Monthly Archives: May 2012

Unilever Driving Qual Change through Accreditation

Two events in the UK this week highlighted the gulf that separates most researchers from the clients they seek to serve.

Research-Live.com reported that Unilever is implementing a “new accreditation programme” for qualitative research suppliers.  The program will distinguish between “Research Leads” and “Moderators.”  To qualify, research providers will have to undergo about 3 hours of testing and observation and pass the test.  There are a lot of questions that the article does not answer about program specifics.

Obviously, the the accreditation program is being implemented because Unilever is not pleased with the quality of research they currently receive.  So what exactly are they displeased with?  Ulrike Hillmer, a consumer market insight manager for Unilever Deutschland, said the company seeks “to significantly raise the quality of qualitative research in the business in order to help deliver superior consumer insight”.

Likewise, Research-live.com quotes Unilever, “This researcher needs to be conscientious; a strategic thinker; to have empathy with the Unilever context; able to provide fresh ideas and thoughts and have the ability to link up brand/category issues with consumer understanding; and be challenging and pro-active.”

Contrast Unilever’s attempt at accreditation with the new report out this week from “The ICG,” a group of independent researchers who say they are “research professionals with an average 25 years’ experience.”  The report titled “Commissioning qualitative research and getting the best from it” provides a step-by-step overview of how to conduct the research process.  It is a 36 page presentation of detail about the process with tips, suggestions and rules to live by.

The ICG document likely meets a very well-defined and understood need.  Contributors worked very hard to assemble best practices and provide a guide for the qualitative researcher.  It would be very helpful for many researchers and their clients.

My point is that Unilever is not having trouble finding people who know the process; they are having difficulty finding people who can deliver superior consumer insight, think strategically, have empathy with the Unilever context and have fresh ideas and thoughts.  As good as the ICG document is for process, it does nothing to assist researchers to meet the needs of Unilever.

The contrast of these two initiatives is simply an example of the gulf that exists between research suppliers and research buyers.  I was President of the Qualitative Research Consultants’ Association for 3 years.  We found that our conferences were most successful when we taught techniques, not the discipline of insights.

Researchers like processes.  Otherwise, they might be artists or even strategy consultants.  Meeting Unilever’s requirements will be difficult for many researchers simply because it goes against their nature.

For years qualitative consultants were rewarded for executing processes.  When qualitative research was synonymous with focus groups, many researchers made a very good income because they could execute the focus group process.

Now, the world is changing.  Methodologies are expanding and fragmenting.  Business is getting faster and faster so companies like Unilever need researchers to help them think, not just process.  The research provider industry must evolve to meet these needs.  There is a place for process-oriented researchers.  But, the time is fast approaching when companies like Unilever will value, and pay, strategic researchers much higher.  Our industry should cultivate a new breed of researcher with different gifts and skills.  If we want research to be more valued in the C-Suite, we have to provide the insights and thinking that drive the business.

I, for one, hope that Unilever is delivering more than an accreditation program.  I hope they are devising a new qualitative research business model that values, and pays, strategic thinkers who can drive business over researchers who process research.  Without such a new business model, process research will strangle research as a valued profession.

Good luck Unilever!

P&G Makes Major Move to Asia

P&G announced yesterday that it is moving its Skin Care and Cosmetics unit to join its Baby Care unit in Singapore.   They want the leadership of these consumer brands to be near the biggest world markets with the greatest growth potential.

This is a major step for a US-based, globally-competitive, consumer brand.  P&G has moved the brand leadership away from corporate HQ to be closer to the customer of the future.  Will more brands follow?  They have to.  Brands are mature in the western economies but personal income is rising in many of the developing countries.  When you look at the population of the developing countries and the rising consumerism, the potential markets are massive and dwarf the western markets.  The move makes so much sense, you almost wonder why they waited so long.

This move and the ones likely to follow will accelerate the already accelerating rush to provide research services in Asia.  These consumer brands MUST understand the Asian customer.  The best way is to live there (thus, the P&G move).  But they can’t live everywhere and cultures vary widely across Asia.  So, the brands must develop strong research capabilities to understand their consumers.  Research firms are rushing to fill the void.  No doubt, Asia and other developing countries are the growth market for  consumer brands and for the research of the future.

It will be interesting to watch as research firms attempt to apply western research models to Asian realities.  How much will research adapt or will it have to change dramatically?  Given the macro forces of big data, the internet and geo-cultural shifts, will we even recognize research in a decade?

Guerrilla Warfare in Social Media?

Social media monitoring is hot and a lot of companies are putting a lot of money into social media monitoring.  We did a little investigating and found several firms who provide “tweet for hire” services.  So, how does one person with a grudge and $500 give a engage in guerilla warfare with a major brand?  Actually its not difficult.

We did a quick analysis of social media volume of a couple of well-known consumer brands, one fairly large and one not-so large.  Tweeters mentioned the large brand an average of about 40 tweets an hour or 960 tweets a day.  The smaller brand averaged about 100 tweets a day.

Now consider the world of “tweeting for hire.”  In a previous post, I talked about some of the re-tweeting sites that people are using to increase their SEO.  Even social media monitoring firms use them, so they are no secret.  These firms make their living from increasing website SEO which requires a high volume of social media at a low cost.  Therefore, they have devised methods to sell high volumes of tweets for very little.  For example, here is the pricing page for www.twitterbacklinks.com.

So, for $150/month, this site will re-tweet your message 125 times a day.  What would that do to a brand’s social media monitoring charts????  For a small to mid-major brand, it would be more than half the total tweets they see.  If taking on a major brand, a single person could provide a third or more of the daily tweets (375 of 960) for $450/month.

So you ask, “Can’t I easily block re-tweeting from my social media monitoring?”  Of course you can.  However, Twitterbacklinks.com also provides the following option,  “Alternatively you can just give us the message you want promoted and we will create the original Tweet for you.”

You might say, “Well, it would be monitored so all those identical tweets would be discounted.”  True.  But a person could include different messages to make the process more difficult.  Plus, the tracking data would get really unreliable.

If you had a devious mind and a little cash or if you were an unscrupulous competitor, what could you do?  A little subterfuge would go a long way to create chaos among the brand team or to alter marketing and branding decisions.  At minimum, such an attack would undermine the trustworthiness of the system.  Its the very definition of guerilla warfare.  Its simple.  Its inexpensive.  Its effective.

How long would it take a few guerrilla attacks on brands to undermine the credibility of our industry?

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