Welcome to Amsterdam for the second event of the week, we had just enough time to grab a breath yesterday but as the farewell drinks merged into the welcome reception we slid gracefully into ESOMAR’s last event of the year, Qualitative Research 2012. I’ll be here for the next two days but this time I’m joined by Kees Van Duyn of Firefish here in Amsterdam who will be covering some of the sessions for us. 

With a different event, and different ESOMAR programme manager comes a different kind of boost session this morning, an impromptu medley flash-mob, followed by an exhibition by the runners up in the Dutch Hip-Hop dance championships, if there were any delegates a bit foggy headed this morning this was liable to be kill or cure. That was followed by a short introduction from ESOMAR Director General Finn Raben and a warm welcome from Programme Committee Chair Andrew Needham we are thrown into the first presentation of the day, our opening keynote.

Bolder Questions, Better Answers, Breakthrough Innovations
Gregg Fraley, Kiln
After today’s first unavoidable Obama mention (congratulations USA!) Gregg wanted to talk to us about the role of researchers, the generation of ideas and what researchers need to do to help foster breakthrough innovations for their clients. He started talking about the “purple cookie syndrome”, the process of incremental development of existing projects, this, Gregg told us, was the result of obvious ideation questions. Very often companies encourage “safe” but safe and predictable means your business will die. The people in companies that make the decisions are often insulated in a wall garden. They’re insulated from the culture of the outside world and surrounded by people that tell those c-suite executives what they think they want their boss to hear. If researchers want to be more strategic they need to get their insights into this walled garden, you can’t just throw your ideas over the wall and hope someone will pick them up. Gregg continued saying that all executives have read the papers on disruption and the necessity of it. They’re looking to be disruptive.

We were told that the research, of course, must be objective and insights must be direct inferences from data, but where they should also be getting involved is in what happens after that, the imagination and idea generation. When it comes to ideation we need to approach it in a faster cycle at the front end with continuous regular idea generation sessions. If you are forced to come up with ideas on a continuous basis you will come up with better ideas. Gregg then put forward, an almost heretical view at a research conference, that the best innovation comes from a mash-up of research derived insights and something completely unrelated. There is an opportunity here for researchers to shift their role in some ways, by being more open and giving with their ideas. CEO’s don’t care where their breakthrough innovation comes from.

Gregg finished with a brief overview, we need to reframe situations and questions constantly, flip them, work backwards, map them out and dimensionalise them. Researchers need to ask braver platform ideation questions and make sure that idea generation is a long ongoing process with more people and experts involved. But most of all researchers need to gain access to the c-suite, create stories for their clients, invoke imagination & vision. For the good of the client researchers need to sometimes tell a CEO something they don’t want to hear.

Kees van Duyn 
2020: Creating insights-based explorative future scenarios
Annette Bohmer, Deutsche Telekom
The future is notoriously difficult to predict. This is partially because humans have proven to be rather slippery creatures they always seem to elude us. Yet human behaviour is not impossible to predict. Qualitative research can play a role in mapping out future scenarios based on insights derived from a solid understanding of people, and why they do what they do.

The research was intended to answer four broad but critical questions:

  • How will communication and network accessibility develop until 2020?
  • Which convergent service concepts will be relevant in 2020?
  • Which future scenarios are imaginable?
  • How can we best deal with uncertainties?

In other words the objective was to identify future challenges – not seen through the lenses of yesterday, but of tomorrow.

Using a mix of qualitatively-inspired methods Deutsche Telekom explored and identified a number of strategic scenarios for the business. Like the methodology, the team was a melting pot of people from different backgrounds: economists, scientists, researchers. This increased the validity and richness of the research.

