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The Value of Being There: Maximizing Impact with Behavior-based Qualitative Research

Does anyone actually think free pizza is going to elicit game-changing consumer insights?  Kelley Styring of InsightFarm doesn't think so, either.

Free pizza won’t elicit game-changing consumer insights, but adding behavior-based methods to your qualitative research will, according to Kelley Styring of InsightFarm.

Does anyone actually think that sticking 12 people in a conference room with a one-way mirror, promising them pizza and asking them a series of canned questions is really going to elicit mind-blowing, game-changing consumer insights?


I didn’t think so.

But I do think that predictions of the demise of qualitative research are exaggerated. And, while technology solutions to qualitative offer exciting potential, I still believe that face-to-face, visceral consumer qualitative is the best way to reach deep, rich, meaningful insights in many cases.

In fact, if social media has taught us anything, it’s that consumers desperately want to be heard. They have great ideas and they know how your products can be better.

Qualitative research, done well, can provide consumers with the opportunity to show us, and provide us the opportunity to learn.

At InsightFarm, we’ve been creating and using a variety of methods that go beyond the traditional focus group. These methods orbit a central theme – borrowing from the power of ethnography and integrating behavior-based thinking into everything we do, in whatever environment we find ourselves.

To be successful, they also require:

Stronger moderator leadership;

  • Greater sensitivity to the consumer;
  • Increased efforts to gain consumer trust;
  • More work to incorporate the consumer into the process;
  • More stringent selection processes;
  • Smaller, more intimate groups;
  • A flexible interviewing style, to shift with the consumer where she wants to go;
  • And often, pre-work to stimulate deeper, more considered consumer thoughts about the product being studied.

There are five methods we’ve used often with great results that span a spectrum, starting with those best for use early in the innovation process (offering more discovery) to those best used as prototypes are finalized (narrowing selections and confirming earlier hypotheses). They are:

  1. Observing with Impact
  2. Co-Creation Workshops
  3. Consumer Usability Labs
  4. Expandable-Base Qualitative
  5. Rapid Iteration

In upcoming posts, I’ll go into more detail on each of these methods and some examples of how different organizations have used them.

What are your thoughts on the state of qualitative research today?


Note: This is the first in a series of six posts.  They originally appeared as one article in the December 2014 issue of Quirk’s Marketing Research Review under the title: “The Value of Being There:  Five ways to Breathe New Life into Qualitative Research.”

Running in Place

“Which records will get shattered?” writes Nate Silver, sports analyst, in the New York Times. Good question. His argument is based on sports, of course, and he argues that sports like Swimming have shown the most statistical progress over time versus something like Short Distance Running. That’s because Swimming has benefitted from technology: better swim suits, less turbulent pools, etc. And that Running is something anyone, anywhere in the world can do versus Swimming where you need a pool you probably don’t have in, let’s say, Somalia. Good points, both.

Why should you care?

Two reasons: 1) new developments in the field of Market Research have been almost exclusively technology-based; and 2) for every trend there is a counter trend.While our development of new techniques is headed quickly and staunchly down the technology road with Big Data, Mobile and Modeling leading the way, we should see great progress on the part of our clients. I expect record-breaking accomplishment. While this may be the case, it’s hampered somewhat by the fact that my clients have trouble communicating or even internalizing the output of such complex solutions to what they perceive as simple requests. AND the accomplishments are of diminishing size, just like breaking world records, forcing some clients to ask – “Do I really need this much elegance in a solution for such small gains in the market?” Good question.

Which brings me to counter trends.

This is highly observable in life all around you. For every person blogging on their mobile you have a person learning to knit. Maybe it’s not 1:1 – often the counter trends are smaller. But it’s undeniable that for every Hummer there is a Mini. For every Burger King there is a slow food alternative kitchen. Again not 1:1 but you get the point.What are we developing on the slow side, the less technology-based side? What have you done to help your clients come to simple solutions to questions that set new records by increment?

Maybe… just maybe, it’s the combination of slow and fast, simple and technical that breaks the boundaries and sets the new records by a mother load. I’ll be on the lookout for this type of new thinking at TMRE 2012 in November. What is the crisp new thinking that takes us beyond the technology and into the realm of record-breaking accomplishment?

I’ll Have Big Data on Rye with a Schmeer of Survey

Big Data. Big Data. Big Data. It’s becoming a catch phrase. A lot of people are talking about it without even knowing what it is – including me! We’re wringing our hands as an industry, trying to figure out how to deal with something so large it’s hard to define and something that changes/grows moment by moment. And we want to deal with it perfectly – because that’s in our nature. Perfection has always been the enemy of the good in market research. It’s our Achilles’ heel. Meanwhile, start-ups in unexpected sectors are jumping in with both feet and perfecting as they go, like and this may be our undoing.

I recently had a conversation where a large survey organization – fretting over the expected “thin surveys” of the future. With mobile apps and embedded tracking of online behaviors, survey data is in the process of being displaced. Combine this with shorter attention spans and small screen venues, surveys are definitely going on a diet. And shorter surveys with less complex analysis means leaner margins if you think of yourself in the survey business.This is just the first shot across the bow and it’s coming from the industries sourcing all this Big Data. If we don’t dig in and lead, if we allow the start-ups to out-nimble us and allow those in other sectors who create the data to be the first to provide analysis – even if it’s imperfect – we’ll be left to fight over the thin scraps of the survey business that remain.

Time to pull up our big boy pants and jump in with two feet, just like we did on social media. And online. And neuroscience. And virtual stores. And mobile. Time to go get Big with Big Data so that we can do it the right way and integrate a thin slice of survey – like a condiment – to make it all go down easier.

If Innovation and ROI had a Baby

Joshua Kantar, a researcher with Caesar’s Entertainment in Las Vegas has been quoted as saying, “Thereis a tension between Innovation and ROI that stifles creativity.” When I first heard this I cheered inside like a middle school kid. How many times have I raved to someone about a cool idea or innovation program and had them dismiss my flash of brilliance by playing the money card? And how many times have I stamped my feet like a five year old – in my mind, of course – when innovation programs don’t lead to market introductions because they just don’t deliver the margins of a new flavor or new color of
the same old same old. But then, I grew up.

I started to innovate for my own company, InsightFarm, first by studying what women carry in their purses and why, so that companies could innovate new products for this home away from home carried on the shoulder of nearly every woman ( I was gambling with my own money. And as a sole proprietor, I was betting funds that could have gone into a college savings account for my kids, so ROI was a serious consideration. In fact, while recently scoping one of my new ideas for a syndicated study with a data collection firm, they dismissed my need to discuss what they called “monetization.” They said, “We can discuss monetization later, let’s just figure out how to do this.” I stopped them cold. “Nope,” I said “we can discuss it now because without it we don’t need to know how to do this.”

Ideally, every concept or new product innovation we test would have a substantive ROI estimate before it’s tested. At P&G years ago, we wouldn’t test a concept that didn’t have a creative brief already written by the advertising agency. Each concept needed to be translatable into advertising or we didn’t test it. ROI estimation is similar. There should be baseline assumptions that tie purchase interest, frequency and other measures to margin expectations used to set pricing. Pricing should be a part of every concept testing if you’re asking purchase interest anyway, so taking a swag shouldn’t be so hard. With this in hand, the “tension” between Innovation and ROI becomes a motivator for diligence in creativity. And creativity without discipline is child’s play, not innovation.

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