More than once has the ESOMAR staff been confronted with this question, even by its closest friends. Yet, not once did it pop up at our stand today. Tech companies are increasingly aware of the role they play in society, the power they (and their data) hold, and the responsibility that comes with it. Getting closer to the data, inevitably, means getting closer to the values and standards that ESOMAR has been building and protecting, with the help of the community, over the last 75 years. They get it.
And that's how the first day at Collision went, a day where the ESOMAR stand was buzzing with people from all sides; some friends, some strangers, but all deeply fascinated to find out that an organisation that could answer many of their, sometimes, deepest concerns already existed. We welcomed huge self-proclaimed fans of ESOMAR such as Patience from Kasi Insight – who will also be attending the ESOMAR Congress in September – or Dianna from Humber College, who was delighted to find us at the event. I had the pleasure of chatting with analytics students from Seneca College in Toronto and sharing concerns about proper professional standards – and how seriously they take them in their degree – and with Thom from Codebusters about explaining the importance of privacy and accountability to clients. And I met a plethora of professionals such as Ursula from Rakuten, Michal from Wimbtrackers, and Vinicius from the Trade Accelerator Programme at Toronto’s World Trade Centre. These were very enriching conversations for both sides.
In my opinion, the biggest realisation came from two ESOMAR moments at the event: the discussion joined by Kristin Luck, President of ESOMAR, Holly Zheng of BlueFocus Intl. and George Slefo of The Trade Desk, and the masterclass by Rob Berger and Isaac Rogers of Schlesinger. And both were sold out! This shows how pressing the topics were.
Kristin mentioned something I don’t think I had thought of before: the idea that socially-conscious companies don't always need to chip in with an opinion or a comment on every matter in order to nurture engagement from their customers. Stating an official position that lies outside of the company’s core is nothing more than a distraction that moves people away from it. “Companies need to be measured on their opinion,” she said, “not jump to every issue, but to the ones they’re aligned with.”
After that comment, the conversation turned to a much familiar territory for ESOMAR regulars, and it is a statement I came across not only in that session, but also earlier in the same PandaConf stage with Allegra Krishnan from McDonald's, Jonathan Hyman from Braze and Allison Schiff from AdExchanger: keep the individual informed about what data you are retrieving and what you are going to use it for, and they will not have any problem providing it. This idea that dominated ESOMAR speeches since it published the Who owns the data? report is now central to many discussions. As George Slefo also remarked, “phasing out cookies will bring up the value of first-party data and, to protect the practice, we need to share with the respondent the purpose and use of their data.”
Similarly, the Masterclass from Rob and Isaac managed to challenge the crowd from the core up: it is dangerous and misleading to want to bring out-of-the-box thinking when research is stuck. Instead, the question is to identify what the right box is depending on several factors such as budget, timing, technology, respondents and deliverables. The rule, Isaac continued, is to “prioritise these constraints, and then communicate them to everyone.” Failing to do so results in undesirable ‘everything is important’ attitude. It is easy to be lured by the latest tech gizmo that promises easy access to insights but, more often than not, the answer is instead to think and identify the correct box to think in. This must have been a revelation at a conference where so many attendees are there precisely to present their latest gizmo!
It is easy to see how the industry is more openly looking for guidance, how a deep understanding of the dangers of mismanagement of data is brewing and being more explicitly discussed, and how the concepts, lexicon and notions that once were exclusive of the most fundamental research profession is now part of the management books of the wider industry. What’s ESOMAR doing here? What it always did. Being their lighthouse.