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FINDING the story

It’s the same every time with qual research pitches.

You read the brief, have the calls, write the proposal, answer the questions, wait for the news. When it comes, you can always tell in the first couple of seconds.

And on the good days you’re off and running.

First thing to do is to celebrate. As a wise old friend once said to me: “Give yourself a pat on the back.”

Next up, get a blank sheet of paper and write at the top, in big letters, what this project is all about. It’s always one thing, even if it sounds like many. It’s also the thing that’s going to make the project so interesting.

And underneath, write your best theory. I bet you have one. You spent all that time on the proposal. What do you reckon? Quick, before it gets lost in the flood.

Then it’s time to get to grips with the basics, if you haven’t done so already. Go to the shops, visit the websites, check out the competition, try the products, ask your friends, watch the ads. Look at the prices, always look at the prices.

Read stuff too. Spend a happy morning Googling. With a bit of luck, you’ll find a few ‘what this category is fundamentally all about’ type of articles. You won’t be the first person ever in the history of the human race to have given this subject some thought.

And talk to the client. You’ll be doing that anyway as you sort out the methodology, the sample, the stimulus, the timings, the purchase order. But broaden it out. What’s going on at the company? What’s it like to work there? How are you?

And get to their theory. Make sure you put it down too on that piece of paper you had at the start. See if it’s the same as yours. Doesn’t prove anything if it is, but if it isn’t, curiouser and curiouser.

Now it’s time to write your discussion guide. You’ve done that a hundred times before, so you know what works best for you. Mine are ridiculously long but I’m really just rehearsing possible questions. It’s the flow that matters, broad to narrow.

And finally you find yourself in front of the good people of wherever. With your eyes and ears open, antennae on receive.

Whatever you’re doing, however you’re doing it, the information will wash in. By the end of the fieldwork, with the pre-tasks and recalls, the observations and answers, the explicit and implicit, you’ll be full.

By the time you’ve done the analysis, you’ll be even fuller. But somewhere in there, a story should be starting to emerge. Beginning, middle and end.

Except I always find I get to near the end and I know I’m not quite there. I reach a point of kind of peak analysis but I still need that one big thought. It feels like a crisis.

So I stop thinking about it and take the dog for a walk. Halfway round, if I’m lucky, up it pops. All researchers need a dog.

Then it’s back to that sheet of paper. The one you had at the start with what the project is all about and the different theories you and others had.

Was one of them spot on? Was one nearly there but you’ve taken it further or deeper? Or have you come out somewhere entirely different?

Either way, there's your story.

All that’s left now is to go and tell it.


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