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.