Last week saw the Qual360/MRMW in Berlin – a 2 day, dual-tracked market research conference focusing on the latest developments in qualitative research.
Just another conference? Sort of, but it was special in a way I hadn’t quite anticipated – it was the first face-to-face market research conference I had been able to attend since – let me check – I think 2019.
And it felt GREAT. Depite the on-off-on-off fiddling around with face masks.
Learning can certainly work online – but the in-person component is immeasurably better, richer. It was a whole-body, involving experience, not just a Zoomathon with headset, screen and the inevitable various digital distractions.
I managed a mix of full-on “being there” for half-a-day on both days, and then picked up some talks in the afternoon digitally.
No prizes for where my attention span was higher – being in an auditorium forces you with all your senses to concentrate, to engage, to relate (or not) to tone of voice plus body language, clothing, and more.
And ask questions – one of my own vices. Very sticky, very much the sort of “normal” experience that I discovered I had built up a tremendous thirst for – once I was there. Which was admittedly only a 20 minute ride by S-Bahn in my home town of Berlin – my eco-conscience was on mute.
So hybrid, cool, but the efficiency monsters that we have partly become through digital focus are perhaps better suited to the de-accelerated, human aspects of a F2F conference.
Such as day-dreaming – but tuning back in because you are still in a conference room.
Saying hallo to people you have only met digitally. Catching up with people you’ve seen ages ago.
Meeting new people that know someone you know.
Informal, unplanned knowledge gathering. Valuable if tough to quantify.
The human aspect reasserts itself inadvertently. It’s so refreshing to hear (as I did) the following:
“Hey, xxxx, how did you find the talk about xxxxx?”
“Oh, hi Edward – no idea, I wasn’t listening”.
The gent in question had been there during the whole session, eyes apparently wide open.
Is not-listening really such a sin? Depending on the context, of course, it can be – but it’s certainly reassuringly human, and fitting for qual, where appearances can be deceptive and talking to people is often the only way to get to the often-surprising “why?”. And salutary. I suspect that half-listening is the case far more often than we think – if you’re on a stage, probably a sizeable percentage of the audience aren’t giving you their undivided attention.
So – assuming the same is true for dwindling attention spans here too – no exhaustive list of content, more some highlights that stuck with me:
– Digital qualitative research seems to be here to stay, despite some on the clientside suggesting the possibility of F2F taking an upswing in 2022. F2F could add value, some argued, where internal stakeholder engagement drops off digitally, for example, as one clientside insight leader shared from a UK-based multinational with their in-house panel-cum-community. Also for exploring audiences that can’t be reached easily in emerging markets – or for unfamiliar cultural contexts. The overall message I took out was, however, that digital qual would continue to dominate in 2022 and possibly beyond – certainly fit-for-purpose, and delivering well on insight briefs.
– Classical qual tools are increasingly fused, blurred even, with different approaches and larger data sets in multi-phase projects using digital wizadry. However, the letters AI don’t need to be scarily associated with deep learning stuff. When executed well, web scraping for example, can be used to learn very quickly about the themes and types of discourse existing in Social Media across the world in a given product sub-category. One Swiss-based sportswear brand presented a case using this approach where the data sorting, interrogation and interpretation, and above all the presentation was extremely cogent, leading to an effective audience re-thinking amongst internal stakeholders. An interesting “qualitative” approach.
– Qual’s origins of working with small numbers are evolving as the discipline becomes core to more and more companies – embracing scale opportunities to enjoy strong business impact. One large online retailer talked to the topic of keeping archetpyes and personas fresh, and stressed the need to standardise, classify and quantify, with a view to embedding as broadly as possible in all sorts of company studies and analytics. That could include boosting an in-house panel with qual-derived archetypes, linking to their online behaviour and relevant metrics where possible, and connecting to the key company KPIs.
That’s it. Definitely worth attending – and the investment. The conference wasn’t free – but the value it delivered to me certainly justified the cost. There were lots of client talks, but not a competitive or acquisitive spirit, more collegiate and sharing.
If that all sounds too sugary-to-be-true to you, then try it yourself next time – the call for papers is almost certainly open for 2022.
(Photo by Curology on Unsplash)