The AQR/QRCA Conference proved a valuable opportunity to listen to the crème de la crème of international qualitative speakers. But it fulfilled another aim, too: it gave delegates a forum for discussing their professional hopes and fears.

The session we ran offered delegates a challenge. How, we asked, could qualitative research move up the marketing food chain? The ensuing buzz of activity produced some interesting thoughts and ideas for debate. Contributions were made with maturity, energy, even passion, and without finger pointing! There was a feeling of consensus, of being able to talk freely, unfettered (so it seemed to us) by the nagging guilt that this was just another exercise in researcher masochism.

So what was the first point to emerge? Well, a significant distance between our clients and us exists on a number of fronts. Some of the problems can be resolved by education ­ we need to learn more about marketing, and our clients, about the research process.

Then again, as researchers, we need to get to know our clients' companies better, to make more relevant recommendations. If we can get to know our clients' market sectors better, too, we can become experts, and experts are more likely to gain access to internal agendas and issues.

In the output, there was a move away from the usual emphasis on process: Delegates focused less on the methodology and fieldwork stage, and more on what has traditionally been the end, i.e. the presentation. Lengthy consideration was given to the presentation itself, and the (client) territory that lies beyond.

This implies giving less weight to the process itself, i.e. the fieldwork, and paying more attention to the results and recommendations. "Go beyond branding and positioning to focus on market end benefit" was one outcome.

Effectively, the researcher's role gets extended to include the post-presentation. We need to claim the post-presentation as our own, and bring it within our normal remit. Those who had had post-presentational experiences had found them extremely positive, and were glad they had returned to tell the tale.

So, in the future, we would become known for following up research, rather than simply carrying it out: following the results and recommendations further downstream into the client's company, acting as advocates alongside our clients, armed with our insights and recommendations; helping them to win the hearts and minds of their colleagues:

"Helping them to sell their strategy internally."

We are already experts at winning minds: we will have to start winning hearts as well if we are to extend our reach, increase our value and move up that food chain.