MAD//FEST 2024: Fortune Favours the Bold...and the Savvy Market Researcher

11 July

Felicity Terry set off to MAD//FEST to gather feedback from customers and clients. With nearly 12,000 attendees comprised of brands, competitors, and marketing partners, it was an ideal sample size and demographic—a giant focus group!

5 min read

As an independent market research agency that is about to rebrand, we know the importance of researching our new assets and positioning. Gathering feedback from customers and stakeholders is crucial, it is what we do for our clients every day.

So last week, I set off to the marketing conference, MAD//FEST, to do exactly that.  With nearly 12,000 attendees comprised of brands, competitors, and marketing partners, it was an ideal sample size and demographic—a giant focus group!

Whilst there, I followed four of the key research beliefs that we live by at We Live Context.

Reflect the Research in Your Environment

Conferences are always great for getting a pulse on the industry's big topics, and MAD//FEST delivered spectacularly. With impressive talks that spanned nine stages over three days, it was hard not to leave feeling inspired. Unsurprisingly, AI featured heavily. However, it was some of the other talks, like "What the **** is a Fandom?" with NBCUniversal and discussions on "What We'll Wear on Our First Trip to Mars," with Vollebak that sparked the most interesting conversation.

MAD//FEST's carefully curated talks meant that it was natural to pick up conversations with those seated around you afterward. Stimulated by visuals, presentations, and the people in the room, MAD//FEST attendees were eager to talk about the industry, their future concerns, and what would make their jobs easier. 

We are big believers in getting the context right for research (we literally named our agency We Live Context!), so this environment created the perfect setting for our stakeholders to ideate about their needs and for us to listen.

Slot into Your Research Participants' Lives Naturally

The MAD//FEST organizers understand that suppliers seek contacts, leads, and sales, while buyers are there to try and avoid eye contact with anyone trying to sell to them! We all become pros at speed-reading lanyards to determine the other person's agenda. MAD//FEST has made subtle adjustments to the traditional conference set up, preventing people feeling accosted due to a brand name on their lanyard.

The venue encouraged natural conversation flow with bars, tables, and chairs just a few meters away from talks.  No need to stand around getting in the way with other audience members that you had struck up conversation with or try and take the conversation across the venue to the designated ‘networking area’.

Frequent, scattered bars offered unlimited free branded drinks that sparked conversations. My #1 ice breaker over the whole event was the Liquid Death canned water that was being given out—it looks like you're drinking a can of beer, prompting people to ask you exactly that. And yes, after some engagement with a QR code, I do now know which Don Julio cocktail matches my personality type, and I also know this was the same as the lady standing next to me at the bar—we are also the same star sign and now connected on LinkedIn.

As part of your ticket, you also get access to a free lunch, encouraging everyone to gravitate to the same area of the venue at lunchtime and inevitably form queues. You know what queues are great for? Striking up conversations. And when one of the free lunch options is provided by Sticks’n’Sushi (a restaurant usually reserved for birthday treats in this household), it is another easy conversation starter that MAD//FEST provides.

Over the course of the event, conversations were started easily in moments that slotted in naturally to people's movements. And when barriers are broken down by a chat about a cool brand or free drinks, more fruitful conversations can follow. It was in these moments that I had some of the best discussions and gained the most enriching feedback from relaxed, willing participants.

Make Your Participants Informed Agents of the Research

Whenever possible, I was completely honest about why I wanted to talk to people.

As an agency we believe that bringing participants into the research objective allows them to act as informed agents rather than passive voices. It makes them feel part of something, and they then give more to the experience.

MAD//FEST claims to run an "invite-only at scale audience model". There isn't much clarity on how this works, but they have seemingly encouraged a high calibre of attendees to the event. It felt like a great club to be part of, and the knock-on effect was that everyone was keen to engage fully in a conversation once they understood the purpose. By being upfront with my own agenda, people relaxed and wanted to contribute fully.

Inspired ways to see the world differently

MAD//FEST's slogan was "Fortune Favours the Bold," and they certainly lived up to it. Their distinctive yellow and pink branding dominated Brick Lane, and at least one talk each day had a swear word in the title, making the event feel refreshingly different to typical corporate conferences.

This fresh approach provided a great space for some informal market research. Over three days, I spoke to over 80+ marketing professionals, received valuable feedback, made dozens of LinkedIn connections, and even made two new friends—all for the price of one ticket.

One attendee commented, “It is certainly a different way to conduct research,” aligning perfectly with We Live Context’s ethos of doing things differently—so I’d call that a success.

Felicity Terry
Partner at We Live Context