When talking to clients, I continually hear concern that traditional qualitative research methods may not be helping them understand what really drives human behaviors. And it’s a legitimate concern.
Many qualitative (and for that matter, quantitative) methods involve asking questions and waiting for answers (“look at this, and tell me what you think”). And what we get are rational, considered responses, but that is only a portion of what really drives human behavior. It is therefore critical to use qualitative approaches that can tap into System 1 thinking in order to better understand the subconscious influencers and drivers of human behavior.
Here are three ideas to consider:
- Utilize projective techniques. Personification exercises, brand obituaries, picture sorts, collages, word associations, deprivation exercises, and a whole host of other projective techniques are designed to get below surface responses to uncover subconscious attitudes, feelings, and behaviors. When thoughtfully incorporated into a group session or interview, they can break down barriers, foster communication, and mine emotional depths that simply wouldn’t surface with a basic Q&A approach.
- Incorporate an observational component. This allows you to observe discrepancies in behavior between what someone says they do and what they actually do. Many behaviors, particularly those that are repeated day after day, are automatic and sometimes totally subconscious. By discussing what we have observed after the fact, more nuanced answers are elicited.
- Capture “in-the-moment” behaviors using mobile technology. For example, we’ve used mobile intercepts with panel members whose location services are on and who enter a geo-fenced location. This allows us to capture respondents’ reactions to an experience as it takes place and before they’ve had a chance to consider their response.
It is our responsibility as qualitative researchers to continually seek ways to get below surface responses, uncover a more complete story, and gain insights that are grounded in consumers’ actual behaviors rather than their reported ones.