Andrew Wiseman looks back at the main debate from this year’s MRS residency at the Festival of Marketing.

Last week saw the Festival of Marketing return to London’s Tobacco Dock. FOM is a celebration of all that is great and good about the collection of industries we work in. In an addition to last year’s festival, our good friends at the Market Research Society hosted a ‘residency’ over the first morning, showcasing some of the exciting things that are happening in the world of research and data.

The main panel debate at the residency focused on ‘Intelligence capital’ – and how it should be treated in the same way as physical or human capital. The main thrust of the arguments from the panel (consisting of Kantar, Google, Tesco and Premier Foods) seemed to be that insight, research, data – call it what you will – should be classed as an investment, not as a cost.

In many ways, I was surprised to hear this. After all, I’ve spent pretty much all of my career thinking brands invested in research and data to improve something about their organisations. Maybe I’ve been fortunate to work with some brands who have taken research into the boardroom. Maybe I’m just a bit naïve to think this happens everywhere. In any case – the concept seems like one that is difficult to disagree with, as confirmed by the general nodding of heads in the audience.

After the session, I was left with a burning question in my head. Is Intelligence Capital really anything new? Or is just a rebrand of Return on Research? Demonstrating ROI on research and insight activities has been at the heart of many a debate over the years in industry circles – and I wonder whether ‘forcing’ it into the account books with other investments will make any tangible difference, at least in the short term.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that this is something to strive for. Moreover, I also think it is something that can be achieved. The main difference I saw between presenters at the festival was confidence. The marketeers gushed about the impact their campaigns had delivered for brands – and went very light on the detail. By contrast, the research streams were detail-heavy presentations, ensuring that the audience could see ‘the workings out’.

In a nutshell, it is this inability to cut to the chase and demonstrate impact which remains the biggest barrier to establishing Intelligence Capital in organisations. Perhaps now, more than ever before, there is an opportunity to take advantage of this. Through the fusion of primary and publicly-available data, by understanding the whys behind data using qualitative research and by linking the results to the corporate bottom line. If this can be achieved, then this latest quest for recognition will be deemed a massive success.