Making Market Research ‘COOL’ (Again)?

A talk with BAQMaR’s Tom De Ruyck —

A talk with BAQMaR’s Tom De Ruyck —

After the annual BAQMaR conference I asked my friend Tom De Ruyck, who is a co-founder of the organization and serves as its President, a few questions about BAQMaR and his thoughts on Next Gen Market Research. Tom is also Head of Research Communities at Belgian research firm InSites Consulting, and serves on the FTO Board of Directors. In 2010 Tom was recognized by the American Marketing Association’s in their Inaugural 4 Under 40 list of market research leaders.

Q. Tom, tell us a little about BAQMaR, what is it and what does it stand for?

De Ruyck: BAQMaR wants to make marketing research ‘COOL’ again: ‘well-known’, ‘popular’ and ‘unique’. Within our industry, but also among end-clients and young – talented – students. This, through our website and the events we organize ourselves or in close collaboration with our ‘official partners’ and ‘friends’. Additionally, we strive to be the glue between the industry and academia. Promoting academic research to the research industry and stimulating collaboration/partnerships between both worlds. We strongly believe that by ‘sharing bright ideas’ across company borders, we will take our profession forward.

“The research world is changing very fast, associations need to evolve too… Over and over again!”

Q. How do you go about starting an organization like BAQMaR?

De Ruyck: We started the organization 5 years ago with 5 young researchers. ‘Angry young men’, who came to the conclusion that almost all ‘research associations’ where a bit dull and not really up to speed with the online and social media revolution that was going on. They weren’t very good in promoting the research profession towards young graduates. They weren’t showcasing the newer, cool and more than ever – oh so relevant, online techniques. We wanted to change that!

In the very beginning we were investing our own money and time to bring a rather basic website online. On that website we shared our vision on the future of research. The movement is a truly 21st century one: born online and grown via ‘word of mouth’ and basic social media marketing. Once we had a base of ‘fans and followers’ online, we started organizing offline events. The combination between both is very powerful: it creates a vibrant community of engaged people between whom ideas and visions are shared and discussed.

But, as with everything, it’s a matter of keeping it fresh. At our Annual Conference on the 8th of December we celebrated our 5th anniversary. And, although we’ve only existed for 5 years, we will soon (January 2012) launch our second website redesign with a renewed mission for our association. The research world is changing very fast, associations need to evolve too… Over and over again!

“Quality is more important than the quantity. Inspiring people, stimulating discussion and bringing potential ‘partners in crime’ together is what’s really important to us…”

Q. Well BAQMaR’s success has certainly been quite impressive. How many members do you currently have?

De Ruyck: We don’t have members! We believe that memberships are something from the past… It should be possible to get involved with just ‘a click’, and today there are other creative ways to fund your organization. But to give some numbers, on a monthly basis we interact with over 2,000 market researchers and analysts through our website, video’s and offline events… The quality is more important than the quantity. Inspiring people, stimulating discussion and bringing potential ‘partners in crime’ together is what’s really important to us…

Q. So BAQMaR was started because the traditional trade orgs weren’t ‘cool’ enough and were ignoring younger researchers. This certainly is the case in many places, not just Belgium. What are your growth plans for BAQMaR?

De Ruyck: First of all, a lot of the existing associations are really adapting and some of them already do quite a good job now. We can only be very happy about that! We have good relationships with a couple of the traditional research associations: we exchange ideas and organize joint events. Secondly, in today’s world, if you are publishing in English as we do, country boarders no longer exist. The majority of the researchers we interact with today are outside of Belgium. They work in the Netherlands, the UK, France, Germany and even the US and Russia. When it comes to our short term plans for growth, it’s about more focus on bringing short – high quality – video clips and articles on the trending topics in marketing research and analytics online, featuring the people that are experts in those specific areas.

Q. What have you learned about engaging market researchers online these past few years?

De Ruyck: That it’s very hard! Take a closer look at the #mrx community for example. It consists of a rather small group of very active people, next to a larger group of professionals who dip in and out. A lot of the researchers are still focused on a few of the large offline events, especially those on the client side.

“Clients are less involved in (online) discussions about research. Why? We only talk about ourselves and our methods all the time. They want to talk ‘business’. That’s the real problem here!”

Q. I think you’re talking about Twitter now, and I agree with you, that is a rather small group. Client side researchers are most definitely different. In my experience I notice a lot of them online are more voyeuristic and likely to follow a specific blog or LinkedIn discussion from time to time without commenting directly. How can we be more inclusive?

De Ruyck: We are too focused on what we consider ‘marketing research’ and the research methodologies we use: the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of it. Client side researchers have broader interests. They want to talk business: what’s the real impact of all the ‘cool’ stuff we try to offer them? In fact, we only talk about ourselves all the time. That’s the problem here. Most of the blogs and LinkedIn groups are started by people on the agency side, probably that’s why they are so focused on methodology. What our clients really need online, is a forum where they can share the issues they are struggling with on a daily basis. In such a forum we as agency side researchers, need to listen and learn.

“While I was studying, I always said: If there is one thing I never want to do, it’s ‘market research’. That’s sooooo boring!”

Q. How about you, how did you first get into market research? Was it something you were passionate about from the start?

De Ruyck: Not really. While I was studying, I always said: ‘If there is one thing I never want to do, it’s ‘market research’. That’s sooooo boring!’. But, I found my current company (InSites Consulting) which had a totally different approach and culture: online research methods combined with the possibility for young talent to help change the face of the research industry in a very active way. So I thought, let me take on the challenge, try to make research ‘COOL’ again! If you take a closer look at it, via BAQMaR and my work as an Adjunct Professor at 2 business schools, it’s all about that: showing to people, especially students, that market research today is evolving and that it’s much more fun and a lot sexier than they had ever thought it was.

Q. What are some ‘cool’ techniques and what are some ‘uncool’ techniques?

De Ruyck: Social Media Research & Market Research Online Communities are definitely among the coolest techniques at the moment. Researchers, participants and clients seem to really like them a lot. MROCs involve all stakeholders in the research process and business decision making in a totally new way. For students these techniques are ‘cool’ because they make use of social media tools and they are very consumer-centric. It all about listening and collaborating with consumers in a different way. For them, ‘uncool’ researchers are those who are not able to tell an impactful story to clients and who are just trying to knock marketing people down with tons of slides, graphs and statics!

Q. BAQMaR was an early friend of #NGMR (Next Gen Market Research group), what does ‘Next Gen Market Research’ mean to you?

De Ruyck: For me, it’s about using social technologies to get the best data and get the most out of the data. It’s also about the new relationship between clients, researchers and participants (a closer relationship) and the more active role for participants in the research process. Two trends that are changing the face of our profession.

“Give young researchers one day a week in which they can do their thing and experiment. It will pay off!”

Q. There are relatively few researchers under 40 expressing their thoughts online, why do you think this is?

De Ruyck: Not every young researcher has the possibility to express him or herself. In larger agencies, young researchers don’t get the stage. They are too busy with their day-to-day jobs. They don’t get the chance to experiment with new methodologies, which means that they don’t have that much to talk about online or at conferences. Maybe, we need to learn from Google here. In this age, where conducting market research involves more technology and online skills than ever before, give young researchers – the ones who master both – one day a week in which they can do their thing and experiment. It will pay off!

Q. Partly due to social media the research community has become much more global. You and I both participate in many industry events both online and offline. What would you say are some of the common differences you have noticed between US and European researchers/firms?

De Ruyck: Difficult question… Some say that a lot of the recent, more exciting, developments are coming from Europe now. The continent where a group of new-style mid-sized research agencies have their roots. One by one they are crossing the Ocean to bring that contemporary flavor to the US. Of course, that’s putting it very black and white. The States also have great research minds who are pushing things forward every day. I just have the feeling that the ‘climate’ in which change can happen, is better in Europe. European clients are more willing to try new things, while US clients are a bit more conservative when it comes to new methods and techniques. Probably because markets in European countries, markets are smaller and there is less to lose for them when trying something new in a project? An interesting one to discuss in more detail in the future…

“The biggest threat to market research is that we would ignore the rapid change in the world we live in”

Q. There’s been a lot of talk in market research during the past few years about threats to our industry. In your opinion, what do you think some of the biggest threats are?

De Ruyck: The biggest threat is that we as an industry (associations, agencies and researchers), will ignore the rapid change in the world we live in. If we don’t evolve fast enough, we will not find consumers anymore who are willing to participate in our research projects. If we don’t rethink what we do and how we do it, there is a chance that we make ourselves irrelevant as an industry, even in the short run! So, let’s try to make research ‘cool’ again: well-know, popular among talented young graduates and participants & unique, contemporary and relevant to our clients. Let’s do it now and let’s do it together!