Note: This is the fourth 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.”
The traditional focus group has struggled to remain relevant. But walking away from the richness of personal encounters and consumer intimacy insight isn’t the answer.
One of the big drawbacks to ethnographic research is the time and the expense of going into consumers’ homes. When studying a short, limited task that takes place in a single space, a Consumer Usability Lab offers an ideal replacement.
A simulated environment is created, such as a fully functional kitchen, and equipped with closed-circuit video to allow the team to observe. Consumers are recruited to enter the lab, which is stocked with the product being studied and a large variety of other supplies from which they can choose to help them complete their task. While the environment is controlled, the consumer’s task is not.
For example, in one study of resealable plastic containers, we asked consumers to fill each of three containers with leftover spaghetti sauce as if they were at home.
In addition to a crock-pot full of room-temperature spaghetti sauce, a selection of ladles, spoons, measuring cups and other utensils were available for use.
If they chose, they could label the containers using a collection of labels, tape and writing instruments. Likewise, any spills could be cleaned up using paper towels, cloth washcloths and towels, sponges and so on.
The consumer did not know what we were testing: sauce, containers, ladles, labels, markers, or paper towels. This ambiguity is part of creating a behavior-based learning environment.
After completing the task three times, the consumers were asked to empty the containers down the sink and wash them. They could put the containers in the dishwasher, or choose to wash them by hand in the sink. Following the completion of the task, we then asked the consumers questions about the entire process, step by step.
The Usability Lab provides a convenient environment in which 30-50 realistic observations can take place over the course of a day.
For other techniques that make the most of in-person research, check out these other posts: