ARF Conference

Positioning for the qualitative research industry of the future

Every conference, many blog posts and most conversations in the qualitative research industry center around the big question: what’s happening next?

Rapidly changing consumer behavior, technology advances and a horizon that is unclear to most marketers creates fear and opportunity. But the leaders in the qualitative research industry, and the future leaders of whatever this industry looks like, are focusing on accepting change and uncertainty, and creating their own future.

It’s about positioning. Listen to some leading voices and what they have to say:

In answer to the question that emerged from his appearance at the MRIA conference in British Columbia last week, “What is Next Gen Market research?,” Tom H.C. Anderson says the following at Next Gen Market Research:

” Importantly, the goal for all of us needs to be to resist further commoditization and cost cutting. Instead let’s increase the value of insights. I believe part of this will have to do with positioning. If you are on the qualitative side the goal will be greater creativity, more ‘marketing’ in both cases. We need to become more than traditional researchers while retaining the methodological principles which have served us well for many years.”

Says Ray Poynter, about the future of market research, in an interesting article from his blog, The Future Place:

“Although I think our business model is probably endangered, I think the future looks great for talented individuals. I think the opportunities for people who can understand a client’s needs, create a method of finding the answers, synthesise several streams of information, and produce feedback that allows the client to make a better decision has never looked rosier.

Jim Bryson adds his own thoughts, taken from some recent remarks:

“Marketing research is changing fundamentally. Survey’s will continue to be around for quite a while but they will be more limited than now because so much more data will be available from other sources. We saw a glimpse of this trend when companies started data mining of shopper data. That is expanding geometrically with huge new databases and the coming capabilities to gain true insights from social media. There are literally dozens of trends that all point to a more diminished role for the traditional survey.

With change comes opportunity. We can now engage consumers in a more complete way than 50 years ago. Compare current ethnography capabilities (visits, mobile qualitative, online journaling, webcam interviews, etc.) with the door-to-door methods of 50 years ago and you see that the industry has come light years and that there are more opportunities now in the industry than ever before. We will advance more in the next 10 years than in the last 50 and the opportunities will be accelerated as well…for those who are willing to change.”

Jim notes what he heard from a Senior EVP from Coca-Cola at the past Advertising Research Foundation conference, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”

Respondents as Researchers – A New Role for Consumers

One of the themes emerging from today’s ARF Conference is the use of “normal people” as researchers. Social media appears to be driving a new look at the role that consumers can play. Previously, consumers were “respondents.”  As recently as October, 2010, we talked about the evolving perception of respondents as interactive participants in Are They Respondents or Participants?.  Now that research participation is being taken to a whole new level, consumers are being asked to predict, observe and analyze the behavior of their fellow consumers. Essentially, consumers are becoming researchers.

Online research tools such as prediction markets rely on consumers to predict winners and losers among new products and even elections. Essentially, prediction markets rely on individual consumers to “bet” on winners and losers. The ones who “bet” correctly win prizes; others don’t. There are several different executions of this technique but all draw upon the wisdom of crowds theory that many people make better choices than a few.

A very interesting application of consumers as researchers is “Mass Ethnography.”  John Kearon of BrainJuicer described this as asking 40 consumers to attend an event with the intent of reporting back on the behavior and motivations they observed. These temporary researchers receive a short document up front that serves as training and are then turned loose to observe and report back. According to Mr. Kearon, consumers provided insights never before understood in the category.  Apparently, the volume of observations and the closeness of the consumer/researcher to the behavior more than made up for the lack of training in ethnography.

This “Mass Ethnography” seems extremely interesting for online qualitative research. Why couldn’t a moderator use a bulletin board focus group to manage a group of consumer/researchers?  The bulletin board would be a great platform for managing the project, distributing assignments and collecting observations and insights.  It’s yet another application for the bulletin board focus group that holds tremendous promise.

Respondents as researchers? Why not.

2011 ARF Conference Delivers Quotable Speakers

The ARF Conference kicked off this morning in NYC. The conference is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Once the program advanced past the first hour of the obligatory ARF history, it has been interesting and provocative in a “big picture” sort of way.

I was especially interested in several quotes from the morning sessions.  Here are quotes as best I could record them along with a few comments from the cheap seats.

“The researcher’s role is to provide provocation and inspiration that drive the transformation and actions that generate growth” – Stan Stanaunathan, VP Marketing Research & Insights, The Coca-Cola Company. How many researchers consider themselves provacateurs or drivers of any transformation? Not many, in my experience.

“In 2020, companies that define themselves as ‘fieldwork’ will no longer exist.” – Joan Lewis, Global Consumer and Market Knowledge Officer, The Procter & Gamble Company. Hmmmm….I wonder what the MRA has to say about this?

“If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance a helluva lot less.” Joe Tripodi, EVP and Chief Marketing & Commercial Officer, The Coca Cola Company. Researchers are notiously slow to change.  End-user companies like Coca-Cola are pushing research companies to find new business models that embrace new technologies and new realities. Those that embrace these challenges have a chance to thrive. Others run the risk of following the dinosaurs.

“In our qualitative side and ethnographic side of our business, we are developing people who can understand our customers more deeply and provide value to clients.” – Eric Salama, Chairman and CEO, Kantar. There is a definite theme that the true value will be placed on people who can understand various types of data and relate the story of the customer back to the decision-maker.  Analytics are fine, but the true value will be transformational insights, however they are attained.

“Researchers need to be able to tell stories to motivate organizational change.” – Joan Lewis, Global Consumer and Market Knowledge Officer, The Procter & Gamble Company. Ms. Lewis went on to pan researchers as focused on methodology and findings that bore people and have little impact on decisions. Subtlety, throughout presentations, the value of qualitative continues to come through as presenter after presenter stresses the need for stories, understanding, understanding motivations, etc. 


 Scroll to top