Verbatim: A fresh perspective on qual
It's all too easy to take our industry for granted, but what does it have to offer newcomers?
We asked two (relatively) new researchers Lucy Devereux of Diagnostics and Phil Booth of Firefish how they viewed qualitative research, career possibilities, and its impact on their lives.
How did you find out about qualitative research?
Lucy: At University, career advice for law students was geared to shepherding people into legal or bureaucratic professions. Qualitative research was something you would only find by a great deal of luck and a dose of persistence. For me, this combination only collided in my first qual job interview.
Phil: I was interested in the role planners played in bringing the consumer aspect into the advertising process. Through this I found out about qual research.
What attracted you to a career in the industry?
Lucy: Initially it was a job ad promising the opportunity to 'find out what makes people tick'. When I realised I would be involved in interpretative analysis and marketing, there was no going back.
Phil: I wanted to communicate with a variety of different, interesting and creative people while feeding my longstanding curiosity of human behaviour.
Has it lived up to expectations?
Lucy: Yes, I think I've pretty much struck gold.
Phil: No, it's better.
What are the best elements of the job?
Lucy: You never know what you're going to get, which means there is always a fresh challenge, either in the form of a project, or off-the-wall respondents.
Phil: Top is being a part of the advertising process, albeit in a small way. Then there's the variety of great brands, the different people, the 'climbing into someone else's head' thing and the extra social opportunities.
What are the worst elements?
Lucy: The hours. Need I say more?
Phil: I don't like being left out-of-the-loop by some clients after the research has been presented. I always want to know which route they decided to follow and what factors aside from qual influenced their decisions.
How do you describe your job to people that you meet?
Lucy: When I say I do market research, people tend to start muttering things like 'No, I'm sorry, I don't have a minute'. My standard back up is, 'Attitudes and behaviour, not clipboards and statistics'.
Phil: Ha! It depends on who they are and what mood I'm in. If I'm feeling poncey, or think they are, I play on the ad/brand development side of the work and drop a load of names. If not, I tell them it's market research but that I don't stand on street corners with a clipboard.
What do you friends think of your job?
Lucy: They think I travel all over the country to stand on street corners asking people if they have a minute to spare for market research.
Phil: Most think it's good fun and that the ad development side is quite 'media-glam'. That said, nearly all of them earn quite a lot more than I do so I don't think they reckon it's so cool and fun that they'd like to swap.
What were your preconceptions about qualitative research, and qual researchers?
Lucy: I think I probably thought that qual researchers would be strange fusions between amateur shrinks and cutting edge marketers, which meant that the industry would be an interesting place to be.
Phil: I expected it to be populated by quite dull, booky types I was used to bumping into at Oxford. Thankfully Firefish are very different, every member of the team is lively and exciting, which creates a fun and dynamic working environment.
Is it an established industry, given that those who now run it probably made it what it is today, or do you feel that you can still shape it?
Lucy: I think that there is the opportunity for us to adapt our roles to ensure that we continue to be a most discriminating filter of consumer opinion in creating highly productive marketing strategies.
Phil: It has some established boundaries, which I guess are in place because clients are happy about where qual is pigeon holed or because they are too scared to allow us to try new methodologies. So, although there is room for us to evolve as an industry, I feel it will require a change in client attitudes, too.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, March 2001
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2001