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Opinion: Is Everyone with a Scissors a Hairdresser?

Pictured: Tim Healy is founder and managing director of the market research company Mercator.

Continuing our series of articles about market research, in association with AIMRO, Tim Healy says hairdressers and market researchers have a lot in common.

Sometimes researchers are asked by clients to describe the big changes that are happening in the world; the things that are re-shaping how we live and think today, and which in turn might affect their marketing strategies.

 One of the more obvious changes is that we now live in an ‘everyone can do everything’ world.  Anyone with a phone is a photographer, everyone on social media is an influencer and everyone on Reddit is the next Warren Buffett.  And, during the pandemic at least, anyone with a scissors is a hairdresser.

 Sitting (online, these days) with representatives of Ireland’s best-known research companies at our Association of Irish Marketing Research Organisations (AIMRO) meetings, it’s clear how well Irish business is served by its professional researchers.  That’s not just my view – the independent ESOMAR Global Client Survey conducted in September 2020 clearly shows that AIMRO members lead globally in terms of the quality of research delivered to clients.

At the same time, in our ‘everyone can do everything’ world, it’s never been easier for people to do their own research, so what is it exactly that AIMRO companies can offer the client who might otherwise do their research themselves, or who might get someone else who ‘knows a bit about research’ to do it for them?  Here are a few thoughts…

 Expertise.  Maybe you have been cutting or colouring your own hair during the pandemic, or maybe a friend or partner has been doing it for you.  The second attempt was probably better than the first, and you or your friend may even have developed a certain level of aptitude.  But the reason we can’t wait for the hairdressers or barbers to reopen post-pandemic is that these experts are still an awful lot better than you or me at cutting hair (or colouring it, as Rudi Giuliani found out a few minutes after the rest of the world).   If the job is important to you, it’s still a good idea to put it in the hands of the experts and that applies to market research as much as it does to hairdressing.

Specialism.  Under this heading, look no further than Daniel O’Donnell.  Daniel’s heart is in the right place when he offers his services in the Registered Gas Installers commercial and, if there is little or nothing to lose, then why not have a well-intentioned acquaintance do the work for you?  But if your project is important, you need a research specialist, just as surely as you need a registered gas installer, and not just because things might blow up in your face.

Experience.  I had the pleasure of hearing Harry Hughes from Portwest speaking in 2019.  Portwest is a wonderful success story and showcases Ireland operating brilliantly on a global stage. He was asked after he spoke if he was worried about the impact of Brexit on his business.  His reply was that his business was founded in 1904.  Only ten years later, World War One broke out and, in the middle of that, came the turmoil of the 1916 Rising.  Then the Civil War, then the 1929 crash.  He knows that his business today is stronger for having survived those experiences.  Now, many years later, there is little they haven’t seen before and few hurdles they couldn’t clear.  That’s the value an AIMRO research company can bring to your next research project.  They may not have seen it all before, but they’ve seen a great deal, and all of that experience will inform the work they do for you.

 Perspective.  It’s a lot easier for hairdressers and barbers to cut your hair than it is to do it yourself.  That’s partly because they can see the subject matter from every angle, not just yours.  Professional market researchers will work to see both the woods and the trees in your world, and at their best they can show you a way out of the woods, if that’s what you need.

 Independence.  How good is ‘good’?  Is it ‘good enough’, or ‘quite good’, or ‘really good’?  When people say that “statistics don’t lie, but liars use statistics”, they mean that you can look at almost any set of findings and persuade yourself – and maybe others – that everything is as you would wish it to be.  This is called ‘confirmation bias’ – the tendency to look for any scrap of information that supports our own prejudices, and it impedes good decision-making.  The value of research from an AIMRO company is that it is independent which means that the researcher can tell you the truth about what the findings really mean, dispassionately and without fear of the consequences.

 So, in what we all hope are the final days of lockdown, take a minute to think about how much your hairdresser and an AIMRO researcher have in common.  Both will make you a nice cup of coffee, both will listen carefully to your objectives, both will bring all their skill and experience to bear on your brief.  And last, but not least, both have a vested interest in building a long-term relationship by doing what’s right for you.

Tim Healy is founder and managing director of the market research company Mercator.


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