Editorial written for iqads.ro
Last year, in autumn, I learnt in the ESOMAR Qualitative Research conference about a project ran in UK by Digital People, for Unilever: a portal for research insights. A tool to centralize and make easily accesible insights from research, from different cronologies, geographies, research managers (current or ex-) and research agencies. So I realised it is not a difficulty of Romanian research, but a difficulty of research in general... What difficulty am I reffering to? The difficulty to capitalize, the temptation to always strat from zero, to position ourselves always in the role of that who "knows nothing... yet". The RE-search...
It is a difficulty I noticed with large client organizations, the ones who ran a lot of research projects, with several agencies and several internal clients involved (research executives and brand executives, in deifferent positions in the hierarchies) where the information is used on the spot and then it seems to get lost somewhere, it vanishes in some dark "past" and it is rarely reconnected to the "present". But the research need is at times re-discovered (by some new, ambitious brand manager) and the process starts over, and over, and over...
It is a difficulty I noticed with research agencies, who, with a compulsion for "tabula rasa" objectivity, prefer to pretend they have never bought parsley in the open market, and always start from zero questioning themselves if they need a large paper bag or a small one, if it sells by piece or by kilo, if it is green or yellow (?!). To be more direct, research agencies often fails to build hypotheses based on what is available already. Or, more directly, it is the resistance of the Romanian research industry to becaome consultants rather than just researchers.
As I do not have Digital People around, nor a budget a-la Unilever, i see two possible solutions (one more tactical and one more strategic):
1. No research brief without the section: "what we already know". At the very beginning, when the hypotheses are layed out on the table, not at the end of the research, when it becomes a (so frustrating): "we knew this already". But a rigourous effort, where things get spelled out clearly, where past research is dug up to make sure the information there is not enough, to understand what else is needed, to formulate hypotheses, to anticipate potential redundant and getting stuck areas.
Does it sound like Market Research 101? I wish it was...
2. I get back, obsesively, to the "consultant" theme... it follows me from the earlier junior researcher years (I got imprinted, what can I say...), when, at the first meeting with an important client, whose account my agency was trying to attract, the global decision maker who had flown in to help the selection of the research agency told us the story of a moderator in another country. This moderator was working for so long on their account, that it had become a real human radar to even small, nuanced changes of vocabulary, or tone of voice or emotions in the consumer discourse on the category and the client's brands.
Thus, for me, the role of the research agency as "long term partner" is unquestionable. The researcher can function as a living and breathing capitalizer of the information (that risks to get burried), and can bring the kind of value which no individual research project, no matter how ambitious, can.