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Qualitative Research: What’s it all about?


Qualitative research is a thread of market research, which is used to gain insights into people’s attitudes, behaviours, motivations, cultures or lifestyles. It aims to seek out the ‘why’s’ and get beneath the surface to help brands get to the heart of their consumers.

In a nutshell, what a qualitative researcher does is just that  . . . research. We go out with an objective, question in mind, find out the information we need, we filter and analyse this content and then turn it into a concise and interesting story. This research informs strategic thinking, cultural insight and consumer understanding for companies the world over.

What we are asked to explore goes far and wide:

  • Understanding how brands work within a culture
  • Exploring people’s behaviours, value systems, lifestyles
  • Understanding general cultural trends
  • Helping to evaluate and develop comms
  • Exploring / developing new ideas/ products/ services
  • Really getting beneath the surface with semiotic analysis

Qualitative researchers explore these areas using a range of techniques: focus groups, one-on-one depth interviews, ethnographic immersions, blogs, mobile tasks and creative workshops. Within the qualitative remit we're increasingly using semiotics and cultural trends analysis as part of our attempt to provide a coherent understanding of what's going on, and what it could mean for brands. The process we use to get to the answer can take any form. In fact it's often non-linear: the main aim is to get as close as possible to people and the cultural world we inhabit. 

Many people have the misconception that research is about mundane numbers, tables, graphs, surveys but it’s so much more than this. It’s a vast industry, which harnesses the academic, social and psychological, to the frame and inspire the creative and strategic.

"I’ve been working in research & brand consultancy now for 4 years and it seems to always stay fresh and exciting. One week I could be working on a fashion brand exploring youth styles in London and the next week understanding what ‘delight’ means in Lagos. I love that the focus of my job is to ask questions about human nature and immerse myself in different cultures."
Tracey Osunde, Flamingo

Asking around my office, it seems that what most researchers love is how diverse and broad the profession is. You’ll work on a range of brands, in a range of different categories, investigating a range of different questions in a wide range of different countries. Even day-to-day it’s different – from conducting groups, to brainstorming in analysis sessions, to writing think/trends pieces . . . the world is literally your oyster in research!

One thing to note before delving into a career in research is that different companies have different areas of specialism. The company I work for, Flamingo, is a global insight and brand consultancy which focuses on positioning brands and understanding people through a cultural lens. At Flamingo, we very often go beyond research 'findings' to work directly on the more strategic implications. Other companies may have a different skew: whether this is health-care, youth, innovation, retail or UK only research. It’s important to do research into the companies you are interested in to find out if their approach is right for you.

Getting Into Research

Research companies generally look for very well rounded candidates who are smart, personable and interesting. Different companies may look for different things, but at flamingo we try to find people who:

  • Are curious about life, people, culture and brands
  • Have a strong academic background (Humanities and Languages a plus)
  • Are intelligent, analytical and creative
  • Are hard-working and organized
  • Are confident communicators and good listeners
  • Have a breadth of interests 
  • Are interested in travel and getting to know different cultures
  • Are ideally fluent in one or two languages
  •  . . . and nice: having the ability to build a rapport with people from all walks of life

You’ll begin your career as a Research Executive – in this role you’ll be learning a lot of new skills such as moderating and debrief writing. On projects, you will be supporting the team – helping to organise many aspects of projects, attending fieldwork, helping in analysis sessions. Once you are an SRE (Senior Research Executive) you’ll take more of a responsibility for the day-to-day running of projects and make a major contribution to analysis and debrief writing . . . from here you’ll just go onwards and upwards.

SO, if you want a job that’s extremely varied, exciting and always interesting; where you get to think a lot and meet all kinds of people from Sheffield to Shanghai; if you get a kick out of analysing the small, obscure and grand things in life then why not fuel your curiosity and look into a career in qualitative research!

    Article provided by Tracey Osunde, Project Director, Flamingo

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February 2018

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