Friday, 21 July 2017

Running Groups: ‘I don’t care if you enjoy them, are you any good?’

I’ve decided that this is going to be a key question the next time I’m interviewing someone who fancies a job as a qualitative researcher. Because I’ve run one or two groups in my time and I know that my personal enjoyment is largely irrelevant. I also know that even though running groups has been my main occupation for hundreds of years I’m still not sure if I enjoy running them myself.
Yes, I enjoy them if I’m in the middle of one, which feels like it’s going well and it’s one in which everyone seems fully engaged and on track with the objectives. And yes, I enjoy the feeling when a group has clearly gone well and I feel that the client is going to be impressed with the end results.
But I don’t enjoy the pre-group experience when you don’t know who is going to turn up or indeed if anyone is going to turn up. And I don’t enjoy the worry around whether I have a group’s objectives fully in my head and the stimulus material all lined up and ready to roll. And I don’t enjoy the pressure around ensuring that everyone in the group contributes fully, everything runs to time, I’ve managed the whole process, making it seem like the job is easy and that anyone could do it because I’ve made it looks so enjoyable they could probably do it too and they would probably be very good at it…
Ay, there’s the rub. And there’s the irony I’ve been faced with all my working life.
When groups go well, they can look so easy and look such fun that even I can sometimes look like I’m enjoying the process. But we’re talking swan on water here, my feet are going like the quackers!
Because a group can turn in a heart-beat; one minute they’re all there with you, you’re swimming for England, together, in formation; next minute, they’re all looking a bit drowsy and you’ve still got half an hour of the group to go.
And this is another time when the enjoyment can be halted and the hard graft and commitment really must kick in. You owe it to the client, you owe it to the participants, you owe it to your professional self and to the project as a whole.
Turn that around and post-group enjoyment might, just might, be your reward. But that won’t guarantee that your next group will be any more enjoyable.
I can’t decide if I’m becoming more envious of people who say they enjoy running groups or whether I’m becoming more suspicious.
Because groups for me are unpredictable and groups for me are really hard work.
And irony of ironies, that’s why I have enjoyed running them over so many years.
But only when they’re finished and I feel I’ve done my best.
And only when I’ve come to terms with the fact that just as you’re at your most self-satisfied and content, there will always be someone there to tell you how lucky you were that the group was so engaged and so willing to contribute.

Cue that swan again...dying.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Smart Retail for Post-Brexit Britain

This week I had the pleasure of attending a breakfast seminar hosted by McCann Manchester on Retail in Post-Brexit Britain.

Whilst the prospect of a debate around Brexit might not sound the most riveting, the event turned out to be both illuminating and entertaining, this largely helped by three splendid key contributors.

So, we heard Richard Perks from Mintel, Tom Woodham from PWC and sandwiched in-between, a slice of Jamie Peate from McCann Manchester.

Richard began by talking us through some retail stats for Christmas 2016. Here we learnt that Ted Baker continues to thrive, whilst Asda took a bit of a dive. Tesco and M&S appear to be on the up, whilst Shop Direct is also performing strongly.

Richard threw in a reference to the ‘Titanic Syndrome’, a new one on me, to describe how some shoppers may have spent more on Christmas 2016 on the assumption that Christmas this year might not be so good. If nothing else, the year ahead is looking uncertain, a theme which emerged throughout the talks of all three speakers.

Interestingly, Tom Woodham suggested that economists are now predicting a soft landing post-Brexit. So potentially no recession but challenges may well come as inflationary pressures rise and the pound remains weak. He referred to Theresa May’s ‘JAMs’, those just about managing, a sector which may well struggle further, especially if interest rates go up.

Tom also cited how, when asked, consumers say that they imagine spending more on food this year and less on ‘big ticket’ items and hospitality. This was felt to reflect the notion that post-Brexit could well mean higher prices, especially for groceries.

His advice was to plan and prepare for Brexit, not just sit and wait and hope for the best. He provided us with an interesting anecdote too, saying how he’d recently visited a company in Kettering where 137 out of 150 workers were from Eastern Europe. He wondered what effect Brexit might have on an employer such as this.

Jamie gave us an acronym which seemed to sum up many of the views of both Richard and Tom. This was again something I’d not come across and now I’m telling the world about it! It’s not a particularly nice-sounding expression but it’s called VUCA. It suggests that post-Brexit means we’re living at a time which is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. I don’t think anyone in the room or indeed outside the room can argue with that.

From this potentially gloomy outlook on life, Jamie took us on a retail safari which was both fascinating and good fun. He donned his Snapchat glasses with which he’d been filming the dubious goings on at Bonis Hall; people sitting at desks and everything. He showed us pictures of a colleague who’d been ‘virtually’ dressing up on a phone app. He told us of an app in Japan which can show a ‘made-up’ version of oneself on a video conference call, handy if you’ve just dragged yourself out of bed and haven’t had time for face-paint.

In amongst so many great examples of how the retail world is changing, Jamie had three key themes which punctuated his talk. One, that companies should deploy their assets and go where their customers are. Two, that retailers should do everything they can to keep emotions alive for consumers. And three, that there should be purpose in all retail activity, marketing and advertising included. 

