Is qualitative research holding us back?

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Information about Is qualitative research holding us back?

Published on February 23, 2008

Author: jasonoke



The communications industry is in a period of massive change. It is a time when more than ever, we need to be grounded in an understanding of people’s evolving behaviour and needs. But at this moment of opportunity the industry is waking up to the fact that instead of leading the way, a lot of qualitative research is based on faulty assumptions, has not kept up with cultural change or scientific learning about how the brain works, and may actually be hindering success. This is not the fault of researchers: most companies use market research poorly and don’t ask for innovation in research. But this situation runs the risk of damaging qualitative research’s value and credibility at a time when it is most needed; and researchers, clients, and agencies need to work together to win that credibility back.

is qual holding us back? 22.02.08 jason oke head of planning juniper park


does research provide its own roi?

“over 50% of the research done at companies is wasted. they’re asked to do things that, even if the research project is perfect, it won't be useful. it’s covering-your-butt kind of thinking.” – bob barocci ceo, advertising research foundation adage, sept 24 2007

“[research] is this huge industry of billions of dollars that anyone basically can do.” – alison zelen director of consumer & market insights, unilever adage, sept 24 2007

“it’s like the hole in the ozone layer. everyone knows it’s a growing problem. but they just ignore it and go on to the next project.” – shari morwood vp-worldwide market research, ibm adage, october 2 2006

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008

three issues facing qual today 1 we haven’t kept up with culture 2 we haven’t kept up with science 3 we’re not vigilant enough about how it’s used

1 we haven’t kept up with culture

getting the chance to give feedback to a company used to be interesting.

now it’s assumed.

response rates are low it’s hard to recruit decent respondents is it any wonder?

today, research is a brand touchpoint but most market research is a highly negative brand experience

communication needs to engage and provide value… why is research any different?

“the core problem is one of relevance and value. if more research were relevant and provided value back to participants, then more people would be participating. it’s pure economics and incentives.” – max kalehoff, nielsen

“it’s a symptom of the horribly compartmentalised way most of us do our jobs that we can spend half our day thinking of delicious and imaginative ways to delight our audience. and then, in the next meeting, we round up some of the best and most influential customers, shove them in a dreary room for a couple of hours, confuse them with obtuse questions and odd drawings and then sent them on their way with £20 on the one hand we’re trying our hardest to be persuasive and seductive, on the other we’re strip- mining people’s heads.” - russell davies former global strategy director, nike campaign, august 30, 2007

what can we learn from culture? people will enjoy contributing … when it’s fun & interesting … when they get to be creative … when it’s interactive

“imaginative research design can be like great video game design; you can get respondents into a flow state, having purposeful fun with their answers, enjoying their experience with you, not noticing the time flying by. this not only gets you the answers you want, it leaves people liking you more. in a world where our customers are lining up to share their opinions anyway, imaginative research will this kind of soon be all that anyone’s going to pay for.” - russell davies

ethnography observation projective games storytelling

2 we haven’t kept up with science

research tends to assume 1. people are aware of their behaviour/needs/wants/motivations 2. people can access and describe those things to others … neither is particularly true

we ask people questions they can’t answer

“the consumer does not behave as they say, they do not say what they think and they do not think what they feel” - david ogilvy

Hang in there,baby!!!

“too much analysis can confuse people about how they really feel. there are severe limits to what we can discover through self-reflection.” timothy wilson university of virginia new york times, dec 29 2005

making you think about a choice unconsciously changes your answer

towards cautious safe familiar choices because they are easier to explain

so we are often highly skeptical of new ideas the first time we see them

“you simply can’t research your way to everything and here’s why: consumers prefer the familiar and can have a hard time accepting the unexpected… but consumers are not always right.” scott bedbury ex-cmo nike & starbucks Advertising Age, May 1 2006

but all of this isn’t necessarily a problem the problem is taking the answers at face value

3 we’re not vigilant enough in ensuring research is used properly

what people say vs what people mean

the questions we want answered vs the questions we ask

part of the problem is how research is used

fear of failure fear of blame inability to make decisions habit history support

“let the consumer decide.”

no one ever got fired for doing “what consumers said we should do”

“one should never simplify or pretend to be sure of such simplicity where there is none. if things were simple, word would have gotten around.” jacques derrida

we all know better. we know when we’re doing ‘bad’ research.

“researchers are to blame too… for not pushing back, or at least not disclosing what the quality trade-offs will be from low bids and rushed timelines.” – bob barocci ceo, advertising research foundation

researchers clients agencies

build bridges to your partners don’t just wait for a project to come up discuss this when there’s nothing urgent looming

we all need to work together to stick up for better research the people who can make the biggest difference are in this room

it’s not rocket science we need to say “no” more often “… we can’t do it that way, and here’s why”

we need to educate our colleagues that our brains are good at some things and bad at others

we are good at associating understanding

we are bad at explaining & describing what we want what we like like and why we do things

we need to get beyond self- reported descriptions & explanations

it doesn’t need to be complicated

ask less observe more learn from culture & science make it fun again fight for good research

and hang in there, baby


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