Jason Oke is a planner for Leo Burnett -- a guy who spends a lot of time thinking about finding leverage points for the creation of great advertising. And is, incidentally, an excellent speaker. He thinks there's a lot of bad research being done, which has created a credibility problem.
Chief among his complaints is that there is far too much direct, literal Q&A going on, which we know -- I mean we really know this -- is not very useful. This kind of technique lacks so much subtlety, it is akin to "strip mining their heads," according to Mr.Oke.
By literal Q&A I mean approaches like asking people to tell us "what's important to you in a vodka", which will generate nothing that can help a vodka marketer. If the target group even knows, which is unlikely, they are hardly going to say things like, "I want to feel like part of an exclusive club" or "I want a wee boost to my social status."
This is not just true for products like vodka, by the way. I just completed a business study in which one group of people were clearly motivated by reducing their fear level. Now just how likely do you think they would be to [a] know that and [b] say it out loud? In fact at least one of them did know that, but she didn't say it, she wrote it down as part of an exercise. [Of course this creates an equally large challenge for the creative team, but that's another article.]
Jason Oke also believes that people are bored by the idea of sitting in a dimly lit room for two hours being poked at with inane questions and limp exercises. He thinks this is a major reason why it is getting difficult, and expensive, to recruit participants for focus groups. This was a new idea for me, and I think he's on to something.
Mr. Oke's recipe to turn the situation around:
 Take brain science into account.
People can tell us many things, but they don't have direct access to unconscious motivators. When we ask them questions depending on this access, they will tell us something, but it's unlikely to relate to the problem at hand. It may not even be true. But most people will generate an answer to a question like "what's important to you in a vodka" just because people are very good at generating reasons.
 Plan research activities that meet the needs of #1, and are also fun and engaging.
Mr. Oke's solution to the Vodka problem, for example, is to ask small groups of people to design a new vodka and how it will be marketed to people. Exactly. Generates great data, and is a lot of fun for the participants. He showed us clips from the tape, it was brilliant.
 Stand up to clients when they ask for bad research. Evangelize for good research.
The thing is, once clients have experienced really good research, they are left unsatisfied by the other kind. At least I think that's the case. I hope and pray that is the case. But it feels risky the first time you get on.
 Think of research as a brand touch-point.
Absolutely correct, and great advice.
Jason Okes' blog is here
Clips from the Prelinger Archive film about marketing research, here
Book he recommends [I have not read, but it sounds great]: Herd by Mark Earls.
Mr. Oke presented to the qualitative division of MRIA at "Qual in the Fall" on Nov. 9, 2007 in Toronto.