Research methods: Ronnie McBryde, Mintel, Anthony Tasgal, Mintel Inspire

In the Wiki World we now live in, everything is made up, amended and edited as it is produced. This means research must take into account the power of the point of view, not just raw data. By Ronnie McBryde and Anthony Tasgal

Ronnie McBryde
Director of insight

2007 Director of insight, Mintel
1998 Group information director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty
1992 Project manager, Research Solutions Consultancy
1990 Consultant, Ovum

Anthony Tasgal
Mintel Inspire
Editor in chief

2004 Insight trainer and editor-in-chief, Mintel Inspire
1997 Brand strategist, catalyst and commentator, POV

World is turning Wiki 

In the Wiki World we now live in, everything is made up, amended and edited as it is produced. This means research must take into account the power of the point of view, not just raw data.
By Ronnie McBryde and Anthony Tasgal

It is no wonder that research companies are looking deep into their collective psyches to find new solutions to client demands for answers to their questions that have more penetration and greater insight. However, the seismic changes that have taken place since the era of mass marketing and communication, not least the collective power of the internet, online buying power and social fragmentation, have set challenges many marketers have been unable to respond to.

These changes have created a world, which we at Mintel call the “Wiki World” – a place where everything is being made up, amended and edited as soon as it is produced.

While once there were obvious distinctions between different markets, these divisions are no longer so clear cut. Everywhere we see boundaries between competing products and services and societal norms and compartments tumbling down in the name of convergence. An example of these divisions being eroded include the agelessness which sees adults and children cross guidelines relating to social behaviour, such as adults playing computer games.

The decline of many traditional authorities, such as trust in politicians, the judiciary, schools and doctors, have led to a spirit of questioning, which places much more importance on the right of the individual to make their own choices. Social networking has become so pervasive that, for many, it is almost impossible to remember the time before it. This is all the more pronounced for younger people who consider MSN, MySpace, Bebo, Facebook and the rest to be as significant a part of their social apparatus as their mobile phone.

But beyond these confines, it has also created opportunities for new social groupings, which have brought to light vast new contexts and communities based on hobbies, pastimes, passions and what one might apologetically call quirks – people seem only too happy to display pictures of traffic bollards with Shakespeare quotes attached on Flickr, or create a community around the pastime of “extreme ironing”.

In the communication world, some of the ripples of the new concepts of permission marketing (“I let Brand X have permission to talk to me”), ubiquitous customisation and viral marketing have been spreading through the more enlightened parts of the marketing fraternity. Looking to the future, the consumer-led, collaborative ideas behind Wiki World are set to expand. This will result in more participation, engagement as the norm and the desire for a new language of communication from (and with) brands and brand owners, being introduced into the social and commercial bloodstream.

It should, therefore, follow that a different consumer (social) world dictates a different approach to understanding how people work and using this for more effective communication and innovation.

We need to shift away from a model that is based on the assumption that data and metrics alone can lead unquestioningly to the sort of disruptive and innovative thinking that is essential to gain a foothold in the “Wiki World”.

Ultimately, data without explanation and commentary simply reinforces conformity, perpetuates the status quo and does not give marketers what they need to be truly innovative. The fact that a value can be numerically expressed does not make it inherently more important than any other variable, such as focus groups, ethnography and outside reading, especially if we are concerned with gaining fresh perspectives that illuminate opportunity. Too often we are looking at “consumers”, carrying out “research” and using metrics that are looking backwards rather than forwards. As our clients come under even greater pressure on the altar of accountability, it is the responsibility of researchers to not only measure and define, but to explore and inspire.

The quarry we are hunting must be clear: not just data, not just information. But meaning. Meaning that makes humans connect and feel part of a meaningful social existence – it can come from hobbies, family, work, religion, friends and sport among others. Delivering meaning will add value, create ideas and generate business success for our clients.

New forms of market research So if meaning is the new information, are we right to seek the same old forms of “market research”? Can we overcome the “paradox of abundance”, where we are drowning in data and cannot see the meaning for the numbers? Here are a few proposals that we have put into practice to encourage the understanding and spread of meaning.

We encourage people to look for and construct stories and narratives. Stories give structure, lead to the construction and transmission of meaning, and as such are one of the truly universal human cultural artefacts that we rely on as social animals.

The power of the point of view is increasingly valuable in the sea of data, as we must see traditional market research as one tool, not the only one, in the armoury that enables meaning to be generated and shared.

We believe that market research must expand beyond its traditional remit. Thinking of “consumers” and “markets” is limiting. When was the last time you thought of yourself as a consumer, with all the implications of passivity? And the “research” component is also laden with assumptions that we will only reach the Holy Grail of insight by asking questions. However, it seems more and more evident that the complexity of our existence, new evidence about how the brain concocts its own stories and new theories from other disciplines all demonstrate Fresh direction: Traditional market research is not the only tool in the armoury that enables meaning to be generated and shared that asking questions alone is a more limited way of gaining access to the sort of meaning we have discussed.

So as well as examining our own assumptions we must look at external perspectives outside the confines both of each client sector and of conventional market research. For example, this means exploring the possibilities of ethnography (watching people as people and their behaviour in general) from the outside in, rather than solely as “consumers” of the product under investigation. This means seeing how they behave in their normal lives and how their brands fit in, rather than assuming that brands are the be-all and end-all of “consumers’ lives”. Finally we have launched a trends-based innovation resource called Mintel Inspire which monitors and observes consumer behaviour, the implications of which are applied to different markets by our analysts, so giving real meaning to the research.

Mintel Inspire was launched to enable clients to explore, provoke and disrupt in the quest for new meaning and (ultimately) commercial success. A global, eclectic compendium that is refreshed and updated daily, we believe it is one of a number of ways that clients will seek to gain new angles and perspectives that they can apply to their own brands and sectors. 

Ronnie McBryde and Anthony Tasgal
Mintel International Group (Mintel)
18-19 Long Lane, London EC1A 9PL
T: 020 7606 4533
F: 020 7606 5932 or

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