INTERVIEW 11:
TIM BIDDLECOMBE

1.Tell us your story … 

I am a career market researcher.  I think I’m the only market researcher I ever met who actually wanted to be one.  I came out of university with a passion for consumer and social psychology.  I thought, how can I best leverage those skills? So at the time, being a 21 year old, impoverished ex student, the immediate lure of income won over any desire to do further studies so I threw myself into market research. London, 1981, I started working as a telephone interviewer, ringing up people who had recently bought a new car, asking about any faults that they had experienced and their customer satisfaction, which was great as people loved talking about their new cars and I’ve always been into cars myself so it was a joy.  And that love of automotive and market research has stayed with me ever since.

I started off life as a quantitative researcher and then I discovered the qualitative side of life.  At the time I was working for a large company and had no idea what qualitative research was.  All I knew was down the corridor there was a trendy, middle aged dude who had a company Porsche 911 and I said to my boss at the time, who’s that and how come he’s got a Porsche and she said, he’s qualitative and I thought, that’s what I want. So, I left the company and joined a qualitative specialist agency (didn’t get a Porsche though!).

I came to Australia in 1989, worked for an agency for a year before recognising that the Australian market was really under-developed research-wise, which is where the idea of The Leading Edge came from.  And that was wildly successful as first to market and I did that for 11 years.  I then started another business called Arnold & Bolingbroke and that too was successful and enjoyable. After 10 years of A&B I then decided it was time to reinvent myself and get new tricks and new ideas so I joined BrandHook, which was thoroughly enjoyable. After a year I then set up TJB Strategies (www.tjbstrategies.com.au) , where I’m possibly the happiest I’ve ever been working with freelancers and yourself on a number of different and fascinating projects with strong strategic outcomes.

2The Interpreters spend a lot of time trying to understand our clients’ customers and segments within the market as you would.  How do you understand the Australian population?

It’s challenging because you never stop learning and the Australian population is always in flux.  Social values change, so you can’t make assumptions about people today that you learnt yesterday.  You need to keep challenging yourself to understand people’s view of the world and their role in it.  For example, I’m addicted (for my sins) to Married At First Sight and at the end of the show I just spend a lot of time thinking about what I’ve seen and thinking about what it is about these different people that make them behave in such a hideous way to one and other and whether it’s a microcosm of what we see in our research out there.  The real challenge for qualitative researchers is having the right tools and approaches and the right ears on and eyes open to detect these subtle movements of different generations and social values.

3. We do a lot of problem solving at The Interpreters so we’re interested in how other people solve problems. How do you approach problem solving?

One of the problems with qualitative research is there’s a lot of data.  When you come out of half a dozen depth interviews or four focus groups, there’s enough data to fill a large stack of paper.  The challenge we always face is how do we make sense of this.  What you need to do, prior to the sessions, is to clearly understand what one is trying to get out of the research and the client issues.  But even still, you’re still faced with the challenge of distilling data down.  I’m a shower thinker.  I do my best thinking and problem solving, in the morning, with my head under the hot water, thinking through the previous day’s fieldwork and I come out of that shower with some clarity that I immediately write down on a bit of soggy paper by the vanity and that later sets me off on other points of thinking.

4. Interpretation is subjective but a key part of our analysis. We’re always interested in the ways other people might interpret key trends or things of interest from their specialism. How do you interpret the rise of Donald Trump?

I observe what’s happening in the USA with morbid fascination.  It is like a freak show.  I’ve been to the US a couple of times and I think it’s a fascinating place to visit but I would be very challenged to go to the States in this current political environment.  Americans say that it’s not actually like that but I say perception is truth.  At the very least, what America needs is a better PR agency because we’re getting a very dark view of what looks increasingly like a failed empire.

I think Trumpism has been caused by a number of factors, one of which is a generation or segment who have felt entirely let down by the Democrats.  I think once the Democrats were the champions of the worker but they became much more of an intellectual meritocracy which left a huge chunk of voters feeling ignored or left behind and having no one to protect them from these somewhat mythical threats to their existence or livelihood.  And Trump played on that and it was a powder keg waiting to go off.

5. Because we firmly believe that Information is Beautiful, we would like to give you a copy of Information is Beautiful, ‘a stunning visual journey through the most revealing trends, fascinating facts and vital statistics of the modern world’. Because first impressions matter, have a scan through and tell us which visualisation caught your attention and why?

Mountains out of Molehills.  I like it because it’s a three dimensional chart which I haven’t seen before.  I’m used to seeing stacked charts and things like that but this presents it differently and it looks dramatic and reminds me of mountain peaks so I’m drawn into it.  And then I see there’s actually data here which makes it more compelling to look at.