Congress 2016 Day 2: Lessons from New Orleans Jazz

Congress 2016 Day 2: Lessons from New Orleans Jazz

14 November 2016

Although there were many impressive presentations on Day 2 of Congress, one of the most inspiring and moving was presented by Dr. Michael White, today’s keynote speaker. Dr. White is a man with an impressive background in every sense of the word, described by The ESOMAR program as a jazz clarinetist, bandleader, composer, jazz historian, writer, producer, and musical educator. He is known as “a leading figure in traditional New Orleans jazz and one of only a few to creatively carry on the rich clarinet sound and style of the city,” which gives him a unique perspective on jazz and on the city of New Orleans.

Dr. White’s speech (or concert, depending on how you look at it, as it contained just as much music as it did words) resonated as it highlighted many of the similarities between traditional New Orleans jazz and market research. For example, market research and jazz are both about expressing the human experience. They are about listening and feeling and storytelling. History and context matter. They require agility and flexibility. They necessitate open-mindedness and out-of-the-box thinking. To be successful, they need to be creative, innovative, and constantly coming up with new solutions. They depend on collaboration and experimentation.

Traditional New Orleans jazz and market research also face similar challenges. As Dr. White asked himself, “How do we keep playing New Orleans Jazz in the modern world?”, given how much has changed since traditional New Orleans Jazz originated, we also need to ask ourselves – how do we conduct market research in the modern world? How do we, like jazz, balance between tradition and innovation, commercialism and integrity, structure and spontaneity?

Dr. White offers a few ideas.

1) We can create new songs based on traditional New Orleans’s jazz principles, coloured with our own personal experiences and context.

Our environment is changing at a rapid pace. As Daniel Castejón (BMC Strategic Innovation) aptly noted in his session “Shaping the Future”, “technology is our environment” in a literal, not metaphorical, way. How we live in and interact with our environment has changed. To keep up, we need to make sure that the way we are designing our research, collect data, and analyze our research reflects these changes. In their research, “The Power of Reflective Content: Using content to explore and understand youth identity”, Shibani Nayak (MTV Viacom 18) and Sushma Panchawati (The Third Eye) show how they obtained rich insights on Millennials from analyzing personal photos in their “Selfie Project”, understanding how friends interpret and describe their friends’ Instagram photos in their “Peer Scope” project, and using Social Shadowing, another reflective technique. Emma Kirk (Join the Dots) suggests incorporating emojis into market research, arguing that emojis are the first truly global language and that researchers are missing out on an important form of communication if we ignore them. “If they’re going to use short hands to talk to each other and brands, they’re going to expect to use them to talk to us” – she notes.

2) We can create our own interpretations of old/other songs.

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel – we can take what’s out there that wasn’t originally intended for market research and use it to create innovative research. The area of non-conscious measurement (including everything from implicit attitudes, GSR, facial recognition, EEGs – the list goes on and on) is an excellent example of an emerging field in market research where research originally designed in academic labs is being adopted and adapted for use in market research. In today’s session titled “the Implicit Debate”, a compelling argument was made by Leigh Caldwell (The Irrational Agency) and Lizzi Seear (Intercontinental Hotels Group) for the value that implicit techniques can provide, showing how insights uncovered from implicit research (paired with more traditional techniques) informed strategy to differentiate the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express from their competitors. However, the use of non-conscious measurement was cautioned by Dipesh Mistry and Samantha Bond (Northstar Research) as a valuable tool but one that does not replace traditional market research as there is still so much we don’t know about it. The conclusion of the debate is that we are still learning and more experimentation is needed to move the field forward.

3) We can get ideas and inspiration from other genres.

Kristin Burr (MESH) challenges the market research industry to borrow ideas from other disciplines and areas as other industries do in her talk, “#SWIPE”. Working previously in the mental health field, she was impressed by how this sector “stole” ideas from other industries and aspects of everyday life, describing a tool inspired by beer pong, and wonders why we can’t do the same. She argues that we should utilize methods that have proved to be engaging in other spaces, such as the swiping motion from Tinder and the social aspect of Facebook and Buzzfeed, to create more entertaining and engaging research for Millennials who may be unmotivated to complete traditional “boring” surveys. Gamification and virtual reality are other examples of bringing inspiration from other areas into market research.

Creativity as a Response

At the end of Dr. White’s speech, he was asked whether he thought that creativity could be practiced. Dr. White responded that some things that lead to creativity can be practiced, but the songs he plays can not be practiced. He explains that the role of the clarinetist is to respond to the trombone. He can practice all he likes, but it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t know what the trombonist is going to do. He doesn’t know what the trombone is going to say.

Market research needs to be more like the clarinetist. We need to listen more and we need to respond to what we hear. We need to be dynamic, flexible, sensitive, and fluid. We need to know the structure but be able to play with the rules, to hear our cue and create something uniquely our own. We need to stay true to our purpose but adapt with the times to stay relevant in a modern world. We need to be more like jazz.

Rebecca Shabaga- Colour

For more information, please contact Rebecca Heaney by email at or by phone at 647.496.7839.

CATEGORIES: Industry News

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