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Copyright © 2002, MCB UP Limited
The future of qualitative and marketing research 2002
The future of qualitative and marketing research 2002
Just as Research magazine reports that the exhilarating days of high growth for the market research industry could well be over, the challenges most effecting the industry in 2002 are being debated amid the splendour of Regency Brighton (UK) (Research, 2002). As this issue of the QMRJ goes to press, the UK market research industry is assembling for its annual conference. Indeed, with more than 8,000 market research society members in 50 countries, it is no longer just the UK's market, social and opinion researchers who will be gathering at the seaside. This year's MRS conference and exhibition is entitled Research 2002 – Insight into Action and ambitiously aims to "establish the MR function at the action end of business". There is also a special look at what this means for the public sector now that Tony Blair's government has signalled reforms to make public services more customer- and delivery-oriented.
The overall conference focus is on the need for consumer research to provide added value in terms of delivering clear implications for marketing activity – to provide both insight and analysis. There is a need for marketing researchers to understand the marketing process and so be able to contribute to it in a meaningful and credible way.
The diverse challenges for the market research industry in 2002 are reflected in an eclectic (word of the moment) group of keynote speakers, including: Clive Hollis, CEO of United News and Media; MT Rainey, from the world of advertising; and Peter Kenyon, of Manchester United plc (no jokes about Man U having to do their focus groups in London where their home supporters are reputed to live, please) (for more information on "electicism", see Barker et al. (2001)).
So what are the main challenges to be discussed? The opening day of the conference offers a look at the future of the MR industry and aims to galvanise the industry into a debate about this future – is there a need for repositioning? Have marketing opportunities been lost? Is MR functioning as an integral part of the marketing process?
On the second day the agenda opens out and parallel sessions run in order to accommodate more than 30 papers by practitioners from agencies and client companies and also a few academics such as Professor Leslie de Chernatony and Professor Martin Callingham. Interesting-looking sessions include: "Twenty-first century woman", "Advertising communication", "Branding drivers", "Liberating researchers", and "Consumer consciousness", while the semiotics session, "Reading between the lines", should enlighten many of us and is the first time that an entire session has been given to the subject. "Re-inventing the market" deals with new technologies – Internet banking, smartcards and text messaging. Other programme highlights include an investigation of consumer "savvy" – myth or fact? and, of particular interest to qualitative researchers, NFO MBL and Bristol Business School consider the McDonaldization of global qualitative research. Specifically for the public sector there is a session on "Social issues" and papers on NHS employee research, Neighbourhood Renewal and Care Homes.
Some of these same issues are also aired in the "qualitative review" that is part of Research (2002). This is a thought-provoking review of how the qualitative research industry has changed since its UK introduction at the end of the 1950s. It is now a business worth almost £150 million p.a. (BMRA figures). The qualitative earnings of BMRA companies increased by nearly 25 percent in 2000, though there has since been a global downturn in advertising budgets and this year's growth will be significantly less. Maybe now is the time for qualitative researchers to market themselves rather than waiting for business to come their way.
Philly Desai's article, "The joy of six" (Research, 2002) considers that the way to future success lies in adoption of six innovations – more observational and ethnographic methods, looking at what people do, not just what they say; focusing on popular culture and "leading edge" consumers to look to the future rather than the past; generating new ideas rather than just evaluating them; facilitating consumer contact with marketers rather than reporting from the consumer front; moving away from psychological approaches and learning from a more eclectic (that word again!) range of disciplines; and, in public sector research, involving respondents in such a way that they can come to informed conclusions on complex issues. Mike Imms, in the same review (Research, 2002), similarly argues that qualitative research needs to update and sharpen its "theory toolkit", thereby differentiating "the professional researcher from people who just chat to groups of consumers". He talks of new psychological theories that have emerged – NLP and evolutionary psychology, and of new-found knowledge from neuroscience. Again, anthropology and ethnography are mentioned as likely to increase in importance. The new discipline of knowledge management will certainly need to be understood while disciplines such as cultural analysis and semiotics, even work on folklore and myths that "inform universal truths about the human condition" will add to the theory toolkit.
The challenges are apparent – the world is changing rapidly, if we in the market research business want to remain relevant and intrinsic to the decision-making processes, we all genuinely do need to be eclectic in our visions for the future.
Clive NancarrowProfessor, Chair in Marketing Research, Bristol Business School, UWE
ReferencesBarker, A., Nancarrow, C. and Spackman, N. (2001), "Informed eclecticism: a research paradigm for the 21st Century", International Journal of Market Research, Vol. 43 No. 1 pp. 3-28.
Research (2002), March.