Andrew’s Opening and Closing Remarks at ESOMAR’s Qualitative 2012

Earlier this month Andrew Needham, Face’s CEO, chaired Esomar’s Global Qualitative Research Conference in Amsterdam. The main thread of his speech was the rapid pace of change and what this means for qualitative research. Here are some excerpts from both his introduction and closing remarks.

ESOMAR Qualitative 2012 banner

It is the speed and impact of this change that is worrying for many of us.

Greece and the Euro Crisis represent just one of the many manifestations of the changing world order: how to achieve growth in a developed world laden with debt? Others such as the speed of change in terms of product life cycles; globalization – the shift of importance to emerging markets; sustainability of world resources, changing demographics and the challenge of ageing populations on western economies are all significant challenges in their own right.

But that is not to mention one of the biggest drivers of change – namely the impact of the social web on everything we do. EMarketer’s report at the end of 2011 predicted the tipping point would happen this year when 60% of marketing budgets would become social.

Andrew Talking

A major Ad Age article in 2011, entitled “Will Social Media Replace Surveys As A Research Tool?” brought the implications of this to bear on our very own doorstep. The top Research Executive, Joan Lewis for Procter and Gamble, the world’s biggest research buyer, predicted the dramatic decline in the importance of surveys by 2020 because of the rise of social media.

More recently Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Global Marketing and Brand Building Officer, outlined the company’s new approach to digital marketing as it aimed to build “lifelong, one-to-one relationships in real time with every person in the world”.

For research to help companies like P&G achieve such an ambitious goal, we are going to need to embrace change.

We can start by asking ourselves some important questions, questions we had in fact discussed as a committee that had helped shape the agenda for this year’s conference. How well as a research industry are we responding to change? Are we moving fast enough? Are we being innovative enough? Are we helping our clients to keep up and stay ahead of their consumers? What role should qualitative research play in the more continuous and adaptive marketing ecosystem that is emerging, and do we have the right skills and tools to make us fit for purpose?

Some of the answers to these questions are in the papers and presentations we are about to cover over the next two days, but it’s worth quickly drawing out a few key themes below:

Andrew Talking

1. Quality
The panelists at the session “Ensuring the future Growth of Market Research” at Esomar’s Congress in Atlanta highlighted the importance of quality and scientific robustness if research is to remain the true keeper of insight. It is critical that we apply the rigour of qualitative methodologies as we apply new techniques presented to us through the use of technology. We are fortunate to have Unilever attend to explain their thinking behind their Accreditation Programme designed to ensure gold standard in the quality of Qualitative Research.

2. Speed & Action
It is incumbent upon us as an industry to make sure that quality insight is delivered more quickly and cost effectively than we have ever done (or needed to do) before so that we can help companies speed up decision-making processes rather than just help people make better decisions more slowly. Promise’s paper with Sony talked about how to instill insight for competitive advantage by helping companies become Strategic Foresight Organisations. It can also mean doing more with less in these straitened times as Insites demonstrated in its paper with KLM.

3. Innovation
Making sure that we are constantly innovating with new approaches and techniques that deliver robust, actionable insight will also become increasingly important in a world that is changing so quickly. Firefish’s paper with BT, Face’s paper with Nokia, Brainjuicer’s paper with Kelloggs and Engage’s paper with CNBC were all good examples of this.

4. Qualitative Skills
And finally “Will the arrival of Big Data – where there’s now so much qualitative data available for free – change the whole business model for qualitative research? Do all qualitative agencies need to be plugged in with real time social data so we can help companies like P&G build 1-2-1 relationships in real time with their consumers? If so they will need to have an understanding of quantitative and social intelligence skills so we can connect the dots. The panel discussion Qualitative Skills in the New World should not be missed!”

Andrew’s concluding thoughts on the Conference

“For me there were two important themes that come out of this year’s Conference.

Andrew at ESOMAR

“First of all the big opportunity for us as qualitative researchers is that in a world of increasing data obesity there is going to be a massive need for more human analysis – more depth, more richness, more rigour, more clarity of insight – all the skills we can bring to the table as qualitative researchers – rather than less. We are perfectly placed from what I have read and seen at the Conference to be the true custodians of insight.

“But we shouldn’t think this was naturally going to fall into our laps. One frustration or concern I have is that we’re not moving quickly enough to keep up with the speed of change so that other categories of business are being afforded the opportunity to muscle into our patch. To win in this space we are going to have to combine rigour with speed – it’s not a question of either or: we need to do both well. In my view this will increasingly mean that qualitative research is no longer delivered purely on an ad hoc project-by-project basis (as it has largely been done to date with a focus group-based model) but on a more continuous, real time and strategic basis. Promise’s paper with Sony was a clear example of this.

“Secondly, what excites me and should excite all the bright young students that are sitting in front of me is that for the first time in the history of research we can help clients deliver in a meaningful way on the mantra of putting consumers at the heart of their business to give them competitive advantage. This will require different skill sets where we will need to combine qualitative skills with quantitative and social intelligence ones. Insites’s paper with KLM is a good example of bringing all three together.”

Andrew finished by concluding that new roles and titles are going to emerge in the coming years so that a recruitment advertisement for a qualitative researcher in 2020 will read and look very different to what we are seeing today. The day will come, he surmised, when it could be as cool to work in the research industry as it is supposedly to work in advertising!

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