New Year spells new tidings. Predictions of what is in store for each industry become hot commodity. One can literally see the media space riddled with umpteen articles by wannabe Faith Popcorns. Marketers and media make industry practitioners ruminate and introspect. Students and aspirants seek epiphany in the banal.
At a personal level, I feel the larger responsibility of predicting the future lies more with God than mortal researchers like us.
That said, even I have been guilty of attempting to predict behaviour inflexion points in the context of an unprecedented slowdown in the beginning of 2009. Not all of the 10 trends predicted were borne out. But I came out richer from the experience nonetheless. The big lesson in it for me was – it is not about how many truths one uncovered, but it is all about how these truths were uncovered.
If you go to a dentist to find out why your pulse is erratic, the problem is with your approach. However, if you asked the dentist to pretend to be a heart specialist, you are digging your own grave. And that is the hard lesson I learnt as an industry practitioner. Wrong input can never result in the right output.
Trained or professional respondents are a malaise in research. Lakhs are spent in engaging with them – whether through quantitative or qualitative research. Crores are spent on implementing brand decisions based on these lies. You may argue that the intent of these ‘con’sumers may not be so suspect, after all they are a part of the consuming population. Sure. But would you trust the feedback of someone who changes his or her name, profession, age, marital status just to belong to your criteria? And we as industry practitioners are to blame for this cesspool of lies we have created. You cannot wish away a problem by simply looking the other way.
For a better part of our productive lives as researchers, we obsess over newer trends in analytics, techniques and insight mining than focusing on the systemic issue that plagues this industry. Many research conferences and seminars have happened over the last few decades. But very little serious thought has been given to improving quality of recruitment. I have never seen a recruitment agency represented in research seminars. Marketing people are aware of the problem. It’s just that the issue has become so mainstream and familiar that it is assumed it does not deserve a fair hearing. An edifice is built up and continually reinforced. Why risk knocking it down? The only solution they are comfortable with may perhaps be exploring relatively newer test centers. Or better still, use the same respondent after a gap of three months. Little realising that three months means AWOL only from their brand researches.
Today, if you are a researcher, chances are you are an inveterate liar. If you are a marketer, you are complicit in the act. If you are the respondent, you are the lie itself. And if you are none of these, you are the honest, unsuspecting consumer - one who is never engaged by any researcher, marketer or trend analyst.
This honest, unsuspecting consumer is who we engaged with for the slowdown research of 2009. What followed was truly insightful – 8 out of 10 trends actually came true in 2010. We did not do anything different. Just listened to the real consumers. We have been engaging with real consumers as opposed to real ‘con’sumers for most of our qualitative projects all these years. But when a qualitative research agency gives itself a mandate to do an omnibus survey, who does it turn to get the right respondents in huge numbers? We consciously said no to the recruitment agencies. And we managed to get 500 fresh people (somehow consumers as a word does not do justice).
It was hard work. But we did it. Trouble is no one really wants to do new thinking that can pull the rug out from under the way things are being done for the last 20 years.
It is a season of scams. And this is one of them. Let us redirect our anger to this one that affects our lives and decisions more directly and relevantly. And make an honest start to 2011.
(The author is the Managing Consultant of The Key. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of the exchange4media Group.)