FEATURE12 October 2010

Consumer researcher Suzanne Walker reflects on a life down under

Features People

Suzanne Walker left the UK for Australia five years ago after starting her career with Research International. Following a spell with the same agency, she moved to Hall & Partners | Open Mind earlier this month as an associate director. In this Spotlight interview she reflects on some of her consumer research work and dispels a popular myth about the Australian lifestyle.

News of her appointment was first reported here.

How did you get into market research?
I studied the slightly unusual (maybe even perplexing, given many people’s fear of statistics) combination of psychology and statistics at university and wanted work that would allow me to understand why people do what they do while getting stuck into analysis to augment this understanding – I’m a bit of a geek really.

What is the most challenging research project you have worked on?
A couple years ago a client set impossible interlocking quotas, with an already difficult-to-find sample of drivers of certain car makes and models. Finding the right people was like finding a needle in a haystack and was definitely the most challenging sample recruitment of any job I’ve worked on.

You’ve worked across a range of consumer brand sectors – drinks, tooth-whitening products and so on. Which was your favourite and which threw up the most challenges?
It sounds predictable, but chocolate has definitely been my favourite – somehow the insights behind and benefits of new products in this category are not hard for me to understand. Not being a smoker, cigarette research was difficult, both in terms of getting into the consumer mindset and comfort in researching this field.

What are the differences between working in the UK and working in Australia?
I’ve found the need to seek more creative ways to solve problems and be more tenacious when up against issues – there is never anything that can’t be done. Also, contrary to the image most Brits have of Australians spending all their time at the beach, I work longer hours than I did in London.

If you had the chance is there anything in your career that you would do differently?
I would like to have gained more qualitative experience as a junior researcher. With my academic background I made the decision to focus to a greater extent on the quantitative and analytical side. These are things I have enjoyed but it would be great to be fully skilled in both qual and quant.

What do you think makes a good researcher?
Someone with real passion and curiosity for understanding people, who takes the time to think about things thoroughly to uncover the real issues underlying the brief, the information needs, the data. Someone with a questioning mind that doesn’t just go through the motions of getting projects done.

Where would you like to be in ten years’ time?
Market research has taught me never to expect things to go according to plan – so I think I’ll take each year at a time rather than plan too far into the future.