Peta McDonald asks what impact are the EUšs latest recruits having on researching brand perceptions?
This autumn another two nations join the European Union. Immigration to the UK has increased in the past when new members have signed up, most noticeably in 2004 with the addition of 10 new member states, and this trend is expected to continue. As Romanians and Bulgarians start to take advantage of their rights as EU citizens and move within its borders, what effect will this have on research?
In the UK, the proportion of the population who are born of another culture (I count myself, as an Australian, in this number) continues to increase, changing the constituency of both the market for our client¹s products and our respondent pool.
As a foreigner I have experienced British hospitality at first hand, and apart from the difficulties experienced in trying to open a bank account, on the whole I have been made to feel welcome here. Shouldn¹t this welcome be extended to the way we conduct research?
One of the key issues we face as researchers is how an increasingly diverse respondent pool interacts with brands. As we all know, brand communication is often tailored to a market, nuanced messaging appealing to often imperceptible cultural differences, even when the same product and brand are available across markets. At a very basic level, brands that look and feel the same tonally often have to adopt Olocal¹ marketing campaigns. I noticed this first hand during a recent project for breakfast cereal when the Ofamiliar¹ jingle was played to respondents and I went into shock. This wasn¹t the same jingle I had grown up with, although I had grown up with the product in almost identical visual livery.
The question is, what role do newcomers play in interacting with a brand? Our outlook on the world is obviously affected by our cultural and our personal experiences, and this also applies to our relationship with brands. It¹s worth bearing in mind that newcomers don¹t necessarily have the same cultural history with a brand, and therefore don¹t have the same preconceptions.
Should we, therefore, be widening the scope of our recruitment, and thinking about reflecting the reality of our community to a greater extent? Even now we tend to talk almost exclusively to 18-45 year olds, and the fringes of age and other demographics often don¹t get a look in.
The dilemma is that by starting with fresh minds and a clean slate, brand communication can be assessed as a stand alone message, free from the heritage of the brand history. Yet the long term relationship brands have built with their customers cannot be forgotten, and most brand communication develops on the existing themes.
The latest Bernard Matthews ad, where the actress mum looks fondly back at the products she served up for her children and continues to buy, is an example of nostalgic communication, based on the presumption that the audience also grew up with the brand.
So what does this really mean for recruitment? Should our recruitment practices and our research be more inclusive of people from other cultures? Does this mean we should be casting our recruitment net wider, for instance using specialist agencies to recruit respondents from specific groups, where our regular recruiters may not have the same access or relationship? And finally, what does this mean for us as moderators? Are we well equipped enough to pick up on the cultural nuances by the respondents or will we be found wanting?
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, November 2006
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2006