This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more here

OPINION22 June 2011

Assessing the price of qual-ity

Opinion

Unilever is rumoured to be rolling out its qualitative accreditation programme across Asia. John Wigglesworth says this has some interesting implications not only for research houses working with the FMCG giant, but also for qualitative researchers themselves.

Accreditation will be awarded to individual researchers who are nominated by their agencies and subsequently pass the assessment process on a Unilever-accompanied qualitative assignment. That has some interesting implications not only for research houses working with the FMCG giant, but also for qualitative researchers themselves.

In quantitative research, the large number of interviewers usually working on a project tends to dilute any quality and bias issues, and questions are tightly controlled by CATI, CAPI or routed paper questionnaires. It’s a different matter for qualitative research – a single moderator may run all of the FGDs for a project, as well as subsequently analysing and presenting the data back to the client. The level of competence of that researcher is clearly going to impact heavily on the overall project quality. So Unilever’s approach (presumably aimed at achieving better and more consistent quality) makes a lot of sense. But it also raises a number of issues.

For most agencies, the initial temptation will surely be to put only the most highly-trained (in other words, senior) qualitative researchers forward for accreditation; this seems prudent, because having any of the research team fail the accreditation process would negatively impact the agency’s reputation for quality within Unilever – and that could potentially mean a loss of business. But engaging only the more senior grades on Unilever projects will either mean an increase in price, or – more likely – an erosion of margin.

It will also leave agencies with a headache as and when their accredited quallies move agency. Firstly, it may leave them with an insufficient number of approved researchers to service their work. Secondly, it may take many months to find and recruit a Unilever-accredited replacement. Real issues will arise if several approved researchers move on and cannot be quickly replaced.

Related to this, the ‘market value’ of Unilever-accredited researchers seems likely to rise. That’s simply a function of supply and demand, amplified rather by Unilever’s substantial research spend which so many agencies vie for. Rising salaries among this small subset of the research community could also cause another headache for agencies – their contractually-binding rate-cards with Unilever may quite rapidly fail to reflect the reality of actual employee costs. So more margin pressure, then.

Clearly it remains to be seen what the overall impact of this move to accreditation will have, both on agencies and researchers. Some areas remain unclear, such as where freelancers (which most agencies relay on to at least some degree) fit into all of this. But one thing is for sure – this is positive news if you are a Unilever-approved qualitative researcher.

John Wigglesworth is a former GfK director, now running Asia Research Recruitment in Singapore

5 Comments

9 years ago

This is potentially really interesting and potentially more disruptive than any ISO. IF it took hold I could easily imagine many clients saying they want Unilever accredited researchers on their project. However, I would love to understand the criteria Unilever will use, it would be all too easy to design a standard that would exclude the bad and the very good. For example, will Univer accept a range of epistemological positions, or favour just one (perhaps the naturalist position)?

Like Report

9 years ago

Surely this is a challenge for both agencies and researchers. And if Unilever rolls out this procedure to other countries where the great part of the qualies are freelancers, I do not know if the output will be positive.

Like Report

8 years ago

This is another one of those well-meant initiaitives that is likely to result in a bureaucratic hurdle, unless agencies and the client can pull it off successfully. And if not, like all bureaucratic processes, this would result in a lot of abuse and unfair practices - which as a foresight, might end up hurting the client the most. One solution is to go en masse and try and accredit as many good active qualitaitve persons as possible, (i.e. not keep this exclusive to a few agencies) so that during crunchtimes they dont run out of relying on a handful of people.

Like Report

8 years ago

This partly reflects the reality of any service industry and the difficulties involved, but not the right solution really. My perspective is that clients (not just the one mentioned here) could do a lot better if they could first 'accredit' their teams for such a strategic, vital function. There is no point accrediting your qualies when you have teams that dont know what they want. Both charity and justice begin at home...

Like Report

8 years ago

One of the factors that leads to good quality in qualitative IS working together more closely with the marketing team. But look at what this is saying about the perception of qualitative research - there is a wider issue here.

Like Report