Posts Tagged ‘qualitative research’

The Importance of Conversational Intimacy for Qualitative Insight

Posted on: November 29th, 2017 by doyle


From the desk of Carole Schmidt

Observations and insights are not the same thing. Observations provide us with behavioral thematic “buckets” of potentially meaningful fodder. Observations can be visual, auditory, tactile, and even latent in form, e.g., witnessing compensating behaviors.  Envision multiple customers each unconsciously biting open a package and spilling the contents because they didn’t understand they were holding the packaging upside down.

Genuine insights, on the other hand, don’t roll off the customer’s tongue. Insights emerge from thoughtful review, deep analysis, creativity, and persistence.  We love supporting brand teams by discovering those underlying, emotion- and value-driven motivations and barriers, those personal, deep-seated beliefs that consciously—or, more often, subconsciously–influence customers’ decision-making. Where do her confused beliefs about hygiene come from? Why is he so focused on fuel economy? What makes the association with “professional” so compelling in this category? Why doesn’t she trust our brand like she does our competitor’s?

Just like the developing romance of a couple, you can’t get a full sense of either partner’s underlying motives from simply observing them or reading texts. Insights are realized by creating an environment conducive to intimate conversation with the customer–whether at home, in the car, or on the worksite. Then, the participant has to be nurtured, sensitively guided using active listening and precise, skilled probing. This tango of comfort and trust is essential for a rich and revealing exchange.

So, how do you achieve conversational intimacy in qualitative research?

Champion the value of quality time with your customer. Latent beliefs, perceptions, and values do not surface in 20 minutes, nor on a mobile survey. The “why’s” that exist below-the-surface require hours with each participant to explore for underlying emotions and covert beliefs. Yes, it’s labor intensive, but there is good news: all of that time doesn’t have to come in the form of a single long interview.

  • Best practice: Implement a series of three touchpoints with each participant, to encourage a speedier development of a moderator-participant partnership. Three touchpoints can provide a surprising level of comfort to the participant because of the accumulated familiarity and trust with the moderator, leading to evocative dialogue.
    1. Conduct a 10 to15 minute pre-call for introductions, Q&A, establishing legitimacy, setting expectations, and calming fears
    2. Assign the participant a brief but relevant activity, then discuss it together by phone before the home interview
    3. Conduct the main interview at home (whether online or in person) at the easiest time of day for the participant (often mid evening), which further makes the conversation feel like old friends reconnecting.

Avoid the fishbowl. Just because research participants may permit a 4-5 person research team to come inside and chat doesn’t mean we should. Could you share your cleaning idiosyncrasies, the struggles in your family relationships, or bare your honest financial picture for buying a new car–with 4 to 5 faces staring at you? Social anxiety may not always be visible to the research team excited to see “real customers,” but we certainly can tell when it blocks intimacy and inhibits emotionally charged conversation.

  • Best practice: Research has shown that respondents feel most accepted, flaws and all, when engaged in one-on-one conversations. We suggest including only those members of the research team who are truly vested in the customer’s experience. We also suggest that you limit viewers at each interview–to one team member. Simply rotate team members across interviews. We’ll optimize that team member’s role so they’ll blend into the background enabling intimacy to bloom. As the only viewer, your team member will be fully engrossed as the sole interview witness, keener to identifying insight territories as they surface.

Surrender to the quiet. Closeness is the ability to let down the inner barriers that allow the moderator and viewer to see the customer as s/he truly is. When you feel close to another person, you don’t mind if that person sees you without your normal defenses—psychological and otherwise. This is where meaningful insights are born. According to the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, “even the most autonomous of individuals needs the kind of human contact that intimacy can bring.” This intimacy sometimes calls for patience and silent, contemplative moments that lead to participants exposing important emotional vulnerabilities. These silences feel unfamiliar and even uncomfortable to some team observers, who tend to fill these audible vacuums with the impediment of small talk.

  • Best practice: We are trained to communicate positively in an intimate relationship by being both active and empathic in probing our participants’ experiences. But we also practice being comfortable with silence. This is important for in depth exploration. For example, we may encourage a participant to wander into another room as s/he thinks about a particular query before answering. We find that many times, that momentary “silence” causes a participant to return to the discussion “dance” with an even richer, more revealing story to tell!

Strategize the seating. We request in our pre-talk conversations with participants that our chats and meetings occur from the most physically-comfortable hang-out spots at home, leveraging what already makes our participant feel relaxed and naturally contributory.

  • Best practice: Encourage participants to sit where they typically do. Create an “intimacy triangle” by sitting 90-degrees from the participant, with the observer at the far end of the triangle, observing from afar. This encourages one-on-one dialogue with the moderator, allowing the team observer to discreetly take notes or photos.

As your moderator, it is my job to carefully guide conversation with skilled, active listening and gentle probing. Your commitment to an environment of intimacy will optimize the participant’s psychological comfort and trust, making the qualitative exchange ever more productive and valuable, money well spent.

