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Conference Feature: Silos, War Zones and Saving Children

September 21 2006

Our review of this week's ESOMAR Conference continues with Phyllis Vangelder's look at Tuesday's papers. They include suggestions for reconstructing research for the 21st Century, and a review of the challenges of opinion polling in Iraq.

Breaking down barriers

Peter Hutton, BrandEnergy Research, UK, opened the session on 'Developing talent' with his paper 'Breaking down barriers: reconstructing market research for the 21st Century'. Hutton points to a dissonance between the current mind-frame of business management and what we are doing in quantitative market research. Focusing on four quantitative research sectors - marketing, customer satisfaction, employee attitude and corporate reputation - he argues that each developed in response to management needs at the time. Each has a different success model, but they feed into silos which do not join up.

Outlined some of the main trends in business thinking, Hutton explained their importance in understanding the context in which today's research is being applied, and where it needs to go. Underlying much business thinking in the latter half of the 20th Century was the very long-term shift in the developed countries from being mainly based on the manufacture and trading of tangible manufactured goods to the provision of intangible services, as well as manufactured goods with an intangible element in their branding, customer support and technological input. Linked to this is a shift in business focus from profit generation to value creation.

However the language of business is still about tangibles and the culture of measurement. Market research is driven by the desire to prove that advertising works, rather than to understand how the brand works. Customer satisfaction and employee attitude research are driven by the demand for measurement and internal control rather than being customer driven or by core business thinking. Corporate reputation research is driven by the idea that reputation drives success. We now live in a holistic world, but quantitative research is still measuring one thing at a time and feeding the silo paradigms. It has to embrace new holistic thinking, focusing on value and one business system. Successful companies such as Tesco are breaking down the silos.

Hutton presented a concept which he called 'brand energy', defined as 'the energy that flows throughout the system that links businesses and all their stakeholders and which is manifested in the way these stakeholders think, feel and behave towards the business and its products or services'. The concept brings together the core notion that businesses are primarily about creating value with the idea that brands are actually about creating meaningful experiences for all stakeholders. In other words managing the business to create value is the same as managing the brand. In this integrated way of thinking, the distinction between marketing, employee, customer satisfaction, and corporate reputation research starts to dissolve. It also means embracing the core thinking of the business – its vision, mission and values and working through what research is needed to support their realisation.

David Smith, Illuminas, UK and John Marinopoulos, Strategic Intelligence Group, Australia, continued the theme of integration with their paper 'How to be a future shock absorber' arguing for integrated market intelligence in the business strategy process. The speakers believe that in order to take 'the shock out of the future', the professional market intelligence team need to apply their critical market and consumer intelligence in a way that will engage senior business decision-makers. They provided concrete examples of seven different roles that market research needs to play in the context of business consultancy. There are specific business analytical tools for each role and alongside illustrations of these, the speakers described the type of skills training that is needed to support them.

  • The Business Radar Scanner – a business strategy process which can read large and small signals, seeing the constantly changing business picture.
  • Insight Detective – spotting the multiple little clues that could make a big difference to the organisation and bringing them together into an insight.
  • Business Crystalliser – judging the likely business impact of a customer insight on the bottom line profitability of the business.
  • Value Assessor – knowing how a decision process or aggregated insights will affect the bottom line.
  • Framing the choices – organising the decision process so that winning ideas get backed and losing ideas get thrown out.
  • Taking a business responsibility – ensuring that the research is integrated into the strategic business plan.
  • Strategic Advisor – making constant timely and informed adjustments to the plan – being, in fact, a future shock absorber.

Measuring opinion in a 'war zone'

In the session 'Building better societies' Johnny Heald, ORB, UK and Munquith Daghir, IIACSS, Iraq, described the hazards of measuring opinion in a 'war zone'. Like the pro bono paper which followed the interest was more on the fact that the research was conducted than on the methodology or results.

When American and Allied forces invaded Iraq on 20 March 2003, the opinions of politicians, military leaders and journalists were broadcast. Dr Daghir, a lecturer at Baghdad University, heard what people allegedly thought abut the invasion – from occupying forces saying they had come to liberate Iraq and protect them from the Baathist regime to Iraqi exiles slowly returning saying they wanted to help and represent the real Iraq. Dr Daghir wanted to find a true picture. The first poll was conducted in Baghdad amongst a representative sample of 1000 adults. More than three years later, with the benefit of more than 150 polls, he is able to talk about the advantages and difficulties of polling in Iraq and to quantify the findings.

First the advantages: polls achieve a 90% response rate and the field force is highly educated and committed. Among the drawbacks are security, the need for interviewing permits from six different authorities, suspicions and rumours that follow a research study and a very complex sampling procedure.

The paper looked at the kind of questions posed and the shifting attitudes of the people. Security remains the number one concern. Dr Daghir referred briefly to interviewers that were killed or are still missing. 'Don't know' can sometimes mean 'I'm afraid to answer'. The paper provided a new perspective with a glimpse of challenges alien to most of us.

Save the Children

Can research be used to improve the world? Can our skills be useful in reducing poverty and under-development? Dr George Gallup certainly believed that research should be used for the social good. He would have applauded the efforts of the the Lisbono group (the name was coined at the ESOMAR Lisbon Congress), three small independent research companies in three different countries which decided to conduct a qualitative research project on behalf of Save the Children to learn about fathers' views on their children's education.

Henrik Hall, JUV, Sweden and Luisa Mercedes Ravela, Request Investigació de Mercado, Venezuela, described the three-pronged study they had conducted with Marie Florence Madom, Cible, Cameroon. It was a pro bono exercise, requiring dedication, sponsorship, where available, and a considerable amount of personal time. The speakers described the problems of conducting pro bono research (it always takes second place to clients' needs) and the challenges of working together, even though geographically far apart. Due to different resources and conditions a single problem was converted into three partly different methodologies.

The problems in schools that were identified mirrored the problems of society. Context always determines views. One of the conclusions in all three countries is that parents often act to improve their children's' education but only within the boundaries of the system they know.

The study has wider implications than fathers' views on education. Also implicit is the role of market research in the social good agenda and how this can be harnessed within an industry agenda. ESOMAR would be the perfect orchestrator of such a project.

This concludes our coverage of ESOMAR sessions, but a separate article about Award-winners from the Congress appears today. Our thanks to Phyllis for the coverage.
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