Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TMRE Awards Offer Research Innovation Barometer

Part Two: EXPLOR Case Studies Showcase Real-World Innovation Excellence
By Marc Dresner, IIR USA

Last week, I posted the first of two interviews with the respective sponsors of what I like to call The Market Research Event’s “innovation barometer”: The EXPLOR and Disruptive Innovator Awards.
My first interview featured Tom Anderson, architect of the second annual Disruptive Innovator Awards and founder of Next Gen Market Research (NGMR), an online community and professional networking group for market researchers with nearly 13,000 members.

This week, I’m pleased to take you inside the prestigious and venerable EXPLOR Award competition, courtesy of my friend, Chuck Miller, chief research officer at uSamp, and co-founder/president of DMS (acquired by uSamp in June 2010 from AOL).

Q: Please tell us briefly about EXPLOR.
The EXPLOR Awards started over a decade ago to highlight the best uses of online research, which at that time was in its infancy. As for its name, it represents the desire for our industry to embrace change and exploration, and it originally stood for Exemplary Performance and Leadership in Online Research.

Over the years as online research gained traction, we broadened the focus of the award to showcase ALL innovation in research—technological or otherwise. Since doing so we’ve received even more interesting case study submissions each year, which makes this a really fun process! Winners and finalists have included many marquee brands and Fortune 50 companies. And in recent years we’ve had strong representation globally too. The best part of EXPLOR is its focus on tangible, practical applications that a client and a provider have implemented with successful results.

Q: Last year’s finalists each provided compelling case studies, but there can be only one winner. What ultimately set the 2010 winner, American Water, apart?
You’re right, Marc. Last year we had a really nice variety of finalists with great clients submitting. The American Water application was an awesome example of what EXPLOR embodies. It stood out because of its sophistication and scale—the aggregation and analysis of 40+ data sources that drove strategic direction and business development at their company. The work of the American Water, Digital Research and ThinkVine teams fundamentally changed the way this 7000-plus-employee company pursued business. The application was so valuable that the American Water CEO gave a demo of the tool at their annual investor conference. It was a great demonstration of the power of research-driven insight.

Q: What surprised you the most about the submissions, in general, that you received for last year’s competition? Why?
Honestly at this point in EXPLOR’s history, it takes a lot to surprise me. Year after year we’ve had great, innovative submissions demonstrating all types of organizations are embracing change. I guess one thing that continually impresses me is the wide variety of submissions we receive, and the variety of organizations submitting them.

Q: What themes/trends in research do you predict will be most prominently represented in this year’s submissions? Conversely, what do you expect to see less of this year?
I think we all know the key areas of industry interest these days are social media, mobile, and biometrics—lots of innovation there. I’d expect to see submissions in those areas, but again, the differentiator will be how those were used to create business impact. Even when the tool is sexy, that isn’t enough. The Organizational Relevance criterion of the award is always the tie breaker.

As for what’s run its course, I’d say we’ve highlighted plenty of large, multi-national measurement programs over the years. It will take something really compelling to “wow” the judges. But you never know, there might be something out there we haven’t seen before. I hope so!

Q: What advice do you have for prospective entrants this year?
The submissions that standout are those that demonstrate creativity and innovation. We always have a nice mix of judges—some new to EXPLOR judging (generally past award winners) and some that have judged for many years. It helps to have the consistency of the latter group, folks that can say “been there, done that.” And the new judges bring fresh perspective to the review process. I’d say something we always welcome is sophisticated analytics. Submissions that dig deep into insight delivery get the attention of our judges, most of whom are seasoned researchers and excellent practitioners.

The landmines to avoid are submissions that have a weak case study attached and/or those that look like pure capabilities pitches from a provider. We get those every year, the worst of which don’t even make it to the judges. So, the best advice I can give is to bring us your cool innovations that have helped an end-client see or do something totally new. The bigger the business impact, the better!

Editor’s note: For those of you who pride yourselves on fresh thinking, nominations for the EXPLOR Award are open through August 31, so don’t delay.

The winner will be announced and honored at The Market Research Event in Orlando, November 7-9.
For more information or to submit a nomination for EXPLOR, please visit www.iirusa.com/research/tmre-awards.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marc Dresner is an IIR USA communication lead with a background in trade journalism and marketing. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for the marketing research and consumer insights industry. He may be reached at mdresner@iirusa.com. Follow him @mdrezz.

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