September’s AURA/AQR seminar at the RAF Club showcased of some of the best qualitative research being done today and, importantly, evidenced direct business benefit. This was key, as senior managers — although acknowledging qual as a powerful business tool — often demand the reassurance and safety of quant.

Autotrader gave the first presentation, talking about how qual re-energised a behavioural segmentation, giving meaning to dry figures. It also showed how successfully bringing this segmentation to life gave qual more traction in different areas of business.

Next up was Acacia Avenue, with BP, challenging us to question our continuing use of focus groups for testing creative despite new BE thinking. A mixed methodology and short, one-on-one qual identified a creative route that cut through emotionally to deliver the strategy.

Northstar then discussed a familiar challenge. The Royal Academy wanted to get to know Summer Exhibition visitors better, but was so allergic to research that it didn’t want the agency to talk to anyone, or get in the way. The Northstar team, using an anthropological lens, and conducting micro observations, micro interviews while bringing visitor behaviour to life for the RA, helped deliver on game-changing metrics. Job done.

The case study that followed, from Kellogg’s and its agency Qual Street, focused on the merits of asking ‘the big question’ and having the courage to engage with the leadership to win the right to tackle a big issue, ultimately identifying ways of adding value to the business.

FlexMR then delivered a retrospective qualitative analysis of a utility company’s customer panel, identifying customer experience and the triggers to switch, helping its client act tactically to reduce churn.

Tonic Research, with Virgin Media, used ‘regressive storytelling’ to explore customer journeys in more depth, and in a way that was not framed by the company’s own business ‘silos’, helping them identify and join up opportunities to engage with customers.

Moonpig talked of the learning curve it experienced as a new business and how early research with Razor Research became a programme of consumer ‘closeness’. This consumer insight helped it to build and diversify its business by helping its team keep the consumer centre stage in its planning process.

In the penultimate paper, Syren shared how it uncovered behavioural drivers, role models, and ambitions of women in Kenya and Nigeria. It achieved this depth of understanding by tackling head on that they were white, UK researchers by creating a real relationship via WhatsAPP, emerging from behind a researcher’s neutral ‘mask’.

Finally, Incite and Carlsberg revealed how a collaborative, iterative approach helped Tuborg really get under the skin of this hard-to-reach 18 to 25-year-old audience so as to reposition and turn around a globally successful brand that was under-performing in the UK.

It is a great benefit to client-side researchers to observe and share creative solutions to business problems with a community of peers. Qualitative research is a powerful tool in our toolkit and the seminar reinforced the view that it deserves our attention.