A manifesto for qualitative research


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Qualitative research has become a commodity and is in danger of losing its power to shape business strategy and provide inspiring consumer understanding. Learn what TNS is doing to reverse this trend.


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A manifesto for qualitative research

  1. 1. Research excellenceOpinion LeaderA manifesto for qualitative with theSustaining brand relevance research connected consumer Share this Opinion Leader
  2. 2. A manifesto for qualitative research“Qualitative research has become a commodity and is in dangerof losing its power to shape business strategy and provideinspiring consumer understanding,” says Rebecca Wynberg,CEO Global Qualitative Practice, TNS. She continues, “We areconcerned that the pressure for instant results and the beliefthat respondents mean what they say and say what they meanwill simply undermine true insight. Qualitative research needsto reclaim its interpretative potency, assert its expertise, andkeep focused on understanding people and brands in theirrelevant contexts.” Share this Opinion Leader 2
  3. 3. The state we are in Share this Opinion Leader 3
  4. 4. A manifesto for qualitative researchThe state we are inIn trying to keep pace with change, qualitative at worst. It is used less and less frequently where itresearch is losing its bearings. Consumers are more has the greatest power to inspire business growth andimmediately influential than ever, and there is pressure new, creative ways of thinking - that is as an integralto deliver rapid information to clients or risk being part of strategic development from the outset.left behind by the digital revolution. Research hasprioritised offering instant results even if they providelittle insight and contribute nothing to the client’slonger-term business direction. But turning researchinto the equivalent of a fast-food commodity canonly have a negative effect on the quality of workbeing delivered.Too often, qualitative research is being used whenit is too late to maximise its value. Projects arecommissioned to make quick evaluation decisions asa fast and cheap alternative to quantitative research: arubber stamp at best, a substitute for decision making Share this Opinion Leader 4
  5. 5. We believe we should all be demanding and offeringmore. Clients should not be satisfied with a docileresearch process that throws up only expected answers.They should not be satisfied with researchers who don’tchallenge or reshape their research briefs, who don’tenquire about the business’ commercial ambitions. Share this Opinion Leader 5
  6. 6. The mediumis not the message Share this Opinion Leader 6
  7. 7. A manifesto for qualitative researchThe medium is not the message The digital revolution has created many and more unique individuals - they remain just as elusive and frequent opportunities for interaction with brands unpredictable as they ever were. and marketing communications. But, paradoxically, this risks drowning out what consumers and brands The opportunity is to use the new technologies are trying to say to each other - we might all be too and multiple digital channels in a way that helps to busy talking to do any real listening. It’s seductive provide rich understanding rather than as a further to imagine that all the new methodologies and stream of mere data. Now more than ever, we need techniques developed for leveraging digital and the interpretative power of the researcher in helping social media are providing deeper learning about to understand consumer responses in context and to consumers, but, in qualitative research, the medium relate these to client objectives. is not the message. Beneath all the enticing methods and connections, understanding consumers and brands still rests We might all be too busy on understanding human behaviour and emotion at the deepest level. We might be able to contact talking to do any real listening. more people more easily than ever before, but - as Share this Opinion Leader 7
  8. 8. Putting the contextback into qual Share this Opinion Leader 8
  9. 9. A manifesto for qualitative researchPutting the context back into qualQualitative research needs to go back to the original Context influences both needs and behaviour, whethersource, to re acquaint itself with the importance at the individual, cultural or environmental level. Toof really knowing the individual and the ways that appreciate it, good qualitative researchers mustindividuals exist in the world. Only then can we, ‘know’ people as humans, rather than as ‘consumers’,as practitioners, rediscover the magic of qual and at the individual level: their psychology, motivationshelp our clients see that insights are surprising and and habits. They must dig to excavate the ‘Multipleinspiring new ways of understanding their brands and Me’s’, the many-faceted selves people present tocustomers; that insights are not simply observations. suit the situation, the public versus the private, theWe need to reclaim the best traditions of qualitative workplace versus the social space, the virtual versus theresearch in the changed environment. real, remembering that there is a great deal of overlap.New thinking in cognitive psychology and behaviouraleconomics is producing significant shifts in ourunderstanding of human motivations and behaviour.It reminds us that needs and motivations are not feltor acted on in a vacuum. We need to help clientssee how needs translate into behaviour that willimpact their business. And we believe that the keyto unlocking this, is to use context as our guidingprinciple. Share this Opinion Leader 9