The process they used consisted of four sequential phases: Research  Analysis  Ideation  Concepting. Senior management was involved throughout the process. The research challenge was to design a method that would enable them to read the future. To make it more tangible and manageable, Deutsche Telekom divided the process in a number of steps:

  • Ethnographic consumer research which involved managements, combined with Desk Research. This evolved into the first insights workshop. This, in turn, resulted in a significant amount of potentially valuable user insights, as well as lots of opportunity areas and challenges for the business going forward. A number of key factors were identified that acted as determinants of future scenarios: at what rate will data volumes grow? What will network accessibility be in 10 years from now? Clear criteria were needed to determine what are actually key factors and what are not. Prioritisation of key factors was also key.
  • Creating the new research ‘lenses’ and applying them: this involved the creation of explorative scenarios by combining Key Factors, from which a range of possible scenarios emerged. The next step was to determine the value of the scenarios and narrow them down to a manageable number, in this case 3 scenarios that were deemed valuable, realistic and/or interesting.
  • Time Machine Ideation: it was critical to make these scenarios as tangible and vivid as possible. By creating Personas and Day-in-the-Life illustrations the scenarios were written up in the form of 3-4 page ‘stories’ with a beginning, middle and end.
  • The final step involved the transfer of acquired knowledge to the business: a Normative Scenario was developed based on the 3 scenarios from Steps 2 and 3, by combing the most interesting insights from these scenarios: The ‘Access 2020’ vision of the future. Importantly this Normative Scenario was based on the Key Factors identified in Step 1

This Normative scenario was a synthesis of the 3 explorative scenarios from previous steps, grounded in solid consumer insights.

In summary, based on thorough insights and imaginative and strategic thinking, Deutsche Telekom asked themselves: what might happen if…? Insights were used as springboards for future scenarios. They formed the basis for further thinking and analysis.  The moral of the story: insights are NOT the end of the research process; they can be the start of something much bigger and more beautiful. They can even help business predict the future. In that respect they are more useful than a crystal ball.

Kees van Duyn
A Generation of Brand Centrists
Peter Mackey, Hall & Partners
Peter explored the impact that social media is having on how the Millennials Generation – a generation that has the internet at the core of their being – relate to brands.

Millennials are a relatively homogenous generation through the influence of the Internet. They believe ‘we are all equal’ – especially online. Whereas previous generations lived in territorial communities, Millennials don’t. They move comfortably and fluently through traditional communities. They become friends with people they have never met before. They live in physical as well as virtual communities.

Hall & Partners conducted an international study to explore how Millennials relate to brands through a 3-step research process:

  • Online discussion groups
  • Creative workshops
  • Self-directed ethnography

The lens that was used to evaluate brand engagement was based on 9 different elements, visually depicted in a Brand Wheel. Elements ranged from ‘sensing’ (how is the brand present in their world?) to product knowledge and emotional understanding to authenticity.

As it turns out Millennials are a generation that is united around brands: they love brands, they embrace brands to the fullest. They view brands as a means of expressing themselves and their identity to the world.

The research identified four different types of brands:

  • ‘Best’ brands – operate under the radar, often local brands
  • Brands that help them conform – ‘I am one of them’
  • ‘Here I am’ brands – help them stand out from the crowd
  • Brands that ‘do it all’ – brands that allow them to both conform and stand-out

Different elements from the Brand Wheel are important for different types of brands. Eg. for ‘Here I am’ brands a deeper emotional understanding of what the brand stands for is key, whereas participation is crucial for ‘Do it all’ brands. Good research understands the above truths, which inform how brands should or could ‘talk’ to Millennials.

One thing stand out: this generation craves engagement, to be part of a community, as well as express their identity. Which begs the question: are brands that straddle both needs most successful? As it turns out, yes.

What should we take away from this presentation?

  • Millennials look to brands to fulfill two opposing needs: belonging and differentiation
  • The most successful brands engage on both levels
  • Last but not least, research with Millennials should be engaging and involving, just like the brands that resonate with them

Qualitative researchers need to give them an opportunity to sit in the driver seat and to lead (at least part of) the research process. They are savvy and capable, and not afraid to tell us what they think. So why not let them show us what matters to them? Let them direct the research process; give them greater control over what they want to tell us. If executed well this produces more authentic insights.

Millennials do well as actively involved participants and research partners. In other words, like brands, research methods should adapt to the lives Millennials and become more engaging.

