What do vegetarianism and retirement have in common?

Answer 1: they are both evolving and complex consumer landscapes that people try to 'make sense' of.

Answer 2: They are both topics of upcoming conference papers of ours!

What this means

Broadly speaking we can characterise markets as:

  • Stable, or
  • Fluctuating

Stable markets are dominated by the same competitors that have been in the market for years. People make choices of the products and services on offer for the same reasons they did last year or the year before (though of course they might switch brands from time to time). Fluctuating markets used to be like that but something happened. Take the vegetarian food market for example. What was once a very niche market with very little commercial presence has been forced more recently to reflect the growing popularity of veganism, especially influencers on YouTube. Then climate change activists promoted the values of sustainability more loudly than ever before. Then plant-based foods came along and the fast food marketers started to talk the vegetarian talk. In other words, new entrants came in and started talking in new and different ways. At the moment, it is hard to know exactly where this will go.

These are some ways in which people behave when the competitive landscape is continuing to change:

  • They take baby steps before committing - like the approximately 10% of people who cut down their hours before retiring

  • They change their minds as new opportunities come their way, like the 26% of recent retirees who do occasional paid work

  • They change their minds in response to social or cultural pressures, like some vegetarians who stop wearing leather for sustainability reasons, and then start wearing it again when they find the non-leather alternatives end up in land-fill. No right or wrong answers here - just people trying to do their best.

Complex competitive landscapes need new research thinking

All our finely-tuned market and social research techniques and practices grew out of the stable market model - the concept of loyalty; idea that attitude predicts behaviour; the idea that people make 'a' decision and then stick to it. Research based on assumptions like this will give little insight into these complex and dynamic marketplaces. For this, we need new research thinking.

As anyone who has read our recent blog posts may know, we believe that sensemaking theory gives us the right intellectual approach to these kinds of research problems, because sensemaking assumes that:

  • People make choices as we go along and then revise our choices.
  • We  are social creatures who juggle competing demands from different social groups, and modify our behaviour accordingly
  • We are products of our own culture, influenced in ways we may not have realised
  • Our sense of our own identity is central t o how we behave:  "it is our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us." (Karl Weick)

With the landscape of products and services rapidly evolving, how do organisations keep abreast of changing consumer purchase and decision making processes? Our Sensemaking technique is an advanced qualitative research technique designed to help our clients navigate this shifting landscape, from the consumers' own perspective. Learn more about Sensemaking here.


Upcoming appearances

Sue and Suzanne will be talking about:

  • Making sense of retirement at the QRCA Worldwide Conference on qualitative research in Brussels
  • Making sense of vegetarianism at the Qual360 Singapore conference 
  • We are also in talks with another conference organiser about a possible conference on vegetarianism

UPDATE: Due to COVID-19 health and travel restrictions all of the above engagements have been postponed. We will publish rescheduled dates once they are decided.



Tags: Qualitative Research , Making sense, sense-making, Ageing, Retirement decisions