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…    

Thursday, 5 June 2014

One Client, Twenty Year History

Celebrating twenty years in business inevitably means that you look back at what you’ve achieved and who’s helped to make that possible. And one of the stand-out features of this is realising just how many clients have been working with us for so long.

Take National Museums Liverpool, for example, or NMGM as they were known when we started working together. Here’s a group of museums and galleries we have been working with for the whole of our time in business. And that’s a lot of years and a lot of projects.

During that time we’ve worked at all of their venues too, sometimes on quantitative projects but often on more qualitative challenges surrounding visitor experience, and idea generation and development.

So we’ve developed names for World Museum and Seized! and what used to be National Conservation Centre. We’ve helped in advertising testing/development and gallery design at International Slavery Museum and worked on exhibitions like Plantastic!, Only a Game and The Beat Goes On at World Museum too.

As for the newest venue, Museum of Liverpool (see picture below), we were invited to look round this wearing our hard hat prior to this venue being fully constructed. This in preparation for internal and external work on its branding and marketing, which has proved so successful since its completion.
We’ve worked at Merseyside Maritime Museum, we’ve done projects at Sudley House and The Walker Art Gallery, and we’ve now completed several jobs at Museum of Liverpool too.

Coming right up to date we’ve recently completed a project at Lady Lever Art Gallery, interviewing visitors and potential visitors about the development of the south end galleries at this magnificent venue on The Wirral.

Such a wealth of experience then, for such a supportive and valued client for Park Lane Research. We can only presume that they’re quite partial to the work we do too. Well they have been commissioning work from us since 1994.

Here’s to the next 20 years of working together and here’s a big thank you to National Museums Liverpool.  

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Real Life, Real People, Real Understanding

Working in market research provides an opportunity to find out about a huge range of products and services and sectors. This variety helps us to stay fresh for each new project and provides continuous education for us and for the clients with whom we work. Whilst we relish all areas of our work, it can feel even more rewarding when a project is so closely in tune with ‘real life’ and indeed with improving the products and services provided for ‘real people’.

Over the years we have worked on projects involved with alcohol dependency, with smoking cessation, with teenage sexual health and with specific health issues like stroke, diabetes and cancer care.  These projects are not only rewarding in themselves, they also teach us about aspects of some people's lives we as individuals had not previously appreciated nor understood.

Most recently, two projects, one about adoption and one about foster care, introduced us to worlds we had not been a part of before and worlds inhabited by caring people, many of whom we felt privileged to meet. Many invited us into their homes and told us their experiences, giving us an honest glimpse into a mind-set, an attitude, a way of life.

Their situations were different, their stories were often very moving and the insight we gained have helped our clients move forward in their quest to improve their offer and the promotion of these real life services for real people. 

The fieldwork for such projects is obviously very important in terms of how interviews are conducted and ensuring participants are handled with sensitivity and with respect. But the debriefs for these pieces of work are also crucial in ensuring that the research is not only understood but is also delivered in an empathetic fashion.

A couple of years ago we were involved in a piece of work on post natal depression, the debrief on which saw some members of our audience moved to tears when they heard about the people we had interviewed and the tales they had to tell. Again in our debrief on foster care, one client commented that she felt the work had been ‘beautifully presented’ and another said that the messages delivered were ‘clearly heartfelt’.

We thrive on the continuing education which working in qualitative research can provide. This all plays forward, meaning every new brief, for any industry, is approached from a perspective of everything we have learnt before. Techniques, empathy and understanding can only improve with every single project, and that's what we pride ourselves on delivering.

Fostering Fortnight, which is running until this Friday, gave us the chance to reflect on what we have learnt during our work on foster care, and then on our work in other related sectors. Real life, real people, real understanding.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Qual-Quant Debate

The Qual-Quant Debate
Since this is my twentieth year running Park Lane Research and my nth year as a researcher, I think I’m probably experienced enough to be allowed a view on the qualitative versus quantitative research debate.  I used to work at a place where I felt qual was under-valued and it’s made me slightly nervous about sharing these views with a wider audience.  But here you go, I’m going to do it anyway.
In the agency to which I refer, qual researchers were sometimes viewed as being akin to the awkward squad – when I wasn’t in the office, clients were told ‘oh he’s coming back from somewhere’ and that was usually when I’d worked all day and all evening, as well as travelled to some far off place to run groups.
In more recent times, I’ve been more than happy to combine quant and qual techniques within my work and have come to realise how valuable both can be in the wider scheme of things.  This is especially the case, I feel, when both can be brought together within the same project.
When it comes down to it, however, I think I’ll always be a qual researcher at heart, and here’s my ode to why I think that might be the case…
Ode to the Qual
What you need will be the quant, what you want will be the qual,
What brings knowledge will be quant, what brings understanding will be qual,
What provides a structure will be the quant, what will tell a story will be the qual,
What draws interest will be quant, what brings engagement will be qual,
What will show value is the quant, what will add value is the qual,
What informs will be the quant, what excites will be the qual,
What you’ll like is the quant, what you’ll love is the qual,
What brings pleasure will be the quant, what provides passion will be the qual.
Your choice, you decide…

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Food & Drink Research – Recipe for Success #PLRat20

Over the last twenty years, we’ve come up with lots of new recipes to give our clients exactly what they need. That juicy quote, tasty insight and slap-up conclusion that leaves them wanting more, and ready for their next course of understanding. All this experience of serving up results has left us confident we know the ingredients for a successful piece of research in the food and drink industry. Here we’re going to share elements of that recipe for success.


