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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Bookshop – The QMR Rolling Review

The QMR Rolling Review

Qualitative Market Research is a 7 volume overview of Qualitative Research which was published in 2002. As it costs £145 (yes!) and you probably won’t find it in the business section of the bookshop it might be a tad difficult to justify the purchase until you know a little more. Planning Above and Beyond comes to the rescue. Starting in April 2003 the plan is to review each book in the series of 7 every month until you have a sufficient grasp to dig in your pocket for the readies. In addition to my review there will be 2 pdfs from each book giving the contents page and an overview. This is part of an ongoing move to beef up the coverage of research issues on the Planning Above and Beyond site though I would say that I don’t want to duplicate the same kinds of content as other specialist research sites – which you can find references to in the Weblinks pages. Buy the whole set here.

Volume 7 Delivering Results in Qualitative Market Research Geraldine Lillis

(39K) Vol 7 – Contents Page and About this book – copyright Sage Publications 2002

Review of Vol 7 Research Results

As the last in the series it is of course predictable that this book is about reporting and presenting. And actually a difficult topic to cover. Because as Geraldine Lillis points out the success of the project is entirely dependent on the quality of the debriefing – if the debrief presentation is a disaster then the client is inclined to treat the whole project as a disaster area which – by virtue of vols 1-6 can’t possibly be true. Now I’ve heard of disreputable individuals who have written research debriefs (mostly for agency pitches) without having done any fieldwork at all but of course debriefing is only as strong as the fieldwork and analysis which have already been carried out – so I initially expected a lot of reference to how projects are set up and run – and there is a fair bit of this. But at least it isn’t a book about presenting skills.

The first section of the book covers the business of qualitative research and what our clients can reasonably expect us to deliver. The roles of reporting, interpreting and advising are discussed because they relate just as much to how the client and client organisation is handled as to how respondents are managed.

And the lead in to how researchg solves the ‘problem’ is well put together with increasing levels of complexity from what respondents said and intended, to the patterns which emerge within and between groups, to the immediate implications for the client in relation to the brand in question – other brands in the porfolio and what specific actions the researcher is recommending. It is easy for the researcher either to take refuge in reportage or overcommit to a particular recommendation without really understanding the cost and complexity of taking a particular action. The whole book draws together what a debrief needs to develop in order to ensure that the deep questions are asked and answered. There is a small section on writing of reports but most of the focus is on the debrief presentation. There is some discussion of the construction of the final narrative – the author makes regular references to NLP techniques. Two niggles one minor and one major.

One of the endemic problems with research is communicating more than a tiny proportion of what has been learned. And we’ve all suffered from researchers who insisted on giving us chapter and verse of War and Peace. But however thorougly condensed and summarised it remains true that most of the knowledge from the project is implicit and walks out of the room with the researcher – tools such as workshops can be used to capture more of these learnings – in effect the researcher ought really to be interviewed as well as debriefing -and most Q and As after debriefs aren’t nearly sophisticated or structured enought to elicity knowledge which the researcher only half knows and they know. This would have merited some coverage.

The major niggle is the principle threat to market research coming from the consultancy camp. While consultants are supposed to be just as process driven – the final debrief is just as important for them and this is where consultants in their style of communicating and running meetings demonstrate that they are higher in the value chain and able to charge more for the privilege when the areas they are addressing may be substantively the same as those covered by research projects – in fact they may be debriefing research which they have bought in and managed. It would have been useful to have had some consideration as to whether and how researchers could be more managerial – competence is fine but not if as a whole the sector is losing share as gathers of customer intelligence and insights. And it is arguably in the area of direct client contact where the comparison is unequal.

It has taken me a while to get through the whole QMR set. The series is a tremendous accomplishment – capturing as it does what is essentially an orally transmitted body of knowledge. It is like having the most advance course or 7 or more of the things on the shelf. The challenge I suppose is how well it will work as a body of reference. Having done the marathon will I take it down off the shelf – I certainly won’t be giving it away!