So, a fine morning was spent and the breakfast was excellent too. Marian Sudbury ended the session with some words and then a video about the Northern Powerhouse. This reminded us all how fortunate we are to be living and working in the north of England.
Hats off to McCann Manchester, here’s to the next event and thanks for having us.

Friday, 24 July 2015

LinkedIn & WhatThen?

For whatever, I’m sure, deeply psychological reason, I embraced the social media age a number of years ago. So I’m an active Facebooker and I tweet, therefore I am. I’m also LinkedIn and have linked with a wide range of colleagues, ex-colleagues, clients, ex-clients, suppliers, potential suppliers, friends, potential friends, you know the kind of mix.

When I think about these three ways of ‘communicating’, however, it’s LinkedIn that leaves me more confused than the other two. Facebook keeps me in touch, and has put me in touch with a wide range of current and past friends and connections. Through Twitter I’ve engaged with a few ‘famous’ people and exchanged pats on the back with clients and the like.
But how does one ‘connect’ with those one connects with on LinkedIn?
I get the general idea – make links and you’ll end up just one link away from Sir Richard Branson – a number of people seem to have that ambition.
But what about the actual connections you make – WhatThen?
I’ve connected with a few new people lately so now they’re ‘in my gang’ but what happens next? Do I give them a ring and welcome them in? Do I send them an email and say, hey, thanks for linking? Or do I just let them sit in the gang with the rest of my gang members, seeing my occasional foray into the LinkedIn world, maybe even commenting on the odd post I might offer?
As I say, I get the idea, I’ve heard LinkedIn’s great if you’re looking for a job, for example – but I’m not looking for a job. So what am I looking for?
In essence, and when I look at my current LinkedIn connections, the main thing these people have in common is that they’re not just linked with me, they’re liked by me – maybe I should patent LikedIn?
So I have liked dealing with them, I like the idea of dealing with them again. But is it enough to sit there linking and liking? Or should I be ‘working the room’ in a more active way?
I have no answers to these questions, I’ve Googled, I’ve Wikied, I’ve Siried even, no-one and nothing seems to know.
We link, our gang gets bigger, we measure out our lives in LinkedIn connections.
Does anyone out there have any answers? I’d be grateful for some feedback…maybe we could link in?!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Well there’s your traditional qual, and then there’s your online…

I attended the BIG/ICG Northern Forum last night, an excellent evening hosted by Acumen and the Fuller Research Group. The theme was online qualitative research and I tweeted in advance that I thought it might change my life. On reflection, I think it might well have the potential to do just that.
You see online qualitative research these days is not necessarily about running group discussions online. As it happens the person presenting to us is clearly not a big fan of this particular methodology.
No, it turns out modern day online qual is more about encouraging participants to express themselves in any and every way in which the internet can facilitate.
So it’s send us a diary of your past week using your new slow-cooker. Send us a picture of your house and your partner so we can fit that into the context section of our presentation. Upload a video of you looking at irons in John Lewis. Go on our version of Facebook and join in a conversation or ‘forum’ about where you like to eat out.
Yes, it appears that actually interviewing real people in real time doesn’t have to take place at all.
Oh but you do have to be good at analysing the ‘data’ you get sent apparently. And try not to let the client get their hands on that data before you’ve had a chance to collate said data and use your well-honed qualitative skills to imagine why participants have chosen to upload that particular video of them swimming with dolphins in Miami.
Now I’m at risk here of sounding Luddite-like and this really is not the case. The truth is what got my goat last night was the early comparison made between running two group discussions and obtaining information from sixteen people online.
Surprise, surprise, some group attendees didn’t get to say much, or got away without saying much, depending on your point of view. And surprise, surprise, there were some amazing pictures sent in of people, houses, cats, budgies, cars, planes, automobiles, the lot. And imagine how they all looked collaged up for the debrief.
I’m not saying that the information generated online wasn’t impressive, and I’m not saying that they wouldn’t add a great deal to a final presentation or report. What I am saying is that at no point did we hear about how this new ‘data’ was to be interpreted. And at no point did we hear of what, if any, interventions might be made between providing instructions to participants and using what they then provided to form a debrief.
Twenty plus years of experience tells me traditional qual has been hard graft – it’s not just about travelling up and down the country, it’s about working your socks off in groups and in depth interviews, to get people to open up. Drive, agonise, analyse, interpret, report.
By comparison, at times last night it felt that online qual might offer a slightly more comfortable way to forge a career. Instruct, collect, collate, collage, present.
There is definitely room for all of the techniques shown last night, and I came away convinced that there are probably even more than five wonders of online qual research. But let’s not blur the lines between collecting diaries and pictures, and conducting excellent groups and depth interviews.
And let’s not lose sight of the fact that insight generated via groups and depths can feel just as rich, if not richer, than giving people the power of the internet and asking them to upload a video of themselves feeding their guinea pig.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Me, Me, SurveyMe