A client – manufacturer, retailer, supplier or marketing agency is ideal

A brief – the tastier the better

A product or category – a whole line or an individual flavour, a packet or a logo

A budget – we can create a mouth-watering debrief tailored to the budget in hand 

1. Take a client, and listen carefully to their requirements. Where do they sit in the food supply chain? What do they want? Where are they hoping the research will lead? Throughout the noughties we helped Tesco re-launch their own range of sushi, we helped them re-shape the yogurt aisle, we studied all aspects of the Finest range and made it even finer. Meanwhile we were helping some suppliers, like Samworth Brothers take control of the premium sausage market, hold sway in pork pies, dominate sandwiches bought in the likes of Waitrose and M&S. Chopping carrots and onions and potatoes into the mix, we worked with both suppliers and retailers, and helped them understand people’s vegetable buying habits in more depth. 

2. Carefully add some quantitative work. Done in the right way, a simple questionnaire can reveal a lot. Have people heard of a certain own range product? Do people ‘like’ this product as much as they ‘like’ the competitor? Extra prizes here if you can figure out the retailer we’ve been working on taste tests for… 

3. Lightly dust some assisted shops into the pot. When considering store layout, competitors, or packaging, what better way to see how customers react than to be there with them as they experience it first hand? This is something that we have used more and more in recent years, and being in the store environment can lead to some revealing insights. 

4. Add in some tempting qualitative work. Considered a real specialty of the company, we are big advocates of the group discussion and depth interview. Bakemark (now CSM) has enlisted our help over a number of years to explore the world of muffins, of doughnuts, of cookies, of brownies, of cup cakes, of basically all things headed ‘sweet treat’.  

5. Serve beautifully. Packaging should not be underestimated, and has formed a huge element of our work. So we’ve helped Princes with new bottle shapes and new designs for its entire range of own label carbonates. We helped Cott develop the first double concentrate squashes for Sainsbury. We had the pleasure of working on the packaging and in-store layouts for the Christmas and Easter product range at Thorntons.
With over twenty years of experience, we look forward to much more work in the food and drinks industry, and the chance to cook up more recipes for success. Go on, try us. As they say, the proof’s in the pudding.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Well Hello 2014!

I’m willing to acknowledge that there’s nothing original about reflecting on the year that’s passed and thinking about the year ahead. But I’m going to do it anyway. And I’m doing this not least because 2014 marks a significant milestone for Park Lane Research.

It was twenty years ago this month that I decided the time was right to start my own business and twenty years ago this month that I set up shop at 352a Park Lane. In that time we’ve gone from renting an adjoining ‘shack of dreams’ (see below) to owning the whole building, and in that time we’ve worked with an array of amazing clients, some of whom have supported me from the start to now.
It seems strange to consider that the time at which I set up in business was potentially quite precarious from a family point of view. There was I the main ‘breadwinner’ selling the idea to Claire that of course everything would be fine with the new business. I’d worked out a ‘survival budget’ and once we’d passed that, it would be plain sailing…

And there was Claire, coming to terms with cutting back her working hours in order to cope with our first baby. That was baby Sophie of course, who has recently joined me as a Marketing Executive in the business. That was baby Sophie who we forgot we had one night and nearly ended up going out for a meal forgetting she was upstairs asleep.

It’s easy to say now but from my first day in business, there has never really been any looking back to a time when I might not be working for myself. I remember the first groups I ran in Norwich in my first week – driving home and rather than bemoaning my misfortune at another late night, thinking this was my choice and this was how I wanted things to be, this was for me, this was for my family.

So it’s not always been plain sailing and starting a new year has always felt daunting. Will anyone ever want to work with me again? Will this year be as good as the last? These are questions that continue to haunt my January days.

And so far the phone has continued to ring; the jobs have continued to come in. But that doesn’t stop you wondering, and doesn’t stop you being grateful to those who do still recognise you’re committed to what you do – and appreciate you’re pretty good at what you do too.

So here’s to the special year for us which is 2014, and you’ll be hearing more about our anniversary celebrations in the coming year.

In the meantime, I genuinely hope this can be a successful year for whoever chooses to read this blog too.
Cheers! Barrie