At the Intersection of Improv and Ethnography: Revealing Richer Insights

Posted on: September 15th, 2017 by doyle


From the desk of Laura Duguid

One of BlogPhoto1the most amazing things I learned as an improv performer is the prolific power of in-the-moment mindfulness. Improv is not about being quick witted on the fly. Rather it’s all about concentrating on the moment at hand and working together to move a conversation forward. The ensuing repartee is the miraculous by-product of being 100 percent present and engaged in the here and now, rather than mentally mired in the past or future.

By experimenting with this technique in the context of qualitative research, I’ve discovered in-the-moment mindfulness paired with ethnography to be a winning combination. Ethnography by design is grounded in real-world interaction, and therefore a step closer to a consumer’s actual, experiential state of being. But you can inspire an even deeper, truer level of revelation about consumer motivations, needs, and emotions by incorporating some in-the-moment moderation techniques:

  • Count Relay Icebreaker: Loosen up your respondents and get them grounded in the here and now with this quick, fun icebreaker. After introductions and sharing of typical upfront information, tell the respondent you two are going to play a quick game to help loosen each other up and set the stage for a great conversation. Then, count to 15 aloud in alternating sequence, as fast as you can, i.e. the moderator starts with “1” then respondent says “2” and so on, back and forth quickly until reaching 15. Then, repeat the exercise counting down backwards from 15. When it’s all said and done, you’ll both be energized, more relaxed due to certain mistakes and ensuing laughter, and fully present and engaged with each other.
  • Maintain Moderator Mental Presence: Whether it’s keeping track of time, thinking about previous or forthcoming questions, or managing stimulus, distraction is an ever-present obstacle for moderators. One way to keep your mind in-the-now – and project that same state of focus on your respondent – is to physically orient yourself once you arrive at the interview. An easy way to do so is once you sit down, be aware of and feel how a specific part of your body is interacting with the environment, e.g. feel your feet on the floor, or your hands on the table, or your upper legs making contact with the chair. If at some point during the interview you are feeling distracted, simply re-orient using the aforementioned technique to get back in-the-moment.
  • Present Tense Talk: When you want a respondent to tell you about something they did in the past, or engage in an activity you want to observe, ask them to talk you through it speaking in the present tense. Doing so literally puts the respondent in-the-moment mentally, thereby aiding recall and greater depth of insight.

These tools work well in traditional focus groups, too. In-the-moment techniques can help bridge the gap between real life and the group room, enhancing respondent recall and articulation. In fact, once respondents are made aware the techniques make it easier for them to express all of their thoughts and opinions, I’ve discovered they participate without hesitation.

Tackling Tight Timelines, Tough Specs: Is Online Recruiting for Qualitative an Option?

Posted on: June 26th, 2017 by doyle

finger-with-peopleFrom the desk of Natanya Rubin

In a world where the pace of business continues to increase but the demand for actionable, dependable results remains the same, the question in qualitative research becomes, how to deliver?  In the field department, we’re often asked to reconcile a tight timeline with challenging specs, and it’s up to us, with the help of a strong recruiting partner, to accomplish the seemingly impossible.  One option that we sometimes employ is to embrace the online recruit.

Prior to the explosion of online resources, a tough recruit was accomplished mainly by phone.  This was a dependable, but slow, method of finding qualified respondents.  Today, our most common approach to reaching a difficult target quickly is a hybrid of online and telephone recruitment.  Potential respondents are emailed (or even texted!) a preliminary screening survey, containing the study’s foundational specs.  If the respondent qualifies via the survey, they move on to a phone screening to ensure that they truly meet the requirements, and are engaged and articulate.  The online survey saves time and costs, while the telephone screen ensures quality.

Although it’s rare, in the face of a truly compressed timeline we might consider an online only recruit, where respondents complete the entire screener online, and never speak directly with a recruiter.  In that case, embracing the over-recruit is critical to the success of the study.  Although eliminating the hours and manpower that phone screening requires might save some dollars in the budget, an extremely generous over-recruit is needed, sometimes as much as 50% or more.  This ensures enough completes and enough high quality responses to generate reliable findings.  It’s never our preference to recruit this way, but in the face of an urgent need for results, this compromise can deliver.

The challenges of locating hard-to-find respondents are steep enough without adding a compressed timeline to the mix.  But thanks to the possibility of online screening, the chances of success are better than ever.  By deploying a hybrid recruiting method or even an online only method (always being aware of the additional steps needed, in that case, to assure quality completes), a tough timeline can be conquered!

Garbage in. Garbage out. The Need for Concept Optimization.

Posted on: June 1st, 2017 by doyle

From the desk of Carole Schmidtsusana-fernandez-56313

I’m just going to say it. We see a lot of bad concepts.

