Well, I had nothing to fear: the AQR conference was the highlight of my day!

PRS Award Papers

The first three presentations were by the Prosper Riley-Smith Qualitative Excellence Award finalists and winner. I’d already read about them in In Brief, but they were even better when experienced first-hand. Mark Thorpe's paper about humanisation revealed lessons that were not only relevant to Truth’s client, John Lewis, but also to the broader business community.

Sarah Jenkins informed me of the intriguing mixed methodologies used in IPSOS’s work with the BBC News Audiences team and also taught me a new ‘word on the street’ that I think could catch on: the ‘phablet’.

To conclude the first half of the conference, Acacia Avenue’s Caroline Hayter, with the support of EDF Energy’s Bettina Meddings, told ‘The story of Zingy’. And, just as their research had aimed to do with this cheery little chap, their presentation left me feeling really good (and looking forward to what I could learn in the latter half of the conference).

Millenials and Brands

After a 15-minute break, Rebecca Harries took us through OneMS’s research into Millennials: that’s people aged 18-30 to you and me. It was really interesting to see stereotypes about my age group put under the microscope. Some of the behaviour I see in myself, my friends and my colleagues every day was put into context, as part of the bigger picture for brands, and it certainly made me have a few light bulb moments throughout this session.

Next Kat Slater, in a Madonna-esque head set (sadly, no singing or dancing to accompany this… next time, Kat), who described Firefish’s research into how people interact with brands online. The key take out here was that brands need to think more carefully about what they’re actually trying to achieve on social media, and why.

A ‘Like’ or a ‘Follow’ isn’t where the journey ends; brands need to be aware of how they come across on social media versus their other channels. They don’t want to get ‘annoying Facebook friend’ syndrome. As Kat pointed out, we’ve all got one of these people in our lives and even if we like them in person, we can start to despise them on social media. This is a category many brands currently fit into in their existing and potential customers’ lives, and one they need to get out of to have any real success in this space.


The conference’s closing session was all about accreditation. This is a topic that now has lots of momentum, industry backing and, as Acacia Avenue’s Blue Martin revealed, the potential to further professionalise our industry.

Blue helped restore my faith in what accreditation is trying to achieve. Currently, anyone with a computer who fancies a go at qualitative research can. Raising standards through accreditation should discourage them, while creating a high-prestige sector that’s attractive to students in schools, colleges and universities and, rightly, put qualitative research on the desirable career map. There’s a lot of upcoming work still to be done on this, so watch this space!

And finally...

Finally, I can’t fail to mention the AQR chair, Ken Parker, for his wonderful job as Master of Ceremonies at the conference as well.

Overall, the morning was really interesting, insightful and thought provoking. This was definitely the gem of the ‘Understand’ zone at MWL 2014, and if you didn’t get to see the guys at the conference or the AQR stand this year, make sure you don’t miss them there in 2015!