  10. 10. A manifesto for qualitative researchPutting the context back into qual The good researcher will sense and tease out the Context is everything, but worth next to nothing productive tensions and complementarities within without an expert professional qualitative practitioner. the individual and, crucially, the relationship these Excellent researchers are constant students of human have to wider cultural and environmental contexts. nature who bring insight, expertise and, above all, This requires being acutely alert to social norms, empathy to solving a client’s business issue. That evolving trends and passing fashions. It also requires instinctive quality can be nurtured and enhanced by understanding the locus in which people make their training and experience. It informs every aspect of decisions – not just the physical home or shopping the good researcher’s work: the ability to design the mall, but that enveloping cloud of media and right research approach, to interview, to moderate, communications, sports, popular culture and other to interpret and analyse, and to provide the client stimuli that we all inhabit. with insightful, actionable direction. In the more global and multi-cultural business context, qualitative researchers are being asked to stretch into environments that they don’t always intuitively understand: developing markets, emerging middle classes, base of the pyramid consumers. Here, received wisdom and anachronistic practice can be dangerous; many taken-for-granted assumptions are being challenged, and a sound understanding of new contexts is essential for Qual to deliver what it needs to. Share this Opinion Leader 10
  11. 11. Context in practice Share this Opinion Leader 11
  12. 12. We believe that if qualitative research focuses on theimportance of context in understanding people andbrands, and if it reasserts the value of working withexpert practitioners, it will be central to unlockingbusiness growth. Share this Opinion Leader 12
  13. 13. A manifesto for qualitative researchContext in practiceFor TNS, this means leveraging the advantages of beingthe largest qualitative agency in the world and deliveringqualitative research as it was always meant to be. We willapply all the knowledge and cultural insights that comefrom our qualitative expertise in 60 of the countries weare present in, integrating information from a range ofdifferent sources inside and outside our business, offeringthe broadest online and mobile qual in the world so thatin-context research can be conducted anywhere. Share this Opinion Leader 13
  14. 14. A manifesto for qualitative researchContext in practiceWe demonstrate the importance we place onqualitative expertise by hiring the best people,nurturing the best talent and delivering work toclients that draws on relevant expertise, whereverthose experts are in our company. Share this Opinion Leader 14
  15. 15. A manifesto for qualitative researchContext in practiceWe offer qualitative immersion sessions to clientresearchers to improve their appreciation of goodqualitative research. Our research design andmethodologies reflect the relevant contextual issuesand the context of each individual client brief, combiningthe rich traditions of qualitative research with the latestthinking in areas such as behavioural economics andcognitive psychology. Share this Opinion Leader 15
  16. 16. We believe that renewing focus on qual’s corestrengths and professional rigour is the key to movingaway from a transactional, commodified approach,and delivering energising, transformative thinking.Our mission is to put inspired insightful intelligenceinto research and to surprise our clients with newways of looking at their business. Share this Opinion Leader 16
  17. 17. About Opinion LeadersOpinion Leaders are a regular series of articles from TNS consultants, based on their expertise gathered throughworking on client assignments in over 80 markets globally, with additional insights gained throughTNS proprietary studies such as Digital Life, Mobile Life and the Commitment Economy.About TNS About the author Rebecca Wynberg, CEO, Global Qualitative Practice,TNS advises clients on specific growth strategies around new market entry, innovation, brand switching and TNS has been working as a qualitative researcher sincestakeholder management, based on long-established expertise and market-leading solutions. With a presence arriving in the UK from South Africa in 1981.in over 80 countries, TNS has more conversations with the world’s consumers than anyone else and understandsindividual human behaviours and attitudes across every cultural, economic and political region of the world. In 1994 Rebecca founded Sadek Wynberg ResearchTNS is part of Kantar, one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups. which became the world’s largest independent qualitative agency. It was sold to Millward Brown in 2003 and she then took up the role of CEO ofPlease visit www.tnsglobal.com for more information. Millward Brown’s UK qualitative arm.Get in touch Prior to joining TNS, Rebecca worked as a consultant and strategic advisor to a number of multinationalIf you would like to talk to us about anything you have read in this report, please get in touch via clients, particularly partnering with Unilever to raiseenquiries@tnsglobal.com or via Twitter @tns_global standards of qualitative work carried out on their behalf through a far-reaching global training and accreditation programme. Rebecca is passionate about the value that qualitative research can bring to business if it is conceived and conducted well, and takes great pride in working with clients and expert colleagues to find enlightening ways of understanding people and brands. Share this Opinion Leader 17