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At Northstar, we describe ourselves as a full service global boutique; able to deliver large, multi-market studies with the creativity, enthusiasm and attention to detail expected from a smaller agency.

We use qualitative and quantitative methods to deliver best in class insight + best in class insight communication. By thinking creatively, we increase levels of participant engagement to reveal more of what you need to know. And by thinking differently, we increase levels of engagement within your organisation. This makes stakeholders listen to, and action, insight, increasing the value insight delivers.

80% of our projects are international, multi-market studies. We are experts in conducting research and interpreting insight anywhere from Surbiton to Shenzhen. To do this we have a dedicated and enthusiastic team from varied educational backgrounds - linguistics, statistics, design, marketing, sociology, business management, engineering, politics and psychology. This allows us to generate diverse methodologies, be analytically robust and visually creative.

Northstar also collaborates with experts, academics and media commentators across our various research fields, giving us a more informed perspective. Additionally, we regularly attend and speak at industry conferences and events, sharing our methodological and sector knowledge and keeping up to date with industry developments. We also run our own series of knowledge sharing events, ‘Beneath the Surface’.

The impact of our work has been consistently recognised by the market research industry. In 2019, we won the Bronze ESOMAR Research Effectiveness Award and were shortlisted as one the MRS's Global Agencies of the Year. We have won, or been nominated for, industry awards every year since 2012. This includes awards for: Insight Management, Research Innovation, International Research, Best Young Researcher and Qualitative Excellence.

Automotive, Drinks (Alcoholic), Drinks (Non-alcoholic), Fashion/Clothing, Finance/Investment – Business, Finance/Investment – Personal, FMCG – General, Food, Information Technology, Non-Profit, Online, Retail, Tobacco, Transportation, Travel/Tourism, Wellness/Fitness
Advanced Statistical Techniques, Consultancy, Continuous, Creative development research, Data Mining, Depth Interviews, Ethnography, Gamification, Group Discussions/Focus Groups, Hall Tests, Multivariate Stats and Modelling, Online Communities, Online Surveys, Qualitative, Quantitative, Questionnaire Design, Tracking, Volumetrics
Advertising, Brand/Branding, Business-to-Business, Communications/PR, Concept Testing, Consumer, Data Analytics, International, New Product Development, Packaging/Design, Pricing, Product Testing, Usage & Attitude
Affluent, Digital Consumers, Hard-to-Reach, High Net Worth, Kids, Youth/Teens
Senior Contacts

Jeff Johns (Research Director)
Jack Miles (Senior Research Director)
Rhiannon Price (Head of Qualitative Research)
Matthew Sell (Chief Operating Officer)
James Vaughan-Smith (Operations Director)
Simon von Haartman (Deputy Managing Director)

Breakdown of Personnel

Admin/Support staff: 2
Executive/Research staff: 21
Total Number of Employees: 21 to 50


Unit B3
City Cloisters
196 Old Street
Tel: +44 (0)20 7824 9870
Fax: +44 (0)20 7730 6303
Establishment date: 2000

International Address

Northstar Research, Inc.
18 King St E.
Suite 1500
Toronto, Ontario
M5C 1C4
Tel: +1 416 907 7100

Northstar Research (USA)
160 Varick Street, 3rd floor
Suite 1630
New York, New York
Tel: +1 212 986 4077

Why 'obliquity' leads to more impactful market research

Economist John Kay’s landmark book, ‘Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly’, is relevant to many facets of our personal and professional lives – everything from achieving happiness to running a successful business.

I believe that the book’s ideas about the relationship between excellence and success are also highly applicable to the way in which we, as market researchers, should be turning data into insight and, moreover, turning that insight into something with as much relevance and reach as possible within the company it is designed to inform.

So, what is “obliquity”? The term was suggested to Kay by Sir James Black, the late pharmacologist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, who believed that “goals are often best achieved without intending them”.  In other words, being too direct or systematic is often not the optimum approach to things – and, in fact, can sometimes be the root cause of failure. 

Furthermore, it is the pioneers and risk-takers who favour the process of adaptation and discovery who are often the most successful. But Kay reframes this to argue that it is the very fact of taking an indirect approach – something which may seem counterintuitive at first – that helps these pioneers to reach their ultimate goal when a direct approach might have failed.

The best insight demands the bigger picture
The relevance of obliquity to market research becomes most clear when Kay discusses the complex relationships between objectives, goals and actions – something that is at the heart of our profession. He talks about the difference between intermediate objectives and higher-level goals, highlighting that it is often short-sighted of people to direct their actions towards solving intermediate objectives, and by doing so they hinder their ability to answer the real, more fruitful, higher-level goal. 

In essence, our ability to deliver an optimal solution – and our passion for doing so – increases when we have access to the bigger picture. In market research terms, this is relevant to how we use and are given access to the strategic objective of our clients’ problems.To highlight this, Kay looks at cities such as Brasilia and Canberra – and I would add, closer to home, Milton Keynes – that have been designed to be optimal urban environments (intermediate objective), but that lack the vitality of real communities (higher-level goal) and, as such, “their very functionality is dysfunctional”. Or to draw on another of Kay’s examples, he talks about the superior level of craftsmanship attained when stonemasons worked to a higher-level goal (building a place to worship) versus the intermediate objective (sculpting an angel), “because they understood they were engaged in a great endeavour and that God was glorified not just by the magnificence of the cathedral, but by their own dedication”. 

We all know that the difference between providing good and great research is our ability to integrate ourselves in a more consultative role within our clients’ organisations – and obliquity helps us to understand why.  Access to the higher-level goal gives us license to find indirect and creative ways of getting there – and the passion for doing so. 

If a client gives us a prescriptive brief, and the objective is capped at “finding out whatx consumer type thinks about y product”, we can only respond to what is an intermediate objective. If, on the other hand, we are furnished with the knowledge that the client’s business model cannot support y’s product development programme unless it takes a certain proportion of market share from its main competitor in a particular territory, then we will likely approach both the research design and analysis in a different manner. This might seem like an indirect approach when considering the intermediate objective, but it has its focus on targeting the higher-level goal.

Embrace obliquity to deliver a more impactful message
Another way in which market research can benefit from the discipline of obliquity is in analysis and reporting. To explain this, I would like to draw on an example Kay gives surrounding the skill of an artist. He points out that the objective of an artist or photographer is to capture his/her subject, but that “we do not judge the quality of a photo or picture by how closely it resembles its subject” – rather, we are interested in the additional quality the work communicates as a result of its creator’s artistic approach to the brief. 

To exemplify this point, Kay refers to Picasso’s ‘The Cock’, which captures a cockerel’s personality far better than any photo or other direct representation of the subject could. In market research terms, this is akin to the difference between data or reportage and sticky insight. 

We can all conduct focus groups or field a survey and report on the findings, but to what extent can we – or rather, do we – find ways to get the deeper message across in provocative and creative ways? How fully do we embrace obliquity in order to help us deliver a much more impactful message than a simple he said/she said narrative? 

Source: Research Live

"Northstar's innovative research approach gave us key ways forward that, in concert with strong creative direction, helped us deliver the strongest exhibition attendance for over 50 years!"

- Claire Clutterbuck, Head of Audience Insight at Royal Academy of Arts

 "Northstar's international research experience was of crucial importance in the conception, exectution and analysis of our award-winning study" 

 - Natalia Plou, Global Membership Manager at World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS)

 "Northstar are unique in their ability to use visualisation to help drive insights more deeply into our business"

- Steve Hill, Customer Insight Manager at Jaguar Land Rover 

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