I've been on the road quite a bit lately. In just under one month I attended three different conferences and found myself out of the office far more often than I was in the office. Though each of the conferences operated in the market research industry and presented unique advantages and opportunities, they were VERY different from each other. Here are some brief thoughts if you're considering attending one of them next year:
Vegas Conference 2015
Tale of Two Cities quote that sums up this conference: "He knew enough of the world to know that there is nothing in it better than the faithful service of the heart." Some of my best friends in the marketing research industry attend this conference. It is sponsored annually by the Southwest and Northwest Chapters of the Marketing Research Association and it's a labor of love for the organizers.
Pro's: The education at this conference is almost always great. It's far better than a conference of this size typically delivers (it's smallish). The organizers bring in high profile researchers that are doing some really great things in the industry to present. I wasn't able to attend many sessions this year, simply because of some competing responsibilities, but did have the opportunity to speak (don't know if that is a Pro or Con for me or for the attendees - ha). The sessions I did catch were compelling. The conference is located in...you guessed it...Vegas which is a Pro for most. The attendees feel like family and it's a great way to introduce yourself to the research industry without getting overloaded by some of the bigger conferences. They have great parties at this conference and as an added perk, the conference holds a raffle each year where the proceeds are donated to charity. I spent $20 on tickets this year and won $150, best odds in Vegas.
Con's: This conference is small. My guess is that the attendance totaled approximately 100 people and most of them were research suppliers and vendors to those suppliers. There were a handful of corporate researchers (mostly speakers and board members), but the sales opportunities are limited. If you attend conferences to find potential business, and your sales target is the corporate researcher, it's going to be very difficult to return your investment on the Vegas Conference (though the investment is minimal).
Key Take-Aways: Attend this conference for the people, the education, and the location, not for the sales opportunities. From a research standpoint I learned something very important. Our industry is becoming medicalized at a level that I never suspected it would 10 years ago. The speaker that presented right before me, staked the claim that "People can't explain themselves using words. They have to have visual stimuli to express themselves." His claim was that we need to focus very heavily on expression of thoughts through what research participants can see (explain their feelings through pictures) rather than what they say. I'm not sure that I agree but it was an interesting concept. My presentation was entirely on analyzing written text for insights purposes. He said that you couldn't use text to explain the world. I claimed that "It's all about the text."
Qualtrics Insight Summit 2015
Tale of Two Cities quote that sums up this conference: “Then tell Wind and Fire where to stop," returned madame; "but don't tell me.” No one told Qualtrics where the market research conference box was, so they delivered on a conference that they'd want to attend. And, it was an amazing success. At one point in this conference, the CEO said that Qualtrics has the intention of being, to the research space, what "Salesforce" is to the CRM community. I have no reason to believe that they won't accomplish this goal. If this conference is any indicator of the Qualtrics future, the company and conference is definitely something to watch and observe and to get on board with. They blew open the boundaries of what a research conference is or should be.
Pro's: The keynote speakers during this conference were outstanding. Qualtrics really knows how to throw an event. The Qualtrics Summit was fascinating in it's approach to conference execution. I walked away smarter; had new experiences; and received some pretty cool swag in the process. It's important to note that this was a user conference, that was available to more than just the users. Rumor had it that approximately 1,700 people attended this conference and it didn't seem like this was overestimating the attendance. The large majority of the attendees were either corporate researchers or academics. They were interested in chatting with you, they were interested in your research methods, and they were interested in how the tools of the industry could improve their own research. It was quite refreshing. Qualtrics provided what was, in essence, a life experience to their attendees. To illustrate, they provided a free ski day on Friday during the conference (Park City Mountain Resort). And... drum roll please...they brought in JOURNEY for a private concert, who basically ROCKED!
Con's: There was very little downside to this conference. The one thing you'll need to know if you are NOT a Qualtrics user and you attend this summit. It's a user conference. A large number of the break-out presentations focused on using the Qualtrics software (which you'd expect). And those that were insights focused (rather than Qualtrics focused) also had a tendency to route back around, eventually, to the roll that Qualtrics played in the process. At Discovery, we've used Qualtrics in the past and will use them again in the future. I'd suspect that regardless of your understanding of Qualtrics, you'll find some strong benefits of attending. You just need to know what you're getting into.
