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OPINION11 November 2009

Only words?

Opinion

A lot of new terminology is flying around in research discussions at the moment, but we don’t seem to have quite decided what it all means.

In last month’s issue of Research we ran a front cover challenging the definition of research – or more accurately, making up a definition of research, then challenging that. We specifically questioned whether, in the light of new practices in research, including the rise of social media, it still makes sense for there to be a non-permeable barrier separating research from marketing.

The discussion that we got into as a result of that piece turned up a very wide range of views. Geoff Gosling of the Market Research Standards Board (which actually has some say in deciding what, in theory at least, is and is not research) responded to our article, saying that while research methods may have changed, the purpose of research has not. We should therefore ensure that the use of research techniques for non-research purposes remains separate and distinct – not least because if you blur the line, you risk doing something illegal.

James Turner of FreshMinds spoke of the rationale behind his company’s decision to separate the teams that build communities for research purposes and those that build them for marketing and brand building. But Mike Hall of Verve argued that a community is defined not by what the sponsor happens to use it for, but by the people in it and what they want (generally to have some kind of relationship with the brand in question). He voiced his frustration with the terms ‘research community’ and ‘MROC’ (market research online community), which he sees as misleading.

When we brought these issues up again in a blog post, a number of readers commented, but there was a sense that we weren’t all talking about quite the same thing – different people clearly drew different distinctions between what constitutes a ‘research community’, a ‘custom panel’, a ‘brand community’ and a ‘branded community’. One commenter even asserted that the last term belonged to him as a registered trademark.

In one sense it seems a shame to get bogged down in a discussion about definitions. But words do matter – partly so that we can simply have a sensible discussion but also so that regulators and lawmakers don’t get the wrong end of the stick (wrong being a highly subjective term in this instance, of course). As Gosling pointed out, the line separating market research from things that look like it but have a different aim is an important element of self-regulation.

Among the definitions that researchers would rather not get lumped in with are ‘social networks’, which could be subject to new regulations in the US, and ‘behavioural targeting’, which the Interactive Advertising Bureau has been keen to point out is not synonymous with ‘advertising research’.

A couple of weeks ago Vovici’s Jeffrey Henning wrote of the “refreshing lack of consensus” at Esomar’s online conference about what constitutes ‘community research’, which he saw as “a sign of healthy experimentation as methodologies are explored and tested”. This stage can’t last forever though – we’re bound to start seeing more consistency and convention in terminology and practice as companies get past experimentation and start looking harder at the ROI.

In the process, ‘market research’ is only one of many terms that researchers will need to think about defining.

5 Comments

10 years ago

Because we have to police the term, you should be aware that the term Branded Community® is a Federally registered trademark of ours. Your company really shouldn't be using the term without a qualifier of our express written consent. The article in this link is an example of your unauthorized use of the term Branded Community®. Our company, i-legions.com, provides revenue-generating Branded Communities® on a turnkey basis for brands with user bases. If you need to contact me, my information is below. Sincerely, Rob Frankel, http://www.i-legions.com "Revenue-producing Branded Community ® -- on a turnkey basis."

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10 years ago

Just a word Rob. We've used the term "branded community" for years, on and off. Just because you hire lawyers shouldn't stop us from using the English language. Give us a break mate.

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10 years ago

Nice strapline though Rob. Catchy. That must have taken literally minutes of brainstorming.

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10 years ago

It looks like Rob Frankel has got 'previous form' on this topic. See this link to a legal opinion that he does not have a leg to stand on http://blogs.zdnet.com/feeds/?p=158&tag=col1;post-233 (note I do not have a legal opinion, and I can't give advice)

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10 years ago

Ray - nice piece of research on your part. I went to Frankel's website - and he certainly takes self-promotion to new heights. I think his spelling needs correcting also. He keeps spelling it turnkey, with an n.

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