Friday 26 January 2018

Churchill does Qual

I've spent my whole working life flying the flag for qualitative research, but little did I know that it had played a part in the downfall of Hitler and the Nazi Party. Then I go and watch Darkest Hour, and all is revealed.

Winston Churchill, supremely well played by Gary Oldman, is in a bit of a tight spot. The war cabinet is putting pressure on him to open peace talks with Mussolini and Adolf Hitler; 300,000 British troops are stuck in Dunkirk; and he’s struggling to find a match to light one of his over-sized, iconic cigars.

And that’s when things begin to change.

It turns out that Churchill has decided that he needs to run a group discussion. And what better place to hold it than on the London underground.

Like all good quallies, he gets lost on the way and seeks the help of a friendly Londoner who sets him on the right track to the District Line where he must travel just one stop to Westminster.

On the tube, he finds the group all waiting for him. Some stand up, others look at each other, not quite knowing when the group is going to begin. The silence is broken, and the warm-up starts once a chap has offered Winston a match; so, he’s up and running, ready to begin moderating.

Recruitment seems to have gone well, that is presuming Churchill has asked for a good cross-section. So, we have men and women, a builder, a lady with a baby, someone going to a job at an office and sure enough, we have someone from the BME community who turns out to be very well read and capable of finishing off one of Winston’s learned quotes. Who’d have thought it.

The discussion lasts just one stop, but it seems tube journeys were slower in those days because, like all good moderators, Winston manages to cram a lot in. It turns out that these ‘ordinary’, ‘salt of the earth’ Londoners would much rather face up to Hitler than to try and negotiate a peace deal. They’ll use broom handles if they need to, if that’s what it takes to defend their country.

Winston’s heard all he needs. He marches back to Westminster, topline findings written on a scrap of card, including the names of the participants, and announces to anyone who’ll listen, that the people have spoken. We shall not surrender.

So, there you have it, in his darkest hour, Churchill knew that qualitative research would give him the answers he required. He decided to consult the public and he did so using a group discussion.

Who knows whether this actually did take place and, in fairness, it was one of the cornier sections within what was an excellent film.

But as a flag-flying qual researcher, who cares?

This was research in action. This was Winston doing ethnography. This was Churchill taking on board the views of the people and using this knowledge to help change the course of history.
Qualitative research, saving the world, one focus group at a time.

Monday 11 September 2017

The Best of Impact 2017?

For the second year running I went along to The MRS Best of Impact at The Lowry, Manchester last week and I’ve been reflecting on what it delivered.

Firstly, I have to say that the idea of bringing the best papers from the MRS conference to the north-west is one which I fully support. I have written in the past on how London-centric the MRS can appear to be, so it’s great when events like this take place in the regions and are fully supported by key members of staff from the MRS itself.

Secondly, I would also like to say that this was a most enjoyable event, thanks partly to the sponsorship of Join the Dots and to the facilities and support provided by The Lowry, which were excellent.

My main reflections, however, focus on that very word, impact. I had thought the idea behind naming the conference in this way is to help try and promote how much impact market research can have on different industries and on society as a whole. But whilst the papers presented did have impact in themselves, it was difficult to see how and whether any or all the papers have had a real impact on the issues and industries on which the projects were focussed. Certainly not yet anyhow.

There were four papers in total and all were aptly described as quite ‘worthy’ by the conference chairman. One was based around the fashion industry, one centred on financial services, another on recycling and the final one on driving whilst using a mobile phone.

All papers were very well presented and all had impact. We had video footage of Londoners saying why they don’t and may well never recycle; we saw drivers seemingly unable to resist using their phones whilst at the wheel; and we witnessed a moving filmed interview with a participant turned collaborator who has dementia, talking of difficulties when dealing with banks and other financial institutions.

Whilst the papers themselves were all full of impact, the crux for me came when we heard or when we asked about the outcomes from the research. It turned out that we don’t know whether the gamification research has had any impact on the fashion client’s sales. The ‘selfless’ drivers, it was acknowledged, would probably not be affected by the campaign which was designed on the back of the ‘driving whilst using a mobile phone’ research.

On recycling, well, there again, it was unclear as to whether a follow-up campaign to this research was having an impact or would ever have an impact on the types of people who took part in the research.

And finally, admittedly it was early days, but the result of the dementia research seemed to be a series of papers, which may or may not have a long-term impact on financial institutions and how they deal with those people who have dementia.

Here were four ‘worthy’ papers, then, which did indeed have an impact on us as an audience, as they must have had at the main conference earlier in the year.

But as to whether the results from these excellent pieces of work will have real impact on the serious issues they raise, well I for one, would be interested to find out.

In all, then, great event but how are we defining the impact word? Are we saying the papers had impact and that’s enough? Or are we looking towards papers in the future, which don’t just have impact when presented, but can also demonstrate that they have had an impact on the issues and the industries on which they have been focussed?   

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