As an industry, the research world has sounded rather end-of-days-ish of late. People-based research, we’re told, is on the verge of being wiped out, by Big Data one day, by automation the next and by clients cutting us out in favour of DIY approaches the day after that. These are all real issues, of course, but it strikes me that we risk driving ourselves into irrelevance by focussing on the threat to our methods, rather than on the real value we add through our thinking. Whether we opt for face to face groups or an online community, whether we use real world or virtual, what we’re arguing about is data collection. Of course we need to keep moving forward, to find better ways and to embrace media that are relevant to the people we need to understand – but is data collection really where we add most value? It’s really interesting that a number of comms and strategy agencies have taken ‘digital’ out of their job titles recently, because the inclusion of digital in marketing strategies is now so obvious that the word has become redundant: by contrast, the new vs old, online vs offline debates going on within research start to seem out of step.

Methodology is important, of course: the old adage of ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’ is as true as ever. And we should continue to work on developing better ways of doing what we do. It strikes me, though, that we researchers should talk more about, and therefore focus more on, the thing we’re actually hired for: problem solving. Data is our raw material, but it shouldn’t be our end product: as long as we outwardly seem preoccupied with data collection methods, we stay in the realms of research and findings rather than insight and problem solving, and we’re less valuable because of it. Our strength, and our unique value, should be in analysis, interpretation, de-coding and translating, in linking together all of the sources of learning, new and old, to build the whole story: ultimately, it should be in solving business problems and helping our clients move forward. In talking so much about approaches, I can’t help thinking we are arguing amongst ourselves, rather than communicating our value to the wider world: how many times have clients asked us to skip through the methodology description that we feel duty bound to put in our debrief presentation, and move swiftly on to the point we’re making?

At East River, we have 3 responses to this:

We look at an issue from the client’s point of view: where they need to get, what decisions they need to make, how they’ll use what we find, the strategic implications of what we’re doing – rather than just the questions they want to ask. And we challenge whether the questions they want to ask are the right questions at all

We’re driven by results, so we’re neutral on approach: we blend old and new, qual and quant, online and offline, spontaneous and considered to develop customised approaches – mix and match is often our favourite way. We judge every brief on its own needs rather than favouring trademarked methods: our focus is always and only on what will deliver the best and most insightful results

Most importantly, we deliver answers, not data. We reach the answers through detailed, rigorous analysis, and can take you through that chapter and verse if you want it, but if you’d rather get straight to the point, that’s fine by us too

By their very nature, research and insight tend to attract thinkers – let’s do that thinking with our heads up and not down, and focus on where we really add value.

Contact East River on 01522 778885, or email