csrc - let's talk client-side research

On April 12th, an MRIA Client Side Researcher Council (CSRC) event focused on innovation was held at Google’s Event Space in downtown Toronto. A total of 62 people registered, roughly an even split between client and supply side researchers, and first time and repeat CSRC event attendees. 

Acting CEO Graeme Page opened the event by welcoming attendees and speaking about the importance of the MRIA increasing advocacy, education, public awareness and collaboration with new partners like the CMA and MaRS, and expanding relationships with post-secondary schools. 

Long-time CSRC Director and MRIA member John Tabone then spoke of changes to corporate membership, the evolution of the event’s name to Let’s Talk Client Side Research (was previously called CSRC Social Connect) and how this was the first full event attended by both client and supply side researchers. John also thanked Google for hosting the event and furnishing two of the day’s speakers.

The first speaker, Allen Chen, a Strategy and Insight Manager at Google, spoke of ‘Measurement in Digital Advertising. Allen highlighted challenges that marketers face, such as being the first to have budgets cut and the comparatively short lifespan of CMO in the C suite.  He suggested marketers position their work in terms of profit and think of customer lifetime value, and brought this to life through Airbnb and CapitalOne case studies. Allen called out three key takeaways: (1) Do you have the right metrics to match business objectives? (2) Do you have the right segments? (3) Do you have a performance oriented culture with constant testing to confirm results and opportunities?

Rémi Lemaire, Digital Performance Senior Advisor at Desjardins General Insurance Group, spoke next about ‘Pitfalls in Decoding Users’, his firm’s work over the past decade developing digital solutions for their insurance websites.  While satisfaction levels were initially high when Desjardins migrated application forms online (benefitting from the ‘WOW’ factor of this new channel) this metric dropped.  Desjardins did multi-channel research and noted some contradictions, namely that customers say they want to do it all on the website, but really want to be in-and-out quickly, leaving Desjardins unclear on which insights to act on. Desjardins now seeks a balance between quantifying and observing, does more upstream work in their digital funnel, and leverages segmentation to focus their efforts in providing the best digital solutions.

Mary Logan, President of Research & Incite, and Domenic Cecol, Chief Design Officer of The Central Group, spoke about ’How to Win at Retail’. Brands can stand out via well-positioned secondary store displays with effective messaging and credible visuals. But, the future of retail will be in integrated online and offline experience. Brick and mortar stores are embracing technology to enhance the shopping experience. The market research industry can bring actionable data to CPGs to assist them in this transformation.

The final presentation was by Andrew Assad, Partner Lead at Google Canada, on ‘Lessons Learned from being a Supplier to Client to User of Research’.  Initially on the supply side, Andrew experienced industry changes including the evolution to online, shorter timelines, growth of data visualization, and the pivot from qualitative to quantitative.  Then on the client side he lobbied for research, felt budget and time constraints, and the challenges of trying to delight internal stakeholders.  Now as a user of research Andrew seeks depth, aims to triangulate data, and noted that soundbites backed with data get attention.   Andrew said the “trifecta” of suppliers, clients, and users work best together when there is healthy hygiene (i.e., respect, transparency, collaboration and radical candour), and performance (i.e., alignment, insights, innovations and winning).  He ended his talk with Google’s six tenets of innovation:

§  Big, clear vision (i.e., To organize the world’s info and make it universally accessible and useful)

§  Transparency and directness (e.g., Google’s well-used online ‘Dory’ tool in which anyone can ask execs questions)

§  Ideas come from everywhere (i.e., Google supports “20%” passion projects, one of which resulted in gmail)

§  Data beats opinion (e.g., Google loves data and believes the person with data has the right answer)

§  People = #1 asset (Google sets the bar very high and resists ‘good enough’)

§  Moonshot thinking (don’t try to improve by increments, do it in leaps)

MRIA Chair, Mark Wood closed the session.  Thank you to Linda Di Luzio and the CSRC Directors and MRIA team for organizing the event, the speakers for their excellent presentations, Google for hosting, John for facilitating and leading the Q&A. The afternoon ended with a well-attended networking cocktail reception.  Feedback on the event from those with whom I spoke was very favourable.  Event survey results confirmed this initial positive feedback and will be used to help the CSRC plan its next event for the fall – please watch for details.


Last fall, representatives from the market research teams of each of Canada’s Big Five banks had their first of what promises to be many meetings. The idea for this group arose during a lunch with a researcher from another bank. Like many industries, there is a tight network of researchers across financial institutions, so I leveraged my personal network to gauge interest in this idea and set up the inaugural meeting. We first met in a restaurant so we could get to know one another in a casual environment, and subsequent gatherings were hosted by different banks. The group’s initial thinking was that we would get together quarterly, but during last month’s meeting we realized more frequent discussions were needed.

Discussions are free-flowing, and so far topics have included:

  • team structure/alignment to analytics groups
  • common challenges such as procurement
  • syndicated studies
  • suppliers
  • industry developments
  • best practices like project intake forms

When thinking about how to best structure one’s team, it is very helpful to understand the size of competitor’s teams, reporting structure (i.e., do they report to CMOs or someone else), how they are working with their firm’s analytics team, and how they have been able to optimally position their teams.

Discussions around syndicated studies and suppliers have been particularly robust. There is easy consensus around emerging relevant topics that need to be added to marketplace studies. We all benefit from improved data from such research. Indeed, our next meeting is with the supplier who leads a mainstay study in our industry. 

That said, group members do not need to wait for a meeting to connect. Now that links have been established, anyone can reach out to another bank researcher as needed.

It is encouraging how candid the conversations have been without anyone revealing sensitive information. Ultimately, this group is positioned to elevate our collective game, and early indications are that we are achieving this goal.

If you are considering starting a similar group in your industry, I would strongly advise you to do so. Feel free to reach out to me (susan.innes@bmo.com) or the MRIA’s Client Side Research Council if you have any questions about how to get started.