Look, we fully understand that it’s not easy to create a compelling new product and seemingly impossible to carve out real brand distinction in crowded categories. And rocket speed-to-market means you’ve got six months to get this thing on shelf!  But, sheesh, too often we are handed concepts that are still being written as we’re performing participant introductions during the research.  In other real world scenarios, waves of team review, and legal’s approval, have created some real concept doozers, delivered to us researchers either diluted to mush, with the core idea buried in euphemisms, or wholly lacking a reason for being.

I’m just going to say it. Spending time getting the “test” concepts right is worth its weight in gold.

Checking in with your customer along the way, while you’re crafting those concepts, reduces the misses on the back end, saving valuable time and money. Several “presearch” avenues are inexpensive and fast and they will help you get to great concepts, faster.

Relate to a need: The most successful concepts address a real customer’s unmet need or compensating behavior. How do you discover those? Get out of the office to observe your customer in situ by going in-home or in-car.  Tap mobile journals or geofenced intercept interviews to capture and understand the customer experience at the point-of-purchase or use.

Reflect the language of the target to increase relevance: Yogurt eaters are particular about thick vs. Greek. Gearheads know what a four-banger is. Tap qualitative social media analysis to get a handle on the language your customers speak.

Understand concept-product fit: When you have a product in mind as well as a concept, go both ways. Explore your concept first among some and probe for product expectations. Investigate your product first among others, then probe how to communicate about it.  This is where your internal employees/staff can be of great help, formally, with a series of moderated on-site or webcam interviews, or informally, discussed around the water cooler or lunchroom at the office.

 Consider exposing the concept unbranded, too: Probe, “Is there an idea here?” independently of revealing the brand behind that idea to better assess the concept’s strength and the power of your brand as part of that concept. Branded and unbranded concepts can be rotated in online boards just as readily as they can be in focus groups.

Communicate as intended: “Gives you energy to take on the day” was meant to be a sustaining and satiety benefit, but in research it was also incorrectly perceived as a telltale sign of high carbs or sugar to many. Communication checks for concept clarity are efficient and inexpensive; they can be done in a day, in–person or online.

 I’m just going to say it again. Take your concepts as seriously as you do the rest of your research spend. Get your customer involved in optimizing your concepts before testing them. We look forward to your future successful concepts!

Will the Trend Toward Urbanized Seniors Affect Your Brand’s Future? Four Factors to Consider.

Posted on: April 12th, 2017 by doyle

From the desk of Carole Schmidt

If you’re not an urban dweller today, you will likely become one–within 15 years. In 1800, only 2% of the world’s population was urban. By 2014, 180,000 people were added to the urban population each day!  In 2030, 84% of the population in developed countries will be living in urban areas.  While economic powerhouse “megacities” have doubled from 14 in 1995 to 29 in 2015, the fastest-growing urban centers are small and medium cities — already accounting for 59 percent of the world’s population!

So, who makes up the fastest-growing population? As it turns out, that’s people age 60 and over, a group that is growing at nearly 3.7 percent a year globally—one quarter of each of the world’s urban regions is expected to be 60 or over by 2050!

Urban SeniorsWhat is happening in response to the emergence of the urban senior? What should you be thinking about for your brand? Are your brands positioned for success with this trend?

If you’re not exploring how urban populations might help or hurt your brand or business, you should be.  Here are four things to consider:

  1. More seniors are walking, biking, using public transit: This means there are increasing numbers of small businesses, local retailers and delivery services designed to meet the needs of this segment. E-commerce will continue to grow because it brings products and services to this population. Is your product’s packaging easily transported? Is your e-commerce strategy optimized? Are you looking at geo-located smartphone and kiosk advertising to replace freeway outdoor spends and conventional TV?
  2. Packaging that reduces waste is critical for urban living: Fast growing cities are aggressive about reducing future trash. San Francisco leads the U.S. with an 80% success rate at keeping discards out of landfills.  Keurig cups were just banned in Hamburg Germany. If you aren’t looking at reduced packaging by now, you’re already behind as urban restrictions increase.
  3. Personalized healthcare will influence CPG development: Medical needs of urban seniors will influence product successes and failures. Just as local “minute clinics” and home-based care are increasing, so are wearable medical monitors that will soon respond to product ingredients and features, warning users, for example, “no, too much salt or high in cholesterol,” or “reviews say this vehicle’s seat design yields poor back support.” How will your products fare as medical care, customer reviews, and products intersect more directly? 
  4. As urbanization increases, senior will favor more hedonistic pleasures and unique physical experiences as antidotes to the stress of dense environments. Global travel is expected to increase fourfold in the next ten years to help urban dwellers recharge. How and where will seniors engage with your products? As a replenishing snack after their local spin yoga class? Can your appliances be redesigned to promote a pleasurable experience, not just a functional one? Will urban dwellers find your product wherever they travel, reinforcing their loyalty to your brand?

Urbanization will produce economic, social, and environmental improvements. Don’t let doomsayers distract you from the opportunities before us. Prepare your brand strategy to work with the growth in urbanization. Giving thought to how you can engage and nurture today’s customers as they become urban seniors over the next decade may result in increased loyalists for a healthy brand future!