corporate research

Unilever’s Qualitative Accreditation Program & Misdirected Quest for “Fresh Ideas”

Many researchers have discussed Unilever’s accreditation program for qualitative research.  Among others, the Market Research Society, ESOMAR’s Research World, and Katfresh ideas2hryn Korostoff (Research Rockstar) have all outlined what led up to this program, the objectives of the program, and the accreditation process.  In a nutshell, Unilever assessed the outcomes of their many qualitative studies around the globe and determined that the qualitative researchers Unilever has employed to conduct their qual studies have generally failed in providing management with a sufficient caliber of new ideas and insights that serve to move the company forward.

Manish Makhijani, a consumer insights director at Unilever, stated in an interview discussing the program that one of his top concerns with their qualitative research is the inconsistency in “the quality of insights and debriefs” among their qualitative researchers, emphasizing that “what matters in qual more than anything else is the quality of thinking that you put on the table.”  And, indeed, Makhijani brought home this point at the November 2012 ESOMAR conference when he presented the notion that “good” qualitative research is derived Read Full Text

Defining “Marketing Research” by Scientific Principles

Terry Grapentine and Roy Teas advocate in the spring 2012 issue of Marketing Research magazine for a revision to the American Marketing Association’s definition of “marketing research.”  They argue that the current definition is not sufficiently grounded in scientific principles and is missing the all-important reference to theory which they consider a key component to “knowledge creation,” which in turn “is crucial in developing marketing strategy.”  Grapentine and Teas call on textbook authors as well as the AMA to integrate the idea of theory and theory development into their discussions (and definitions) of marketing research and thereby promote a theoretical perspective – along with more scientific thinking – among marketing researchers.

What I find particularly interesting in the Grapentine-Teas plea for a theory-based approach to marketing research is the defense they wage in support of their argument – specifically, the idea that “theory expands knowledge sources.”  What I like about this is that, by embracing the research tools and methods from various related disciplines, such as sociology, marketing research design can bring an elevated, “holistic understanding” to our studies.  And this is good because a more-encompassing way of designing marketing research addresses the fundamental objective of our research, which is to understand how people think and what motivates behavior.

Grapentine and Teas also talk about the potential “barriers” to their redefinition proposition; highlighting the anticipated negative commentary that a theoretical approach in marketing research is too-academic and/or too-expensive for the speed-over-quality mentality among many marketing researchers.  This indeed may spell doom for their effort, but their cry for a more scientific basis to our marketing research designs, even with the acknowledgement that compromise – between true scientific rigor and the reality of research in the corporate world – is inevitable, is very welcomed.

In June 2011 I wrote a blog post where, not unlike Grapentine and Teas, I argue for “Taking Research Design to Higher Ground” and wonder “why researchers continue with the long-standing habit of avoiding honest experimentation and debates regarding their research methods.”  I conclude:

“The marketing research industry is jammed with talented researchers who understand great research.  Yet industry researchers have historically found themselves trapped on a never-ending wheel chasing the next research assignment, sometimes at the expense of good design.”

Like Grapentine and Teas, I encourage marketing researchers to step outside their “comfort zone” and think first and foremost on the strength of their designs.  Even if practical considerations impede a scientific path, marketing researchers owe it to themselves and the end-users they serve to question every design in terms of its ability to return reliable, valid results.

Employee Research: 6 Reasons Why It Is Different Than Other Research Designs

The following is adapted from an article concerning corporate employee research that ran in Quirk’s e-newsletter June 2010.

Employees are vital to any successful company yet the importance of employee satisfaction research is often overlooked.  Employee research – conducted within large or small organizations – is critical to maintaining a fine-tuned business engine where morale is high, turnover is minimal, and top-quality productivity hums along throughout the firm.  The company that understands the significance of employee research is not only rewarded by a content and stable workforce but a profitable bottom line along with a growing return on investment.

Conducting employee research is in a class all its own.  Asking consumers to confess their brand preference or convincing business customers to divulge their vendor selection process is one thing, but asking employees to reveal little-known opinions about their jobs – their life source – is a risky business.  What makes employee research “risky” becomes apparent when confronted by a number of employee-specific issues in the design of a qualitative or quantitative study.  Here are six unique design considerations in employee research:

  • Prior notification – via email, intranet, company bulletin board or newsletter – dispels doubts and cynicism while minimizing refusals and nonresponse.  To instill credence and maximize impact, the notification should come from someone in management who is far up in the chain of command yet carries a name that is easily recognized (and respected) by employees.  In some instances, this means the president or CEO of the company, in others it may mean the department head.  The important thing is to get employees’ attention and gain trust in the research.
  • All relevant management should be made aware of the research in order to create an informed and supportive frame around the research within the company.  This gives employees added assurance that the research is legitimate and Read Full Text