Innovative Approaches to the Question: “Why?”

Qual360 Europe 2018


Last week the Qual360 Conference was in Berlin for its annual European event. Running over 2 days, and now in its 8th year, this dedicated qual conference is growing in stature and geographical relevance - mirroring perhaps the growing role of qual, making sense of the heaps of data we are now surrounded with daily.

Conference Impressions from Happy Thinking People


(Bild:Happy Thinking People/Jens Cornelissen, Merlien)

(Bild:Happy Thinking People/Jens Cornelissen, Merlien)


It was well attended, with 106 delegates from 23 countries; an impressive 37 percent were from client side, a past president of the QRCA - Kendall Nash – was there too.

The theme was "Evolve and Transform", the range of topics and approaches covered impressively broad, encompassing VR, semiotics, biometrics, ethnographies, co-creation formats and more. 

Senior client side researchers from a range of industries and countries took stage to share examples of how qual was adding concrete value to their businesses – Delivery Hero, Shell, KAO, Barclaycard Coca-Cola, IFF for example. 

Impossible to mention all the topics and talks, so here’s some personal highlights - no disrespect intended to those not mentioned:

  • Biometric approaches that work at speed – Gold conference sponsor September Strategie & Forschung described how they met the "agile challenge" by offering 2 day turnaround projects with a mix of emotional response assessment via multiple biometric measurements and in-depth interviews.
  • VR is impacting qual – perhaps as a tool to access people’s more uninhibited responses. 

Dirk Ziems of concept m talked about its flexibility and iterative potential.

(Bild:Happy Thinking People/Jens Cornelissen, Merlien)

(Bild:Happy Thinking People/Jens Cornelissen, Merlien)


Ericsson Consumer Lab’s Michael Björn shared learnings from an experimental project with virtual group discussions, where VR participants from different locations across the globe joined a virtual group in a virtual room with their avatars to discuss the future of telecommunication. The benefits are generic to digital: overcoming geographic boundaries, fast, iterative, relatively easy to execute once a virtual room is established. The challenges were more eye-opening: i) a shocking lack of behavioural rules amongst truly uninhibited participants – trolling, comments bordering on sexual harassment, borderline racist remarks. ii) new moderation skills required (avatars in your face, constantly walking around) iii) new analysis skills needed (avatar behaviour in the VR room versus body language, avatar choice vs. choice of clothes). All "very challenging" as Mr. Björn noted. 


(Bild:Happy Thinking People/Jens Cornelissen, Merlien)

(Bild:Happy Thinking People/Jens Cornelissen, Merlien)



  • As a counter-balance to immersive tech, the power of ethnographies, of "real life" in the raw was shared by Shell/ BAMM in a study of global trucker communities – client and agency hung out with truckers at roadside cafes, bars. Take-out: if you observe closely, less questions are needed – and the video footage is jaw-droppingly fascinating.
  • KAO’s Susanne Stahl and Happy Thinking People’s Nina Keller shared a case of how complex results can be communicated differently. They shared an XXL poster format capturing trends and their relative importance and interconnectivity via a visually impressive galaxy map. Glance at the map and you "get it" in an instant. 
  • Northstar and Jaguar/Land Rover took stakeholder engagement to new heights, adopting and adapting a TV format "The Apprentice" from start to finish in a customer understanding project. Cost and timing constraints seemed to be refreshingly absent.  

There was more – Respondi teased the audience with how qual could interpret behavioural data on an online purchase journey without any participant interaction. Sky UK wowed everyone with the scope of its impressive in-house research toolkit, with an overall team of 40 researchers and a team dedicated purely to qual. Delivery Hero showed convincingly how qual helped at the front end of a multi-staged qual-quant process linking journey mapping to NPS scores.

There was lots more. Mindful of the average attention span of 8 seconds, time to halt.

In summary, it was clear that qual is becoming strategically involved, it’s embracing technology and linking up successfully with quant and other adjacent areas to help bring the voice of the consumer in all its complexity and nuances into all sorts of client side departments. "Qual plus" seems to be a powerful recipe.

The question "why?" remains a powerful one in an age of data-deluge – qual is rising to the challenge as being the go-to place for authentic, multi-disciplinary answers.

Future challenges? I would say capturing the value – we are doing great stuff, our various voices are beginning to be heard, now we need to figure a way to ensure that translates into economic value.

Curious, as ever, as to others’ views. 

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