Practitioner perspective

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Article publication date: 1 July 2006



Nancarrow, C. (2006), "Practitioner perspective", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 9 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Practitioner perspective

The Market Research Society’s Annual Conference (2006) in the UK runs with the theme Connections and the declared aim of connecting business or policy, people and ideas, and in particular the strengthening of links between the research industry’s various stakeholders.

As well as formal presentations, the Conference now encompasses such formats as debates, case studies, expert briefings and training workshops with discussion boards on the internet about the papers. The keynote speakers this year include Lord (Tim) Bell, Chairman of Chime Communications Plc and famed as a founder of Saatchi and Saatchi and as one of Margaret Thatchers’ most trusted advisors, Adrian Furnham, Professor of Psychology at UCL and Richard Reed co-founder of the immensely successful Innocent Drinks.

The MRS conferences whether in Brighton, Birmingham or the Barbican goes from strength to strength in terms of the quality of presentations and the sheer breadth of subject matter covered. One may have noticed with interest how unconventional the names of some research agencies have become – Stimulating World, Duckfoot, Space Doctors, Promise plc, Naked Eye amongst others. The days of simply naming agencies after their founding members appear to be over (apologies if Duckfoot does exist). The names of many companies now suggest unconventional thinking and greater insight rather than the wisdom of named “elder” or authorities. The market research industry has a desire to be at the leading edge and that makes the conference a really stimulating place to be.

The variety of themes makes the Conference a thought-provoking event. A paper by Simon Chadwick (Cambiar LLC) and Ed Keller, co-author of “The Influentials” on “Is WOM just a Buzz?” examines how WOM works. The authors had access to a three million strong internet panel that had been very aptly recruited virally – member get member. The results of the authors’ controlled experiments on this panel to gauge the power of viral marketing will clearly be of interest.

Another paper on the subject, by Paul Marsden of Enterprise LSE, “Measuring the success of word of mouth” suggests that market research can actually create WOM by listening to, involving and engaging customers. Marsden further claims that the Hawthorne Effect can actually drive business performance by turning respondents into WOM advocates – “the future of word of mouth marketing, indeed marketing itself, is market research”. Thought-provoking it should be given the link the authors demonstrate between WOM and sales.

Moving on from Word of Mouth to its cyber equivalent, Blogging, there are several opportunities for the more experienced amongst of us (the oldies in other words!) to catch up on some of the latest uses of technology that may have escaped us so far. The web as a social forum is much in favour as a topic for discussion. Blogs, for instance, is “demystified” by Carmen Aitken of IPSOS Mori and Will Corry of The Marketing Blog (another of those names that would have bemused elders abbreviated to AGB). Apparently many consumers now rely on Blogs for accurate information and exchange of product/service experiences and therefore marketers need to consider them as part of the communication mix. There can undoubtedly be an anti big business element to these Blogs and the speakers will address the issue of online detractors and critics as well as suggesting how to combine a website with a Blog that will produce a creative interaction with consumers. And if that is not enough for you, there is also an expert briefing from Simon Andrews (Big Picture) on “Knowing your Blogs from your Pods”.

Still mystified or technologically challenged? Then there is also a training workshop on The Art and Science of Webnography led by Anjali Puri (AC Neilsen ORG-MARG, India). This also concerns the web as a social forum, webnography being a virtual ethnography. Her argument is that as qualitative research moves increasingly towards “natural” contexts – observation over interrogation, ethnography over focus groups, then insights culled from everyday conversations on the web have even greater value. The point is also made that this could be a means of reaching the more elusive leading edge or tech savvy audience types.

Also focused on the latest technology, the authors of Marketing to the Connected Generation discuss how today’s primary school children are growing up in a connected world where a film becomes a dvd, a video game, a website then becomes perhaps a toy, a board game, even food and drink products (and then probably a sequel!). The authors of the paper, Neil Samson (Family, Kids and Youth) and John Conlon of Nickelodeon, stress the importance of taking into account this multi-media landscape and providing more “multi-dimensional entertainment experiences”.

A paper by Ian Brace (TNS) and Julie Tinson (University of Stirling) examines the segments of a TV audience in terms of disposition to TV advertising and “marketing savvy” that could be relevant to qualitative research recruitment and analysis. At the other end of the age spectrum Fiona Wood of the COI and Jill Armstrong (Stimulating World) give a paper “From cohort to communications: connecting with over 50s”. Based on a comprehensive qualitative study that explored whether older people really are less engaged with advertising messages or whether poor executional strategy and the failure to address the inherent diversity of the age group are more to blame for difficulties in communicating effectively. The study also considers the baby boomer generation and notes it will be even more reluctant to be addressed as “older”. As an alternative, the idea of segmenting by key life events rather than by age and income is discussed.

Insights from qualitative research also feature in a paper by Roy Langmaid and Charles Travail (Promise plc) – “Reconnecting the Prime Minister” that discusses how Labour strategy in the run-up to the 2005 UK general election was informed by both qualitative research and brand analysis. The paper reviews both the creative techniques and cross-functional methodologies used to “tackle the issues arising when brands and their icons are damaged in the eyes of their consumers”. And of course the outcome of that election suggests that the recommended reconnection strategy did indeed work and that the authors know what they are talking about.

