, adventurous, workshoppy, and sometimes even involve bacon. Sessions range from 20 minutes to 1 ½ hours and are often interactive. The meals are all varied, so you can sit at large tables one meal and walk around cocktail style for another meal.
- Location, location, location. MRA does a great job pushing us to truly experience the city we’re in. Whether you’re visiting a local company or trailing a marching band down Bourbon Street on a Wednesday night, if you attend an MRA conference, you’ll venture outside the hotel because they create activities and experiences for you to do it. MRA is great at picking cool new places that even frequent travelers like me haven’t visited, including St. Louis and now New Orleans.
IIR’s TMRE in Focus: the New Face of Consumer Insights
I initially wondered if it was worth it to lose a day at the office flying from Boston to California to attend such a small (125 person) event. In addition to strong content, here’s why I’m glad I participated:
- Hands-on, experiential sessions. This conference experimented with new, hands-on, experiential formats, including workshop breakouts. For example, during the Netflix session, we all collaborated at tables of 4-8 people to condense 6 slides into 2 to get a more relevant storyline from the insights. Every table had new ideas and enhanced the final discussion. This hands-on collaboration helped to create mental “stickiness.”
- Problem solving perspective. Speakers were focused on solving client side researcher problems, ranging from improving the research organization and impact at your company to collaborating on a common goal. The digital world requires serious structural changes to assess and prioritize every option for your brand. For example, when Pinterest spoke, they focused on the rising tide of DIY (do it yourself) research and noted that the company’s department of 10 researchers handles all qual and quant in-house. Pinterest’s researchers are focused on helping the company become a catalog of ideas where people can discover, save, and share the things they love. As you evaluate the research department of tomorrow, look to your peers for clues on how to structure it, what to outsource, and whether to centralize or decentralize the research budget.
- West coast orientation. Attendees were primarily from the west coast (Gap, Microsoft, Netflix, Warner Brothers, Twitter, Pinterest, Kendall Jackson, Gallo, etc.). A number of non-west coast attendees were from companies like L’Oréal that could combine the trip with office visits to its sub-brand home offices. This is a location-focused conference. So, if you want to connect with NoCali and SoCali researchers, this might be a good option for you.
- In hotel experience. This event took place at the Ritz-Carlton at the world’s largest marina—Marina del Rey. We took initiative to leave the “campus”—venturing to Venice Beach and Santa Monica—and invited other conference-goers after the conference ended both nights, or we never would have left the hotel. Meals were simple, and the conference started late and ended early each night.
If you’re sending people to several conferences next year, or if you’re choosing from all your options, consider the May conferences. First, compare both agendas to see if one conference has more content you’re interested in or more speakers from companies you want to learn from. Next, take location, time of year, and conference size into consideration. When it’s time to decide, weigh all the information against your goals. Happy learning!
Julie blogs for GreenBook, ResearchAccess, and CMB. She’s an inspired participant, amplifier, socializer, and spotter in the twitter #mrx community, so talk research with her @julie1research.
We've had a busy month of attending conferences. Couldn't make one?