Is that really you?

I have been reading William Dalrymples Nine Lives – his exploration of the sacred in India by interviewing devotees for differen religious cults. Dalrymple makes it clear at the outset that his characters and conversations are composites – names are changed – identities merged. But as a travel writer he doesn't seem worried that this affects the integrity of his writing. Johan Hari by contrast has incurred the fury of his journalist colleagues when it appears that he has spiced up interviews with quotations from those same individuals sometimes made months if not years before. It is correctly attributable but not when he interviewed them. This according to journalists is plagiarism – presumably of the journalist who conducted the interview from which the quotation is plundered.

Which gave me pause for thought about how we represent individuals in market research – I know of unscrupulous planners who don't even run the focus groups but write the findings and quotations to match. they know the market well enough apparently. Leaving that kind of fraud swiftly aside there is still the inventing of quotes. Which happens quite a lot because unless you have taken the trouble to transcribe exactly what that person said – or gone back to the original audio or video recording it is very unlikely that your quotation has captured what the speaker said or intended. I opted many years ago to transcribe quotations verbatim because I noticed that if the phone went while I was doing a transcription and I finished the phase from memory then went back after the phone call to check the original I had invariable condesnsed what had been said and put it into other words. Memory does not lay down verbatim quotations unless you memorise. From short term into long term memory. 

There is so much insight in how a person says something as well as what they say that I have never dared to represent them by approximating it. It would be like whistling a tune you heard played by a violinist to convey what it sounded like.  Even though individuals are useful in research only insofar as they represent what lots of people think and feel – to get the precision of that feeling we have to be particular – we can't iron it out to a general sentiment. Which is why market research although it is being disintermediated by the internet as we speak – is not going to go out of fashion. Human experience articulated through language is still fundamental to growing your business. And nobody does it better. When a market researcher does it properly and well.  



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