What does the future hold for the qual industry?
In the middle of a recession, you'll find no optimists in advertising. The research industry, however, is a different kettle of fish. There are those who say that research has always done well when clients are risk averse and need more reassurance. Welcome to the reassurance industry.
The pessimists, however, counter this view, saying that research budgets are a luxury we can't afford, delivering 'soft' data. Welcome to the hot air industry. Neither extreme is attractive. The best approach will be for qualitative researchers to define their own approach to the market and not get pigeonholed.
There will be many choices to make in the coming months. What to change about working practises and what to keep? Who to change and also who to keep, to name just a few.The answers will depend on the nature of the beast, varying from sole trader to research giant.
To help with the self-analysis, I'd like to offer a completely unscientific view on developments that I've seen emerge over the boom period: those that I think will endure and those that I feel will vanish.
During the boom 'qual research' has come to mean everything from groups to accompanied store visits, to covert camera analysis of buying behaviour. Grouped under the catchall of 'insight' research, thousands of pounds are spent to generate irrelevant or unusable insights. This will stop because there'll be clearer objectives.
In the future, there will be less consultancy but more research. Opinion will be worth less, grounded research worth more. Qual pre-testing we seem to have started an industry of qualitative pre-tests (an oxymoron) will stop. There will be more analysis, less reportage more of a 'back to basics' move.
Approaching a point of change is never easy, but it becomes easier if at least you possess a point of view on where the change is going. My hypothesis is that we'll go forward to basics. Only techniques that deliver real results will be commissioned.
This will be the route that the industry needs to take if it is to avoid becoming just another branch of the opinion industry. The hot air industry. That's never a good place to be in a recession. Still worse is the danger of becoming part of the small risk minimisation business. That's never a good place to be for the soul, never mind the recession.
It will be best for qual researchers to define their own approach to the market and not get pigeonholed
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, February 2002
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2002