Key Take-Aways: Qualtrics is positioned to take over the research world by storm (and I don't think I'm exaggerating). I realize that I've just made a very bold statement. I've been attending research conferences for years and I've never seen a group of conference attendees who were so passionate about their software (I realize this is a user conference but they were applauding new release features). There were (what seemed like) thousands of attendees who just don't attend the "typical" research conference. They were passionate about their research and were really evangelistic about the Qualtrics software brand. The best seems yet to come for these guys. If you haven't taken a look at them (or their software), than you need to. They are posed to really make a difference in the marketing research, competitive intelligence, Voice of the Customer, marketing industries. It'll be interesting to watch.
Quirk's Event 2015
Tale of Two Cities quote that sums up this conference: "A multitude of people and yet solitude." There were a ton of people at the Quirk's Event. I'm not sure if it was the hotel space (which was a little smaller than normal) or the way the event was organized, but it seemed packed everywhere I went (they sold out at about 850 people). In spite of the large attendance, I found it very difficult to meet new people given the format. I must confess that this could be entirely MY FAULT. I was VERY MUCH off my game during this conference. This was my third event in three weeks. I had a horrible travel experience (flight was canceled, then canceled again, then delayed so I arrived very late, then couldn't get into my room, etc., etc., etc. - there were multiple etc.'s).
Pro's: Every exhibitor I spoke to LOVED this event. The organizers put a very real focus on driving traffic through the expo hall. The sessions even required attendees to travel through the expo hall to find the meeting rooms. As far as I could tell there was never really a down time for the exhibitors. The attendance was very strong and there seemed to be quite a bit of interaction between the exhibitors and the traditional attendees (probably more than normal). It'd be interesting to know what percentage of the attendees were corporate researchers but it seemed like there was a pretty strong corporate research attendance and they were constantly engaged with the sponsors in the exhibit hall. This conference was held in New York, in a hotel that I liked a lot, and was still affordable. Very compelling argument to attend.
Con's: The food situation was problematic at best. Food items were placed at different booths in the exposition hall. To eat, attendee's were forced to forage for their food. It almost became a game (Where did you get that ? They're hidden at the booth two aisles down, around the corner and behind that pillar. I was looking for chips where did you find them? The chips are out that door, down the hall, and make a left. Drinks are on the third aisle over, fourth booth down.) I also found a number of the presentations that I attended to be very salesy. I'm not certain if the conference was a "pay to play" (or speak) forum, but it seemed like there was a real focus on presenting the capabilities of the company that was presenting at the expense of the research insights and best practices. That sort of approach always seems to put me off just a little. Finally, the format (important to point out that I was NOT exhibiting), made it hard to meet and network with other researchers who were not suppliers with booths (but maybe that was the point).
Key Take-Aways: If you are willing to lug your booth to a New York conference, this one may be worth examining. There were a lot of attendees (though the second day seemed less attended than the first) and the conference focus was entirely centered on the exhibitors. It will be interesting to see if this conference has a "sophomore slump" next year as more people are aware of it and have opinions based on its freshman year (this may grow it or take away from it...not sure). All in, I think the Quirk's folks (and all the exhibitors) will feel like this conference was a big success. The regular attendees may not be as enthusiastic as the exhibitors, however it was inexpensive so it was probably worth the while and I'll likely attend next year.
And the winner is: the Qualtrics Insights Summit. I introduced myself to the CEO of Qualtrics during this conference (he was floating around the event and was very available to the attendees). I mentioned to him that I'd attended many different conferences in my years as a market researcher and that this one was one of the best (if not the best) I'd ever attended. He asked why I thought that. My reply was that they had built an experience rather than an event. He turned to me (and one of his corporate execs) and said, "I actually know what it is. I've been told this same thing by the academics and the competitive intelligence folks at this event as well. You know what it is...this is organized like a software event rather than a research event." And he was absolutely correct. The software industry has conference execution nailed just right. In their businesses they know that they have to simplify the user experience (notice the word experience) to be successful. These rules apply to their conferences as well (provide simplicity and experience). I'll definitely attend this event next year, if nothing else...for the experience of it all.
Attended one of these conferences? Let the world know your honest thoughts below. See y'all on the circuit.