ESOMAR Congress: Finding a Role in a Crowded Space
By Ray Poynter
I have the good fortune to be the GreenBook rep at the ESOMAR Congress in Nice this year. The ESOMAR Congress is one of the international research highlights of the year – which this year also saw the launch of my new book, The Handbook of Mobile Market Research.
I will write more in another post about some of the events from this year’s Congress. But in this post I want to reflect on the role of face-to-face events in general and ESOMAR Congress in particular.
ESOMAR Congress is the leading global event in its niche, and this year over 1000 delegates from more than 70 countries gathered in Nice to celebrate research, to network, to enjoy good food and wine, and learn more about what is happening in research.
Perhaps the key word in the previous paragraph is niche. These days, successful events need to meet specific needs. The days of offering a general conference and expecting large numbers of attendees are gone. For example the IIeX series of events have been successful because they meet a need that relates to new, busy, and entrepreneurial people, often with a penchant for tech. This year’s ESOMAR Congress is successful because it meets the needs of its niche, and because the niche is quite big.
What is the ESOMAR Niche?
The key characteristics of the ESOMAR niche are:
- International. If you want to be known as an international researcher you need to be associated with ESOMAR and its events. Note, this is different from just wanting to sell international; it is also about creating and maintaining international networks of suppliers, peers, and clients.
- Grounded in the confluence of academic learning and the canon of established market research thinking. The papers at ESOMAR tend to focus on new material which is based on what has been published before and/or on academic thinking, applied to current or future research needs.
- The ‘club’. Many people go to ESOMAR Congress (and other ESOMAR events) because they want to. They like the people, they like the social side, the good food, the wine, the parties, and the continuity of relationships over many years.
- Classy. ESOMAR’s audio visuals are some of the best around, the locations are great; the presentations are typically very well prepared and very visual. Congress is definitely classy.
Talking about the benefits of the event to a delegate who had travelled all the way from Australia to Nice produced the following observation:
“I find I always get one or two really useful ideas that help me develop my business. Some events might offer a window on the future, some events might offer a comprehensive view of a method, or technology, or vertical. ESOMAR may offer fewer ideas, but often bigger ideas, and typically ideas that are already in use somewhere in the world, which can make them quick to apply”.
This means that ESOMAR Congress is not for everybody. For example: it is not for
- Low budget companies – it is not a budget option – but getting a paper accepted and staying at a cheaper venue make it much more affordable.
- People focused on their domestic market.
- People who do not really see themselves as part of the market research community.
- People who come across as sales people (sales people are welcome, but they need to adapt their approach).
This year’s ESOMAR Congress is shaping up to be a great success. Good presentations, good keynotes, a good exhibition, in a great location, with masses of people from over 70 countries. If Congress keeps developing in the current direction it will continue to thrive, in the way Wimbledon, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, and the Super Bowl thrive. It is a place where lots of people aspire to be.
However, we are all aware that there are new arrivals on the scene and Congress cannot rest on its laurels. ESOMAR can and should keep trying new ideas on the fringe, it should keep working at bringing in young people, people from adjacent industries, and more clients. But it should ensure it maintains its lead on its core proposition, i.e. as an international, aspirational destination. If you are an international researcher, then attending ESOMAR Congress means you have ‘arrived’.