Ending research apartheid

Vincent Nolan, founder of 2CV and chairman of Cello Research explains why researchers need to collaborate to provide effective insights for the marketing community.

Vincent Nolan
Vincent Nolan

Back in the mists of time research suffered a schism. Qualitative and quantitative researchers became divided and apartheid set in. The result? A poorer research product. Less Œproven insight¹ was fed into client decision making. Both qual and quant services were impoverished and competed to be the one true answer. The intervening years led to UK quantitative and qualitative methods incubating alone and developing into world leading offerings. But the discoveries of the mid-nineties brain research have underlined how important integration of the qualitative and quantitative research is if we as an industry want to reap the benefit of proven insight.

Neuroscience has revealed a clearer picture of how communications are received, processed and acted upon. It challenges the received wisdom of the rational choice model that focuses on the individual as independently minded and essentially rational. We now know that no decisions are made without consulting the emotional mind. And much is processed and stored without ever even reaching the rational mind, to be retrieved later as feelings rather than words. However, awareness and rational comprehension are not rendered totally obsolete. The rational mind still provides a pivotal role in the consumer¹s decision making process.

We have also learned that very few decisions are made in isolation. As social animals, we are more influenced by our peers than we¹d care to admit.
In fact, it¹s virtually impossible to understand and predict our behaviour without factoring in the impact of others upon us, both consciously and sub-consciously. Methodologies that fail to capture the essentially social nature of decision-making need to be questioned.

Neuroscience suggests you can¹t make decisions without consulting your emotional mind, Herd theory suggests we can¹t understand people if studied in isolation. Common sense says it¹s foolish to base financial decisions on a single data point. The answer? Integrated research.

Only by reuniting these estranged partners, the intuitive and rational, the qualitative and the quantitative, can we put this learning into a coherent model of the Œsocial brain¹. By not taking into account the impact of others on our individual beliefs and behavior, we¹ll keep being surprised by apparently random events and tipping points.

The years of apartheid have taken their toll, exacerbated by our addiction to an adversarial business model, where we compete to be the Œright¹ answer.
The result, research silos have built up and pervade our industry.
Integrated research shouldn¹t just be between researchers. The spirit of collaboration that makes integration of qual and quant research possible needs to extend to the client and their external agencies. This will require an end to the adversarial culture which has blighted marketing for many years. The energy that is currently wasted in our conflict culture could be better spent collaborating to achieve more creative and innovative solutions.

Years of experience and an understanding of our nature as essentially social animals suggests that we are more creative and resourceful when we collaborate. This isn¹t to say we all have to agree, it is to say that disagreements based on differing ideas should be the source of new creative solutions, not something to be defended to the death. It¹s so easy, even enjoyable for us all to fall into the old adversarial model. Like old shoes it feels reassuring, but in fact, it¹s worn out. Now in a more challenging economic environment, it¹s time we adopted the most effective means of working together.

What is clear is that the concept of truly integrated qualitative and quantitative research, combined with a collaborative client relationship, is the most powerful research tool we have at our disposal to deliver to an increasingly insight hungry marketing industry.

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