2018: A Year of Walnut Unlimited in Review

Posted by Jane Rudling on the 19th December, 2018
As ever, researchers who can see beyond the data and tell stories that clients’ can understand and action will become increasingly important. Whilst we need to use cutting edge technology and robust science, we also need to take on the role of interpreting the complexity of big and deep data into clear human understanding for brands.

Looking back at 2018

What has been the most significant development of 2018?
We have seen virtual reality become a viable methodology for shopper and retail research, by integrating eye-tracking technology with virtual environments our industry can offer real added value by measuring and understanding how and why people respond to certain stimulus in mocked-up environments. For large retailers this now becomes a game-changer in providing quick and cost-effective ways to test new retail concepts without creating them in the real world.

We’ve been doing a lot of understanding around incorporating virtual reality into our client work. It offers a tremendously powerful way of exploring new shopper insights, retail concepts and is genuinely very engaging. We have trialled the best kit around and learned how to implement it successfully into future projects where it will add a huge benefit. Watch this space!

What macro trend has had the biggest impact on research in 2018?
The trend in personalization in digital marketing requires deep insight into consumer needs and triggers. There are lots of implications in terms of measuring effectiveness and optimizing campaigns. We see data scientists working alongside qual and neuroscience to give deeper understanding on what is working and why.

What was the best campaign of 2018, in your view?
Although Iceland was a surprise winner of the Christmas Ads with it’s cost-effective, viral ad on palm oil, it was also interesting to see that, early on, other retailers fully supported Iceland publicly. It’s quite rare to see this sort of cross retail promotion in support of a wider issue.

What has been the impact of GDPR so far on market research?
So far, a lot of work getting systems into line. Probably a good thing for forcing us to think some of the peripheral data we hold. As ISO 27001 and MRS Fair Data certified, we had most of it covered anyway but always good to refresh. GDPR has made the general public more aware and more likely to ask what and how we hold their data, which is also a good thing.

As an industry I think we were well prepared due to the strict best practices we have always placed upon ourselves, so the impact has perhaps not been as great as others have felt. Whilst it’s the right thing to do, giving respondents so much information about what data we are collecting and what we might do with it makes people think more carefully about whether they want to participate – particularly with more passive measures such as neuro, digital monitoring and facial coding.

Who or what has won 2018, and why?
I’d say the “No plastic” campaign has generated huge momentum this year. It has crossed the political divide and seen individuals take action in their everyday lives even if it’s just to refuse a straw. It has shown us that people will change behavior if we can give them a good enough reason to do so. “No plastic” is doing a great job at explaining why we need to change.

What has been the year’s biggest disappointment/anti-climax?
Clarity on Brexit. I think we all hoped for more clarity at this stage but confusion still reigns.

Looking forward to 2019

What is your New Year’s resolution?
The research industry is moving very quickly at the moment. At Walnut we have just celebrated our first birthday and been crowned as the Best Breakthrough Business at the MRS Awards. We have lots of innovation in the pipeline and our new year’s resolution has to be to make the most of all the new techniques to deliver deeper human understanding to our clients.

What are you most excited about for 2019?
I think bringing together measured data with human understanding of emotional drivers will reveal new levels of insight. Whether its eye tracking, passive measurement or the latest data science techniques establishing what people are doing its much more insightful and has more predictive power when combined with a neuroscience and qual to give us the why.

What trend do you anticipate having the biggest impact in 2019?
It’s impossible to avoid Brexit and we will see this cross over into our understanding of behavior and how people feel in times of uncertainty. I think many of clients will be impacted by Brexit, not only in terms of how their own business operates, but how consumer attitudes will affect their decision making.

What is the biggest challenge for the market research industry?
To take more risks and push the boundaries of what is possible to provide deeper insight, but in a way that meets client’s increasing demands for results quicker and for less money. If we don’t break away from some of our more traditional preconceptions of what research is and how it should be done, others will take our place.

Are there any agencies or new players the industry should be keeping an eye on next year?
Naturally Walnut – we were named as a Breakthrough agency and we have had great successes with our human understanding platform which looks to take psychological, biological, sociological and behavioural sciences to the heart of the work we do. We are only a year old and a lot of work goes into nurturing those first 12 months. Time for us to start walking and talking.

What will success look like in 2019?
Human understanding at the heart of everything. If brands connect with their customers as humans and we use all the tools at our disposal to deliver insight that helps make that possible we will have had a successful 2019.

How can the industry best prepare for Brexit, amid continuing uncertainty?
Uncertainty is a key word here. Stay tuned as we are in the process of speaking to several of our key clients around how Brexit is affecting their businesses and their research plans and are planning to share a report on it. There’s a real willingness to talk and share which emphasises we are all feeling a little lost and nervous around the impact of this.

Looking ahead to 2019, what skills/talents do you see as being most vital to the industry?
As ever, researchers who can see beyond the data and tell stories that clients’ can understand and action will become increasingly important. Whilst we need to use cutting edge technology and robust science, we also need to take on the role of interpreting the complexity of big and deep data into clear human understanding for brands.

Adaptability is something we are looking at. There are increasing demands for the best agencies to be flexible to gain and secure the best people. As a people business, we need to ensure we look after this valuable resource. We are training our staff in mental health awareness and are constantly looking at ways to maintain and reward a flexible working pattern. Managers who look after their staff and learn new ways of working to seek this need are invaluable. Many of us have to change the way we think about our working patterns. There’s some courage in telling clients we are not always available 24/7 but as our client base is also changing, it’s not as hard as you might think.

Meet the Author: Jane Rudling
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