Less about the drill

Less about the drill, more about the hole

Over the last couple of months I’ve read a lot of lively online discussions about the role and future of qual research. As interesting as it’s been, what struck me most about what I read is they seem to be covering the same old topics (focus groups are dead, no they’re not, digital technology is wonderful, we need to get our heads around Behavioural Economics, etc. etc.), with discussion seemingly going round in circles.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for this type of discussion. It helps us be better researchers – and the better we are, the better we service our clients. And I agree entirely that some of the more recent advancements in qual have been great (more emphasis on ‘cultural insights’ rather than just individual motivations and attitudes; what mobile technology enables us to do; and a better understanding of human irrationality are my particular favourites). And I also understand that talking about new / interesting things can set you apart from your competitors and get you noticed.

But for every discussion like this on the web there seems an equal number of posts from clients talking about their dissatisfaction with research – lamenting the fact that, for example, researchers don’t focus enough on outcomes, that clients need insight that will have an impact, but just get more data, or that they are sick of getting great voluminous reports, etc. etc.

All ‘complaints’ we’ve heard many times before, right?

The temptation is to simply dismiss them as coming from unfortunate clients who have paid for bad research (and if only they used us instead….). But that would just be patronising. Anyway, to me the key issue is not whether these ‘complaints’ are justified. Rather, the question we should ask ourselves is why they persist, particularly as we are so convinced we deliver what our clients want.

To my mind, one reason is the clear dissonance between how we talk about what we do, and what clients are repeatedly telling us they want to hear. We debate techniques and processes and talk to clients about our ‘unique’ offerings. They want to hear about benefits to their business, clear next steps, a point of view.

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