Semiotics is a subject well-known to readers of the QMR journal as well as MRS conference goers, and this year it is the turn of Katja Maggio-Muller of Procter & Gamble and Malcolm Evans (Space Doctors) to flag the (symbol laden) flag with a paper entitled “Culture, communications and business; the power of advanced semiotics”. This paper charts the ambitious development of a semiotics capability within P&G over the past four years. The authors make the case for better collaboration between marketers and semiotic consultancies and the “emerging case for client investment in something more fundamental than just the occasional shot of semiotic insight” and to help clients understand what they are buying.

Mike Imms (Mike Imms and Partners in Development) and Audrey Niven (Listengroup) give a briefing on the presentation of research results – “Connecting with clients: rethinking the debrief” and argue for more interaction in debriefs. They discuss how the standard structure and PowerPoint presentation have become the “taken for granteds” of market research and propose that the audience should play a more active role and that this participation should be planned, managed and facilitated by the researchers.

Also relevant to debriefs, Nick Southgate (dfgw) warns those putting together debriefs that cliché “is the enemy of progress, insight and clarity”. His expert briefing is titled “The cost of cliché: charts I never want to see again” and challenges market researchers to forget the clichés and in particular the “illustrations, audio and video clips and other multimedia embellishments” that clutter so many PowerPoint presentations. Other clichés include, intriguingly, illustration, marketing, science of the pseudo-science and brand comparisons.

One of the training workshops that is of particular interest to qualitative researchers focuses on video ethnography and on how to conduct observational research using film. This workshop, led by Nick Leon of Naked Eye, discusses the importance of the observer’s skill, their ability to blend in/become “invisible” whilst remaining objective and analysing the film to add meaning. The session also covers how to get the most value from the filmed output.

These sessions mentioned above are just some of those that might capture your interest but there are more topics and excellent papers shown below that are also likely to be relevant to many QMRIJ readers.

Apart from the three keynote speeches, there are in fact 26 papers, four expert briefings, two conference sessions and six training workshops, including the following important topics (and apologies for the crude categorising which may not do justice to the papers).

Management and industry issues

  • Researching the Board (Michelle Norman of Synovate UK).

  • Measuring the Value of Insight. It Can and Must be Done (Steve Wills and Sally Webb of Customer Insight Solutions Ltd).

  • Open Source Thinking: From Passive Consumers to Active Creators (Graeme Trayner of Opinion Leader Research).

  • Reading and Writing: The Forgotten 12 Million (Jon Cohen of Rosenblatt Ltd).

  • Connecting People across a Continent: Mobile Communications in Africa (Jokke Eljala and Keith Bailey of Nokia and Jane Gwilliam of Research International Qualitatif).

Media focus

  • IPA Touch Points: A New Era in Integrated Media Planning (Graeme Griffiths of TNS Media and Lynne Robinson of IPA).

  • Motivation to Media: Bridging the Gap between Research and Media Planning (Simon Barker and Malcolm Hunter).

  • Researching Lifestyles of the Gay and Lesbian Community (Helen Croxon of Channel 4 Research and Sarah Bridgman of OMD).

  • PVRs: Why Ads Work on Fast Forward and the Implication for Assessing TV Campaigns (Alastair Goode of Duckfoot Research & Development Ltd and Julian Dobinson of Sky Media: British Broadcasting Ltd).

Minority/special audiences/markets and social issues

  • Crossing the Cultural Divide: Access to Justice for Ethnic Minority Communities (Karen Saunders of COI and Penny Roy of Turnstone Research and Consultancy Ltd).

  • Childhood Obesity: Issues and Insights (Elspeth Bradley of Kellogg’s and Marie Laver of HPI Research Group).

Technical issues and opportunities

  • The Power of Conjoint Analysis and Choice Modelling in online surveys (Ray Poynter of Virtual Surveys).

  • Access Panels: The Conditioning Issue. (Martin Oxley of TNS and Clive Nancarrow of Bristol Business School, UWE).

  • Connecting with Elizabeth: Using Artificial Intelligence as a Data Collection Aid (Craig Kolb of Ask Afrika and Dr Peter Millican of Oxford University).

  • Connecting Insight with the Organisation: Knowledge Management Online (Luke Allen of Nunwood Consulting and Corinne Green of Nokia).

  • The Value of Peer Research (Anna Pierce and Jaime Rose of Ipsos MORI Participation Unit).

  • Bringing the Customer into the Heart of Technology Business (Mark Uttley of AOLUK and John Scott of KSBR Brand Futures).


  • Pilgrim’s Progress? How the Consumer Makes Complex Decisions (Nick Watkins and Miriam Comber of GfK-NOP Financial Division).

  • Packing a Punch: Using Packaging as Effective Advertising and Communication to Build your Bottom Line (Chris Sinclair of Ipsos MORI and Andy Knowles of JKR).

All of the above papers should appear on the WARC database (

The two conference sessions are devoted to Pitch, Performance and Profit and consist of “unashamed business – oriented debate, discussion and practical advice”.

Training Workshops not already mentioned include:

  • Connecting with America and Americans (Hy Mariampolski of Qualidata Research Inc).

  • Your Career: It’s a Game of Strategy (Paul Cushing of RP Cushing Recruitment).

  • How to Market your Agency (David Foxon of the COI).

  • Connecting with Clients (see above)

  • Gaining a Competitive Advantage with Online panels (Peter Comley of Virtual Surveys).

Subscribers can look forward to reading the Conference Proceedings on and if that is not enough, next year’s Market Research Conference will be the 50th so can we expect a very special event?

Clive NancarrowProfessor of Marketing Research, Bristol Business School, UK

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