Good stimulus is key
Simon Pollock, head of insights for General Mills, is keen for clients to interact with respondents – and his tipple is red wineQualitative research as a career: burning desire or serendipity?
I started in brand marketing, working with many companies: Kraft, Johnson&Johnson, Sarah Lee — and now General Mills. The insights area was the path from general marketing that I loved the most. My speciality is both qual and quant though I'm not actually a researcher myself.
What are your qual pet loves and pet hates?
For me one of the key things is stimulus. I really dislike when there is a lack of stimulus or it's very uninspiring and you end up with really boring discussion which doesn't inspire respondents or us as clients. Sometimes a really good qual moderator can overcome that — but it can be quite frustrating watching groups where the lack of flow or stimulus hampers the discussion.
And is that the fault of the researcher?
No, not at all. I genuinely think it is the fault of the combination of client and researcher. And where I think the researcher could help that is by guiding a client or advising them that you will get better responses from better stimulus. And this is where I really challenge my agencies to come to us with creative and innovative ideas.
My real love is where there is interactive qual, where the client is interacting with respondents. I find that incredibly powerful and seek out opportunities to do that, whether they be workshops, co-creation or ethnography. Those are hugely beneficial to get the team's intuition up to a higher level. Online qual is proving to be a great opportunity to get the client involved in interactions and allowing changes to stimulus in real time.
How much of this do you feel is due to the energy level involved?
There is a completely different energy level from having someone viewing video, to viewing footage of a group or face to face. Not all of these set ups are appropriate in every case, and there's a role for different types of research. But for me one of the most inspiring and passionate is when the client can be in direct contact with the respondent in some way.
What's the best debrief you've seen/delivered and why?
By far the best debrief was in a workshop format. We had all the clients attend a session where consumers came in to bring to life the findings in a location that wasn't where we normally work. Instead of just delivering "this is what we saw, this is what we heard", the debrief was delivered through the respondents and through activities that we made the attendees do, so that they really got to feel and understand the findings.
What's your favourite food/drink behind the glass?
The favourite drink would definitely be a glass of wine, preferably red. And food, I am particularly partial to salt "n" vinegar crisps.
BlackBerry vs iPhone?
Definitely iPhone: it's more interactive, intuitive, colourful, visual and playful. Funniest group memory?
It might be when we were doing some couples research. We had three couples in the room and they didn't know each other, but they were partners, husband and wife or boyfriend/girlfriend. What was very bizarre about that dynamic was that the men were almost afraid to speak, and so every time a question was addressed to a man the woman would answer on his behalf. It was almost as though if we had had the couples there on their own, it might have worked. But because they were there with other couples the attitude was: well, I can't answer that because they might judge me.
Facebook or Twitter?
You know what, Twitter. Facebook for me is family and friends, whereas Twitter is interaction and stimulus. What marketing blogs, podcasts, books do you recommend. There are many, but none that really stand out.
Social networking to replace conventional qual eventually?
No, not replace, but it has a role to play. I'm still not entirely sure how to harness the power of it though.
If connecting with teams virtually, how do you make it work?
It requires an incredible amount of flexibility on both sides, and we are often interacting with our team at bizarre times of day and night. To engage them I use a lot of the things that I have mentioned before. I use teasers and video clips to grab their attention then, when you have their attention, you can spend time delivering the rest of the message.
Your work crosses various time zones, so do you ever have the opportunity to switch off?
Oh no! It's really bizarre. Usually when I have a glass of wine I switch off, but not of course when I'm watching a group. It is difficult though.
What would you like to see more of?
There are techniques that have been round for some time which are valuable, language, semiotic techniques, which we don't leverage as much as we could. They need skill and talent, we have used specialists in areas like NLP, but it is hard for our team to understand what we are trying to do and take people on that journey.
London vs provinces: do quallies get out enough?
Definitely not. It's not the researchers" fault, it is ours. I think given half a chance researchers would go further afield.
Sartorial code for groups?
If I'm in the back room will generally wear work clothes (trousers and a work shirt), managing other people that are there. If I'm with respondents, casual but smart clothes, jeans and a shirt.
Rupert Murdoch or Richard Branson?
Branson: personality, character.
VP Consumer Insights, Cereal Partners Worldwide
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, March 2011
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2011