Getting More Out of Qualitative Research

Filed Under: Tools & Techniques, Focus Groups, Qualitative Research


Robert Relihan

By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President

At C+R, one of our mantras has always been “Get More.” It’s a philosophy in which we believe, promising our partners that we will always go the extra mile to get the insights they need.

I was reminded of this phrase in a conversation I had recently with one of my colleagues, Sharon Seidler. We have both been conducting qualitative research for more years than we care to remember, but that doesn’t mean we are not always seeking a new technique or approach. Getting consumers to reveal more about themselves and their motivations requires the biggest bag of tricks possible. But, finally Sharon said, “Lately I have realized I can look a participant in the eye and just say, ‘You can do better than that; you can go deeper’.”

She’s right. With the proper turn of phrase and tone of voice we can cajole almost anyone to dig deeper into their experiences and emotions. We really want to engage consumers to talk with them longer, to ask them more question. The better we understand each consumer we inter, the closer we will come to those insights that drive success marketing and innovation.

But, the landscape is changing. And, rapidly. When focus groups moved online, we reaped many benefits of efficiency and often depth. We felt that in the age of social media consumers would be just as, if not more, comfortable sharing their experiences in an MROC environment. And, they are. It is truly amazing to an “old hand” what consumers will reveal in a “chat” environment.

But, just as we did in a traditional focus group, we continue to engage these consumers with a multitude of questions as they sit in their homes at computers, which we often envision as desktops. Increasingly, however, more and more of these consumers are not sitting in front of a screen. Instead, they are going online in short bursts using mobile devices not particularly well suited to extended complex exercises. Over time, that experience will shape how they are able to interact with us.

So, what are we to do with consumers whose idea of sharing has evolved into a short sentence–with “lol” at the end–and an uploaded picture? Obviously, our methods and expectations will have to change. Here are some thoughts about that future.

  • For those times when we really need an extended engagement with consumers, either face-to-face or online, we may have to resort to using special panels of consumers who both agree to and are skilled at long-form discussion. And, if we do this, in the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, perhaps we’ll need to give them some training in creative expression. They will be more like expert consumer groups. They will not be naive, and will not represent every segment.
  • We will need to tailor our methods to the mobile user — short answers and an uploaded picture or two, perhaps a video. In effect, we will need to collect “qualitative data” and not engage so much in a “qualitative interview.”
  • And, if the focus of the qualitative activity is less on the interview and more on the data, the true qualitative enterprise will be the after-the-fact analysis. We will need less the skills of the psychologist and more of the skills of the anthropologist and art critic. We will need the ability to examine brief responses to questions and exercises and to analyze pictures and video as if they are cultural artifacts that reveal something about the psyche of the consumer. And, we may be less likely to point to a particular verbatim and exclaim, “The consumer said!”
  • And, we will need to find the stories that synthesize a number of brief comments and pictures for which we’ll probably need more respondents. Instead of an extended conversation with 30 or so consumers in four focus groups, we will sift through the five brief comments and two pictures each supplied by 200 online respondents.

Will this be a focus group or an MROC? No. But, will it yield actionable insights? I believe so. And, what is more important, is it an approach that fits the world of today’s consumer?

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