OPINION16 November 2012

Many questions


Qual accreditations, quick-turnaround research and the validity of social media research were up for discussion at the Independent Consultant Group’s third annual Question Time event yesterday, chaired by new ICG chairman Arthur Fletcher.

The debate covered an array of topics, with questions chosen by the body’s members. Answering the audience’s questions were:

  • Giles Finnemore (GF), market development manager, Royal Mail
  • Jane Frost (JF), CEO, the Market Research Society
  • Pete Laybourne (PL), chairman, Fathom International
  • Leslie Sopp (LS), market research manager, Financial Services Authority
  • Emma Whitehead (EW), head of digital agencies, Guardian Media Group

Here’s some highlights from the discussion.

On Unilever’s accreditation scheme

PL: The concept is to be applauded for taking the initiative to try and create a gold standard for qualitative research. However, there are significant gaps in the content of its scheme that need to be addressed before it can be taken seriously.

JF: The MRS has taken this very seriously and has held constructive talks with Unilever to determine what their concerns are and how we should be reacting. We are ready to go with an advanced qualitative course in January that should address the dilemmas that Unilever wanted to tackle.

On client desire for fast research…

LS: It’s the worst derivative to have emerged. Clients want research to be available instantly and ready for PowerPoint slides, which is an awful way to communicate. The need to re-emphasise scale and tailored design, which can only be achieved through the dedication of time, has never been more important.

GF: Too often, people are forgetting to build in thinking time and just want an instant poll result. You have to take a step back and ask, ‘Is it usable?’ Does it meet a business objective? And can I actually achieve this objective using this insight?

PL: It’s all about having the balance of the right approaches at the right time. Depth is no substitute; it has to be there. You shouldn’t be afraid to push back if a client asks for fast research.

On the definition of market research…

JF: Part of the reason for the MRS introducing the “evidence matters” tagline and our latest Business of Evidence report is that it makes the industry move away from its traditional status and incorporates all of the different formats of insight methodologies.

GF: The definition of research relates to the skills involved in the job. We’re not in the situation where there is just one tool in the box, known as surveys, and we have to recognise that.

PL: It’s easy to fall into silos and just focus on these contently. However, the industry has evolved a lot and we need to embrace it by welcoming all inputs and insights. Engaging with other disciplines is a necessity.

LS: We need to remember that research and insights are not the same and we shouldn’t muddle the two. The industry needs to evolve, but we must remember the points of difference.

On the “suggers” stereotype that market research faces…

PL: The suggers stereotype has been around since I started in market research and it will continue. The problem is it’s easy for market research to be discredited. All we can do is ensure people who represent us do so in an authoritative and bespoke manner that reflects the industry positively.

JF: We can do more to get the industry to play its part in making sure research is done in ways that do not offend members of the public. One of the things that we are looking at is launching a consumer mark as an identification symbol to show people that data will be used ethically and has a genuine purpose. There is a big gap for this and we’re hoping to launch this before April.

On the validity of social media insights…

EW: I think you have to be really careful about how you go about doing social media analysis. In general, I would say that if you lower the volume of the responses you are analysing, then the stronger the actual business insights you will get back.

PL: Policing social media is incredibly difficult, but the fact is it’s not going anywhere. You have to be selective about how you filter out what is valuable and what is not. The industry isn’t there with this yet, but clients are ever more aware of the importance of utilising social.

LS: Social is an ideal barometer of brand advocacy, but as a research tool they haven’t cracked it yet. The intelligence stream it provides is very interesting, though, because it has the potential to create ripple effects that have to be observed.

GF: The key thing to remember with social media is to monitor, not substitute. You have to remember that the majority of conversations do not happen on social media.

Wishes for the market research industry in 2017…

EW: For online delivery and discovery to be more flexible and accommodative of every department within the client’s business.

PL: For the industry to take its blinkers off and make roles more multi-disciplinary and challenging. Market research should sit at the boardroom table and have a clearer voice across businesses.

LS: To have chief insight officers in boardrooms and for outsiders to not think ‘polling’ but actual research. And also for the industry to have a greater media presence.

GF: For the industry to have a point of view and replace McKinsey & Co as the CEO’s choice of business to receive management consultancy from.

JF: Better recognition for the industry and its work in client circles.