Volume 6 Developing Advertising with Qualitative Market Research Judith Wardle

(39K) Vol 6 – Contents Page and About this book – copyright Sage Publications 2002

Review of Vol 6 Advertising Research

Apparently advertising development accounts for about a third of all qualitative research carried out in the UK. So it was essential that one of the books in the series unpacked this controversial and tricky topic. The one who drew the short straw was Judith Wardle. Tell us everything we need to know about advertising research. In 130 pages. If ever a messenger was asking to get shot it would have to be writing about advertising research. People with little grasp of whether advertising is good and what makes it good talk just as much as those who do know what they’re talking about and are just as vociferous in shouting down detractors. Like the preceding book on brands this book has to walk the tightrope of providing those new to advertising research with a thorough grounding without leaving the experienced practitioner feeling that the topic has been oversimplified. The most canny move is to provide not 1 but 2 chapters on the politics of advertising research one for a single market and the other for international projects. Once the politics has been articulated then much of the heat and noise can be seen for what it is – advocacy by extremely interested parties and not major differences in theory or methodology. Interesting all the same that a method of decision support where the client yearns for objectivity can be shown to be quite so loaded.

The early chapters pick their way through the minefield of what advertising and how it works, and how the development process works in an agency. It’s surprisingly dense – the theory section draws on Mike Hall, Robert Heath and Damasio (don’t we all?) And opens up the vexed issue of how people consume advertising – how they think it works which is so critical to interpretation but so easy to forget in the bustle of forcing 4 scripts through a group sausage machine in 90 minutes.

One of the most provocative sections in the chapter on interpretation was the reminder that if the point of the advertising is to change people’s minds – what evidence is there that respondents have indeed done so? When so often they make strenuous efforts to be consistent with what they said at the outset. In the end what I enjoyed about the book was that it had managed to conjure up the subtlties that make advertising research so difficult and so satisfying to do. There IS too much to think about – the process is much more like consultancy than the gathering of objective knowledge – so the researcher has to make a series of editorial decisions about what needs to be understood about these advertising ideas – something will always have to be left out. The challenge to the experienced practitioner is whether we have the ability to vary our game depending on the court conditions – this book could be a valuable reminder of some aspects of play you have neglected – and it won’t bog you down.


Volume 5 Developing Brands with Qualitative Market Research Jon Chandler and Mike Owen

(39K) Vol 5 – Contents Page and About this book – copyright Sage Publications 2002

Review of Vol 5 Developing Brands

This is the first in the series which can be described as a crossover. The first four books in the series have systematically unpacked the conceptual framework underlying the different elements of market research. This book about brands in particular necessarily covers or comments on the same issues – so it’s a tough assignment – can this slim volume of 130 pages provide any substance on the huge topic of brands and how much does it duplicate what has already been written in Volumes1 to 4? Well it was a pleasant surprise and a solid read. I’m not going to go into detail about each chapter – you can see the basic structure if you look at the contents page and overview. The overview of brands, what they are and how the mind uses them is useful even the material will be entirely familiar to most of you (I hope!). And there is an attempt to remind us that brands operate at a cultural as well as at individual level.

My favourite chapter was on the epistemological foundation behind brand research (what?). When to use the obvious and tortured example you tell your client that respondents thought the brand was a giraffe because it is shy and a bit awkward… what exactly is the status of the research finding – it wasn’t because the respondent had already made the association, the moderator did that by asking the question! There is a good section on methodology which doesn’t settle the question of depths versus groups – and perhaps should have been a bit more provocative in this regard. The book concludes with a whole raft of facilitation and projective techniques. Clearly huge overlap with Book 2 but it is useful having techniques summarised for how they would contribute to different types of brand research and the context in which they ought to be used. This is really useful stuff and takes us well beyond the usual safe brand mapping and speech bubble stuff. I particularly liked the emphasis on constructing ‘meaning sets’ in a market framework and not simply deriving brand values from an aggregation of comments about brands – not all meanings are clearly branded – but all too often brand research only works in the language of the brands which shout the loudest. Good book!

