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David Brennan on the state of online research

David Brennan
David Brennan is the Ex-Director of Research for Thinkbox, and Founder of Research Consultancy Media Native. David is chairing our research-themed 'valuing the engaged consumer' event on 7 December, so we got his views on the state of media research, and the role creativity has to play in a tough economic climate: 1. What significant changes do you think marketers and research companies need to make to their approach to gaining consumer insight? I think the biggest challenge is to properly integrate insight and analytics. The two have been kept siloed for far too long and one rarely informs the other. I also feel strongly that the quality control for both needs to be improved - as insight has become more cost-effective with the advent of online research, it can too often be processed with no real understanding of what the data is actually saying and with few of the required statistical checks and balances in place. 2. Does the industry currently depend on too much quantitative data? The industry needs quantitative data, we need clear benchmarks and performance indicators, and qual research cannot provide that. However, we now have access to more quantitative data than we can generally use, which often obscures the important stuff, and I think we need to be cleverer about how we generate qualitative research to enable us to really flesh out the numbers and contextualise them. 3. What advantages can be gained by looking at the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ in consumer research? Quant can tell us the 'what' but we really need qual to get a deep understanding of the 'why'. If we don't comprehend why people engage in the behaviours they do engage in, then we are doomed to continue to commit the same mistakes time and time again. I strongly believe that the online industry would have achieved far more if, instead of just assuming new digital technologies and solutions would automatically replace the existing behaviours (e.g. via established media) they had understood more about why those behaviours existed in the first place. 4. How effectively are publishers doing this? Well, it's interesting that it is often the existing offline media organisations that have been best at transferring these insights into the online space, and are generally thriving as a result. A good example is in on demand TV; it is the established broadcasters who have dominated the market, as soon as they felt confident enough to embrace it. I think the same is true for many print publishers. That said, purely online players have started to become much more integrationist and are becoming more successful at carving out significant niches for themselves, often by working with or around the big offline media brands rather than trying to replace them. 5. In a tough economic climate how can creativity in research be encouraged? You know, rather I would ask...in a tough economic climate, how can we afford NOT to be creative with our research? That doesn't mean it has to cost more, but if advertisers and other commercial partners are to be persuaded to spend in a tough economic climate, it will take more than a few cross tabs from a quant survey to persuade them! It's a challenge worth taking on, because many of the most creative solutions in any market often emerge during tough economic periods. When I was at Thinkbox, we took some major risks with the research we commissioned (ethnography, neuroscience, implicit attitude testing, biometrics, creative workshops etc.) but it was worth it because it opened up new insights into how and why TV works - traditional survey or focus group approaches could never have achieved that!

David is chairing our research forum on 7 December: valuing the engaged consumer. Other speakers from Mindshare, comScore and ITV with more to be confirmed soon. Free places for publisher membersfind out more or book here.

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