Don’t Stop Believen’
Dan Hall, Sony Music and Thomas Hoy, Promise
Programme committee member Stan Knoops introduced the first presentation of the this morning’s thread, Don’t Stop Believen’ with Dan Hall of Sony Music UK and Thomas Hoy of Promise UK, a presentation that looked at how agencies can become strategic partners. In the past 5 years UK music market reduced by 20%, the music industry had been working with a standard business model for years but the internet came along and destroyed it. Dan Hall told us there was a need for Sony to change the way it was working, become as passionate about the audience as they were about the artists.

Sony created a internal team to look into this, but there were a few issues Sony had based on the nature of the organisation and industry that created challenges in becoming more audience centric.The music industry moves so fast, it’s almost impossible to tell what will happen in 2 months from now, let alone 6 or 12 months and research within the industry was reactive, a lot of the time it was about rubber-stamping someones existing views. The team also needed to change attitudes and perceptions surrounding research, music is thought of as gut-led and creative, for many research didn’t feel valuable. In addition the stop-start relationships that often exist between client and agency wasn’t conducive to what Sony needed.

So Sony brought in Promise who needed to create a way to make qualitative research immediately available in this fast moving industry. They created Sony Music Backstage, a private online community with a frequent feedback system that allowed for the members of the community to easily see the impact they were having on the business which in turn increased engagement. This allowed Promise to create and report a study within a week. Following this Promise created a number of hero stories, this highlighted the value of research and the value of the partnership. There were also a number of other factors involved in creating a relationship in where Promise became more than just an external agency: They presented to Sony in their language and in a way of working that was familiar to them, they made connected Sony to the research by inviting contributors into the office, they went client-side with Promise staff spending time in the Sony office once a week and most importantly they charged for time not processes allowing their research and their consultation to react to the Sony’s business needs.

I’ve heard a lot of calls for researchers to begin working more as strategic partners. This presentation was a great look at not only how to do that, but also highlighted the mutual benefits for both client agencies.

Kees van Duy
Doing More with Less
Charles Hagemann KLM and Annelies Verhaeghe, Thomas Troch and Tom De Ruyck Insites Consulting

Insites set out to gain insight and develop new concepts for optimising transfer services for KLM-Air France. Actually they didn’t do this alone – Insites embarked on a journey with the client. This was a truly collaborative effort.

Insites did this by developing a methodology that produced both meaningful insights but that was also affordable – needless to say a clever approach in a time of shrinking budgets.

The project consisted of 3 phases:

  • Insight generation – this resulted in 400 observations and 68 insights
  • Ideation – 46 Frequent Flyers generated ideas based on 10 insight platforms
  • Quantitative validation – 1269 Frequent Flyers judged these ideas, not just on ‘traditional’ KPI’s but also on emotional criteria

In doing so KLM and Insites crossed the bounderies of time, methods and professions. Insites are right when they say that the bounderies between qualitative quantitative research are in a way artificial and unnecessary. In some – even many? – cases a client objective can be addressed by hybrid methods. That is, a combination of qualitative and quantitative techniques.

Insites Consulting also made clever use of technology to make sense of large amounts of data (the software they used is not proprietary, so what are we waiting for?), and they gave participants a key role in prioritising the insights.

However the latter begs an important conceptual question: are ordinary people able to do this? If we let them prioritise insights for us, what are the traps?

This lays bare an area of tension between two accepted beliefs among researchers, namely:

  • Businesses should involve their customers more directly in marketing and innovations strategy development (i.e. Co-Creation);
  • Ordinary people do not know what they really think or how they really feel about products or services. Steve’s Jobs would have said: it’s not the consumers job to know what they think and feel about something

How we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory stand points is food for thought. In the mean time the process that was devised by Insites Consulting made the project more engaging for clients, and more fun and interesting for participants. One would expect that this leads to more meaningful insights and greater business impact. To get there qualitative researchers should not be afraid to cross boundaries:

  • They should become consultants, not just providers of insights and information
  • They should embrace and enrich quantitative research
  • They should let participants take greater control of the process

To end with a message from Tom de Ruyck: researchers should be more creative, it’s free