Volume 4 Analysis and Interpretation in Qualitative Research – Gill Ereaut

(45K) Vol 4 – Contents Page and About this book – copyright Sage Publications 2002

Review of Vol 4 Analysis and Interpretation

There’s a great gag in this book. “How did you get from the groups to the debrief?” To which the answer is “In a taxi”. Analysis and interpretation is the black art of qualitative research. Clients appear uninterested in how you got to your conclusions – they just want results. In recent weeks because of time pressures I have had to debrief pitch research with virtually no analysis done, and brief account handlers to carry out research on my behalf in the sure knowledge that there wouldn’t be time for analysis. And yet this is key to the quality of the research product. In the light of the pressures that make analysis more difficult to make time for, this book is a labour of love. It goes into huge detail about the whys and the wherefores as well as the howtos of doing analysis and interpretation. It is a colossal undertaking. And the results is a clear explanation of best practice. But why bother doing going to all the trouble to write it all down. Surely you can pick this up on a course? Well in large part I did many years ago. But once again the series is designed for people who can’t get the budget to go on training courses and who have to work out how to do analysis themselves. Which is why this book is so badly needed because the training isn’t being given.

The book covers Frameworks for thinking as well as a detailed process for analysing and setting out analysis grids. I’m, hoping to encourage Gill to post some bespoke forms on the page here for you to download and make use of. Watch this space. There’s an interesting supplementary chapter on computer aided analysis that was new to me. This is what makes the books in this series so useful. They are not only providing a model for best practice;they are designed to enlarge your perspectives on research products and metholodogies you may be largely unaware of – but despite the thoroughness this isn’t a dull book – it has sent me back to analyse groups with fresh enthusiasm.


Volume 3 Methods beyond Interviewing in Qualitative Research – Philly Desai

(38K) Contents Page and About this book – copyright Sage Publications 2002

Review of Vol 3 Interviewing groups and Individuals

This is the book I’ve been waiting for. Not that I’m not interested in methodology and projectives. But the Achilles heel of market research is that it represents a fraction of the range of research that is being conducted by social scientist and academics. There’s a vast range of techniques and we commercial researchers know virtually nothing about them. Now there are good reasons for that. Our clients are in hurry. They like a study to have clear outputs. And a beginning and a middle and an end. Normally quite close together. Academic projects can have a series of rolling hypotheses and can continue for months if not years. What Philly Desai gives us is a flypast of the broad techniques in use. Inevitably it is all rather tantalising. The book is only 127 pages long and he keeps pretty close to market research territory – there’s ethnography borrowing heavily from the ethnographer Siamack Salari – whose company’s website Everydaylives has been a past site of the month here. There’s a chapter on creativity and brainstorming which is very pertinent – research has been much criticised in recent years for being providing a rear view but being ineffectual for looking forwards. There is a chapter on public sector research where consultation within the community while different from research gets mixed up with it. Then a chapter on semiotics and cultural analysis and finally a chapter on that moving ball – internet research. This is a good overview and there is an extensive bibliography if I want to do more digging. But the truth is I’ll never get around to it so this overview is the best I’m going to get. Which is OK but I wish that in some ways there had been more space within the series for this border territory. Observation is a vast and growing area which could merit a book all by itself. And the glimpese into cultural analysis – were just enough to whet the appetite but very far short of giving you any depth in these areas. Which is a pity because I suspect that these areas are set to inject some much needed adrenaline into the hoary old group format. Watch this space.


Volume 2 Interviewing Groups and Individuals in QMR – Joanna Chrzanowska

(50K) Interviewing Groups and Individuals in QMR Vol 2 – Contents Page and About this book – copyright Sage Publications 2002

Review of Vol 2 Interviewing groups and Individuals

OK let’s start with a survey for all you moderators out there: scoring yourself out of 10 10 being fantastic and 1 lousy.

