There's a fast train coming
Different things are happening. To those quals who still manage to keep their heads below ground regarding the 'I'-word (no, not as in 'me, myself, I' but rather the Internet), attending this year's ESOMAR Congress would have laid to rest any lingering doubts that this train is heading your way at full speed. The good news is that this opens up new areas of business opportunity for those willing to grasp them.
The theme of this conference was 'The Impact of Networking: Marketing Relationships in the New Economy'. There were a few directly relevant papers for the qualitative researcher, but also some stimulating ideas of more general relevance.
The quality of the event was raised by a substantial number of invited keynote speakers, who mostly tailored their speech well to the event and audience. The parallel sessions with practitioners was more mixed in quality, though the acid test was that this was one event where I was really torn between which papers to attend, rather than deciding in which bar to spend time between interesting papers.
Some ideas emerging:
• It's clear that different things are happening, not just the same things happening in a different way.
• Relationships is the buzzword. Marketing increasingly will be truly customer-driven. Goodbye the 4Ps, hello the 5Rs: responsiveness, relevance, receptivity, recognition, relationships.
• The good news is that brands retain a key role.
• A paper on software for qual data analysis unfortunately managed to endorse resoundingly the view that this is a meaningless exercise in futility!
• Despite its drawbacks, there are good uses for the Internet in qual research. Fiona Jack/Bas Homans and DVL Smith both described some excellent specific examples, so we should keep an open mind and be creative about the opportunities it offers.
• Barbie Clark at NOP is leading the way by raising the issue of online child protection. The US has specific legislation (see www.kidsprivacy.org). We have no equivalent in Europe, and the research industry has no guidelines about this area, a dangerous situation.
As a UK-based international researcher, I was very concerned at the high number of Americans attending. They may wish to experience a European conference, but I fear that we are seeing a UK strength, namely international research co-ordination, slipping away across the Atlantic, with major implications on expected styles of research.
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