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Market research: 3 key trends from the 2017 QRCA Annual Conference

09 February 2017 - BY Kath McNiff

Our Online Community Manager Kath McNiff writes on the ideas that resonated with her from the QRCA Annual Conference.

The QRCA annual conference wrapped up in LA last month – and I’m still processing the multitude of insights.

The carefully curated presentations focused on 'The Power of Perspective' and ways qualitative researchers could “take their craft to the next level”.

Three ideas resonated with me in particular:

1. Researchers need to be Human

When working with participants, researchers need to move beyond the role of ‘impartial observer’ and embrace empathy and deeper engagement.

This idea was introduced in the awe-inspiring keynote address by John Siegel Boettner - Teen Press: A Wild and Precious Perspective on Listening. As an educator at Santa Barbara Middle School, Boettner worked with his teaching partner David Teton-Landis to setup the ground-breaking Teen Press program.

Teenagers in the program interview top influencers like Oprah Winfrey, Clint Eastwood, Jennifer Lawrence and Al Gore. In the classroom, they spend time researching and getting to know their subjects and they focus on making a human connection.

Susan Sweet and Jay Picard brought the 'human' message home in their presentation, Delaying Objectivity for Deeper Empathy.

Pointing out that “the magic comes outside the discussion guide”, Sweet and Picard called on researchers to be more than just facilitators and organizers. They urged the audience to become “embedded reporters, curators and context conveyors”.

All of this was beautifully illustrated with a clip from VICELAND – the ultimate example of researcher empathy and immersion.

2. Researchers need to listen

In her eye-opening presentation, Styllin’ & Profillin’: Managing Audience Perception through Efficient Communication, Michelle Finzel asked us to face our internal biases and resist the urge to stereotype.

She pointed out that by taking control of our communication-based habits we can improve our interpersonal skills and become better listeners.

On the last day, Benjamin Mathes gave us the ultimate masterclass in listening. As the founder of Urban Confessional, Mathers started the Free Listening Project – where actors “listen to anyone talk about anything”. It’s a straightforward concept that has become a worldwide movement.

To prepare us for deep listening Mathers asked us to

  • Maintain three minutes of eye contact with another person in the room (suprisingly difficult!)
  • Close our eyes and focus on what we could hear
  • Stop to ask ourselves if we were ready to listen

Simple steps with a powerful impact.

3. Researchers have a role in helping society adapt and innovate

The ever-changing landscape of qualitative research was also a dominant theme in this year’s QRCA conference.

Jennifer Dale’s presentation 2050: A Qual Odyssey was a total wake-up call.

By taking us through the (sometimes intimidating) statistics around aging populations, racial diversity, income disparity, urbanization and technology – Dale sparked a passionate discussion around the room:

  • By 2050 there will be 400% more people aged over 60. How will this change our approach to respondent recruitment?
  • There will be no single-majority race of people in the US by 2050. With the cultural lines blurring too – will behavioral segmentation replace traditional demographic segmentation?
  • How will haptic technology (feeling textures with your smart phone) change the face of research?

Perhaps the most profound takeaway was the role research could play in broader society by helping brands be nimble and adapt to changes in the market.

Joy Steinberg and Jim Longo showed us the way forward in their presentation, The Power of Using Agile Market Research to Drive Innovation.

They described an iterative, customer-focused approach to research that includes on-demand recruiting, live focus groups and feedback at key milestones. All of this was fleshed out with real-world examples and practical advice.

All-in-all, #QRCA2017 was a stand-out conference for me.

Thanks for the inspiring presentations, informed delegates and a welcoming, fun atmosphere. Can’t wait for #QRCA2018 in Phoenix Arizona!