Q1 Rate yourself out of 10 in bed
Q2 Rate yourself out of 10 on your moderating skills
Q3 Rate yourself out of 10 on your presentation skills
Q4 In the last 60 seconds have you lied once, twice, three or four times (ie denied you lied at all)?

Moderating groups can be likened to plate spinning. With a modicum of skill the plates stay up and you can kid yourself that you are perfectly capable when the truth is that you are using a limited and well trodden set of techniques time and again whatever the project you’re working on. The value of the book Joanna Chrzanowska has written is not that she gives you a grab bag of techniques though there are plenty of those to be had. Rather that she provides a framework which shows what techniques you ought to be using if you are using the growing repertoire that is out there.

The series is designed to replace the oral tradition in which most researchers have been trained – which means there is a tendency to go into a lot of detail which may be familiar. But it is important to understand the history of qualitative research and how UK practice differs from the US – try conative versus cognitive next time you have a US client to mollify! And a great summary of the psychological schools which have fed into qualitative research. There’s a very useful section on the different roles between interviewer and respondent with a clear focus on the interviewer as the research instrument – its scary how much bogus objectivity gets smuggled into qualitative research theory on the grounds that all you are doing is find out what people think. But the quality of the result is as much down to the quality of the researcher’s own experience, imagination and intellect – its not just about technique. Care is taken to ensure that depth interviews are covered – this books isn’t just about focus groups.

And the chapters on the interview itself: interviewing skills and stimulus material and projectives are great because the adaption of the Johari window (what?) which also featured in the first volume showing the scope of research. The 2 axes are public versus private and individual versus collective. Much qualitative research functions comfortably in the areas of the respondent talking about conscious experiences they presume they share with their fellow respondents. And often projectives are used to facilitate the group dynamic on this public information. But research also has the potential to look at more collective or cultural understandings of which the respondent may not be aware or lacks the vocabulary to articulate. And private and repressed associations which the respondent will attempt to block.

The principle value of the books in the series I have read so far is that they are a reminder of how broad the bandwidth has become and they should serve to raise standards. At least that’s what I came away with though I would like to make it clear that my clients and respondents think I’m a fantastic moderator. Well I’ve had no complaints….

Volume 1 An introduction to Market Research – Mike Imms Gill Ereaut

(29K) An introduction to Qualitative Market Research Vol 1 – About this book – copyright Sage Publications 2002


(42K) An introduction to Qualitative Market Research Vol 1 – Contents page – copyright Sage Publications 2002


Review of Vol 1 An Introduction to Market Research

This book forms a scene setter and overview for the series. Which is by no means to belittle it. The authors are trying to define what qualitatative market research is, why organisations do it and what they hope to get out of it. And what emerges is the rather haphazard development of an industry that forms around a third of all research spent and turns over several hundred million a year. There is no agreed theory for how qualitative research “works” and how to do it – there is radically different practice depending on which part of the world you are working in. And despite the best efforts of the Market Research Society practitioners need no license or even the most basic qualification to practice. Decisions worth milllions are being made every day based on recommendations made a community of journeymen/persons (sorry!) who have picked up their skillset on the hoof. Which is one of the main reasons the series has been written to attempt to capture this oral tradition and articulate exactly what a research buyer can expect to get for their money. The other immediate impression from this overview is how limited market research is – the range of techniques is much more constrained than that of academic or social research. One of my reasons for working through the series is to attempt to enlarge my understanding of the methods that can be brought to bear. There has to be more to research than groups and depths (one lump or two vicar?) and a garnish of projectives. This doesn’t mean that this first volume only covers conceptual issues: there is an extensive chapter on project design which is very useful. And the 2 charts worth nicking are the Johari window (which explains why qualitative research is essential to help to uncover what people find it hard to articulate or feelings which are suppressed or of which they are largely unaware). And a great schematic on organisational knowledge and the ability of qualitative research to produce knowledge which the client organisation didn’t know they didn’t know – quant is great at explicit knowledge but most of the good stuff like all the best icebergs is below the waterline. A very good read for thinking about what value your research project is going to deliver to your clients.









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