I’ve been accused in the past of being an out and out ‘qually boy’, and that’s how a former colleague still refers to me. In fairness, I have been known to fly the qualitative flag for all its worth. For me, market research has always been about quality, not quantity; why talk to people at all, if you’re not going to talk to them in depth?!
But I’ve come to the conclusion recently that we’re all allowed to adapt and change. And I’ve decided to respond to the way in which the world of research has changed too.
There are three key strands to my thinking, all of which have combined to encourage me to invest in a new research tool, currently taking the world by storm.
The first is the current call for research which is carried out ‘in the moment’, so at the point of purchase or at the point of a consumer or business person, experiencing a particular product or service.
The second is the explosion of research which is now being carried out via a mobile device or an app, be it a smartphone or an iPad or other tablet equivalent.
And finally there’s the aspect which has always been a big part of qualitative research, rewarding participants immediately for helping you with a survey, surveys which in this case are providing real time feedback.
The answer to the three issues raised above, so real time feedback, via a mobile device, in this case through an app, for instant rewards, has been brought to my attention by a company relatively new to the world of research, namely SurveyMe.
Using their new product and encouraging people to download their app, I’m now able to create and conduct surveys quickly and efficiently. Results can be provided back in real time at the touch of a button or a click of a mouse. The product creates great looking charts too, and full data that can be downloaded via Excel or via a PDF.

So there you go, ‘qually boy’ is embracing the future. And whilst still believing in the power of qual, he’s also connecting with the power of now – instant feedback, instant rewards, on the move and via an app.
Take a look, you might be sold too

Monday, 22 September 2014

Ideas Worth Spreading - TEDxSalford

In the office we’ve booked our tickets for TEDxSalford, and I am all the more excited this year having had a taster of the event last year. I was only able to attend a few hours of the last event, but it made me understand why the TED organisation as a whole, and all of its break-out events, attract so many guests, and such a high calibre of diverse speakers.

TED is a global foundation committed to sharing ‘Ideas worth Spreading’, and this is done through conferences and online content. 

Ideas are a currency, and it is through ideas that great things happen and great inventions are made. At a grassroots level, ideas fuel the actions we take day by day. 

Ideas are, in the world of market research, the basis of our toolkit. We test their strengths, their weaknesses, their appeal and their potential. 

And often we’re surprised. A favoured idea of a client may be eschewed by potential customers, and the wild card may come out on top. 

The spreading and sharing of ideas is what helps thoughts and concepts to shape and grow. 

The unique experience of a TED conference is in the variety and the unexpectedness of certain topics. Last year, amongst other things, I heard about training voices in the head, rather than treating them as an illness; the roots of Indian music; the power and potential of a £1 coin; and the power of the mind explored through optical illusions. 

And when you deal in the collection of, and interpretation of stories, being open to a range of experiences and situations should come with the territory. Arguably it’s a lack of open-mindedness that may lead some to ignore a TED event. As if not knowing the history of every speaker makes their words somehow less worth listening to. 

So we’re looking forward to the words of Belle du Jour and Caprice. We’re ready to dive into the minds of a hacker, a mathematician, and a complex systems theorist. We’re ready to be fascinated by the insights of a development psychologist, a psychoanalyst, an entrepreneur and a teenage inventor and cancer researcher. We’re ready to enter the creative minds of a singer/songwriter, a comedian, an author and a reporter. And we’re prepared to open our minds to the worlds of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a conceptual artist and the founder of the World Toilet Organisation. 

TEDxSalford, we’re ready.  

See you in two weeks.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Step Aside, This Question is Loaded

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, this is a special year for Park Lane Research as we celebrate being in business for twenty years. So we’d like to think we’re pretty good at what we do - answering questions and getting questions answered.

But even after two decades, there are still three questions that make us feel a little bit nervous and a little ill at ease. Because they aren’t just questions - they are loaded questions. And they aren’t just loaded questions asked by anyone - they are loaded questions asked by clients and potential clients.

They all sound very innocent when said out loud. Take the first one, very topical at this time of the year; “Hi Barrie, have you been away?” Well, this might sound friendly and innocent enough, but I’ve had clients who’ve sounded me out about potential projects on the basis of whether or not I’ve already been on holiday that year.

So what am I meant to say? I have been away but actually I’m going away again late September (but it’s only for a week!). It might just be a friendly question but I have to consider how my response might fit with whatever he or she might or might not have in mind.

Next there’s the experience question; “Hi Barrie, have you done any work on suspended ceilings?” If I say yes, and divulge my previous client, might this make me more or less relevant to the potential brief? If I say no, does this make me seem like I wouldn’t know how to conduct (or construct, ha ha) a project on suspended ceilings?

And finally there’s the killer question; “Hi Barrie, are you busy?” This is by far the trickiest one to answer. Answer yes and the client or potential client might decide to go elsewhere, assuming I don’t have time for their potential project. Answer no and I sound like I have no clients, no work, and probably no friends either.

So there you have it - three loaded client questions and, even after twenty years in business, I still don’t know how to answer them!

By the way, just in case you’re a client or potential client, I’ve been away, I’ve probably got at least some experience in whatever sector you care to name and I’ve been, well, busy enough…