Thursday, 21 July 2011

Market Research

I suspect I am a terrible person on whom to conduct market research. I don't wish to sound egotistical or anything, but I think too much. Often the multiple choice options don't include my view, and then I deliberate interminably over my response, as the researcher rolls their eyes, fidgets with their pen and generally just wills me to get on with it.

Wherever possible I feel compelled to answer surveys. This stems in part from a childhood of reading magazines with my best friend, when we took all the quizzes to see how compassionate or fashionable we were; what type of holiday companion we would make; or what animal we most resembled (very/ not at all/ tolerable/ a dog - the last was particularly hard for my 11-year-old self to take).

Furthermore, when I finished my English degree, many of my fellow students got jobs as market researchers (slightly preferrable to call-centre operators) and stood on the aptly-named Market Street in Manchester clutching a clipboard and harrassing passers-by with queries about their shopping habits and entertainment preferences. Naturally I would always take time to answer them - after all, there but for the grace of God and everything... Not that I had much to be thankful for; I was working in a book shop on arguably the lowest pay rate in the retail industry.

Anyway, the other day I passed some bored-looking geography students who were sheltering from the rain and trying to drum up enough data to write a report on tourism in Queenstown, or some such earth-shattering masterpiece. The questions ranged from 'how old are you' - they didn't even ask me to choose an option (although I could clearly see on the upside-down form that there were several brackets) to 'do you consider your occupation to be a) directly related to tourism, b) indirectly related to tourism, or c) not related to tourism at all?'

Now, to the (as you can imagine) obvious delight of the teenagers, I considered this question carefully. I am a full-time writer and work part-time as a dental receptionist to pay for groceries - or to put it another way, for peanuts. Forget what you've heard about crime; it's writing that doesn't pay. So what would I consider my 'occupation'. Is that what I do? Or what I do to earn money?

Assuming it's the latter, despite the number of front teeth shattered by snowboards or chipped during tandem sky-dives, dentists aren't really dependent on tourism. However, if there were no tourists, there would be no Queenstown. People in hospitality and tourism serve them directly; people who work in retail, trades or services administer to them indirectly, and everyone who lives here is affected by them on a daily basis.

Only the farmers are independent of their influence, although those who turn their stations into 'experiences' so Koreans can adopt a sheep, or those who havest grapes on their land to join the burgeoning tourism wine trail clearly rely on them too.

So, how to answer that question honestly? I picked c) in the end, rationalising that the occupation itself is not necessarily related to tourism, even if the location in which it is conducted is. I am certain I lost a lot more sleep over this than the hapless lads asking the questions.

You see, I used to be on the other side. I translated cold hard statistics into 'content-rich' (how I hate that expression - as opposed to what: vaccuous?) website pieces about career choices. I remember struggling with a sentence that informed me '72% of executive assistants work in Auckland'. I immediately wondered what the other 28% of executive assistants in Auckland were up to - filing their nails and drinking coffee? Skiving off to the pictures? Checking the cricket scores? Bleating on TwatFace? I was told I had 'uncommon and irregular thought processes' (of which I was silently proud) and that no one else would interpret this statistic as such.

Please tell me I am not alone!

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