Where are you from? A seemingly innocent staple of small talk. However, you’d be surprised how often my response ‘the East-Midlands’ garners reactions of puzzlement, confusion, or in some cases, amusement.
This is a personal experience of the North-South divide, (which from this writer’s experience is a chasm down which the Midlands disappear) but it is an issue that continues to fill column inches, produce government research and provoke passionate debate.
But what note, if any, should we take of this mythical line across the country?
As a young researcher starting a career and life in London I found it difficult to adapt to the environs of the capital and its particular pace and rhythms. I vowed never to lose sight that London and the South-East offered a very different experience of the UK than found elsewhere. However as the years have passed, I have turned into that very London-centric animal I so wanted to avoid, which whilst in itself is no bad thing, inherently colours the way I view the world.
A researcher’s inquisitive mindset helps guard against personal views and experiences influencing the way we work, but nevertheless it can be all too easy to make assumptions in both the design and analysis of research that can mean missing out on valuable insights.
Along with many other interrelated factors, the environment in which consumers live and work of course has a significant impact on how they might react to, use or feel about new products, brands or concepts. This might simply be because the latest trend that isn’t quite relevant in a certain part of the country, or a more fundamental issue of logistics. For example, in a recent project we found the reaction and comprehension of an airline’s new propositions met with sharply contrasting receptions in Manchester and London due to the vastly different range of airports and routes available. This may seem painfully obvious, but is crucial to the successful development of the propositions – and more fundamentally – to inform the research design.
Therefore, whilst it is relatively straightforward to be sensitive to differences (cultural or otherwise) when looking at markets internationally, it is something that can easily be forgotten by clients and researchers when thinking about the various regions of the UK. This can mean missing out on better understanding of consumers and possible opportunities in the market.
Try telling a Liverpudlian and a Mancunian they are the same and it’s likely their reaction will give you enough proof that it is a mistake to assume that what works in one part of the UK will do so elsewhere!