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The Value of Being There: Consumer Usability Labs

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.

For a consumer usability lab, a simulated environment, like a fully functional kitchen is created.

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:

The Value of Being There: Co-Creation Workshops

Note: This is the third 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.”

 

Like a puzzle coming together, a Co-Creation Workshop directly engages product teams with consumers.

Directly engaging product teams with consumers can result in rich insights and new opportunities.

I 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.

Consumers are smarter than we think, but they definitely think differently than researchers or designers or marketers.

That’s why a Co-Creation Workshop is a great method for upstream thinking, like new product ideation, defining innovation platforms or establishing product R&D or design criteria. It provides a window into the consumer’s thought processes – how they shop, how they make decisions, what excites them – and brings the consumer directly into the process of ideation.

While directly engaging product teams with consumers can result in rich insights and new opportunities, it is imperative that the consumers be carefully screened and pre-interviewed for this method to be effective. They must be confident, outgoing, and able to stand up to the pressure of interacting with what are often very strong, very Type A professionals.

For the professionals, this method provides a greater emotional connection to the client participants than simply sitting behind the glass, observing. They can ask questions themselves as their thoughts unfold. I find that when marketers are honest with consumers about who they are and what they are doing, consumers respond with honesty in return, resulting in more intimate consumer understanding.

 In one study, a consumer product company wanted to create a fashionable line of products. In order to better understand what defined and characterized a “fashionable” or “beautiful” product, teams made up of a consumer and company professionals were sent to high-end retail stores and design centers. They collected information, took pictures, bought products and then created large collages using science fair tri-fold displays illustrating their findings. The consumers on each team then presented their findings to all the participants.  Afterward, the entire group participated in ideation exercises, developing fresh ideas for this new line.

For other techniques that make the most of in-person research, check out these other posts:

The Value of Being There: Observing with Impact

Note: This is the second 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.”

Observational research can be transformed into opportunity.

According to Kelley Styring, Observing with Impact includes intentionally looking for compensatory behaviors and conflicts.

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. 

I’ve spent hundreds of hours watching people shower, digging through women’s purses, and picking dried up French fries from under car seats, among other things, all in the name of science.

This ethnographic research, observing consumers in their own environment while they use a product, can provide compelling information. Yet, ethnography can be a risky proposition. By simply observing consumers, you might uncover useful insights, and you might not.

That’s because there’s simple observing like a fly on the wall, and then there’s what I like to call Observing with Impact.

Observing with Impact boils down to three specific things: 

  1. Intentionally looking for compensatory behaviors 
  2. Intentionally looking for and identifying conflicts
  3. Transforming these observations into high-octane thought-starters

Compensatory Behaviors are actions consumers take to make up for a failure in product performance. An expert observer will instantly spot that failure for what it offers: the opportunity to create an innovative solution.

For instance, in a study I conducted on what objects people carry in their cars, I found that people were stuffing trash under seats, in door pockets and back seat pockets. They were compensating for the lack of an integrated trash collection system in the vehicle, leading me to recommend various solutions to the problem.

Conflicts are different. Conflicts result from a consumer’s inability to rationalize their beliefs and their actual behaviors, or their inability to achieve a goal in the way that they perceive they should be able to achieve it. Some may point to that conflict and say that it is proof the consumer is lying, but I disagree. When I find a conflict between stated needs and observed behaviors, I know that’s a red flag identifying a market opportunity.

In another study for a stain remover, I found that consumers didn’t actually rub the product in as directed so it could activate.  Instead, they simply applied the product and stuck the clothing in the washer. By finding the difference between what consumers said they did and what they actually did, we found a marketing opportunity, such as adding a colorant that disappears when you rub it in.

Observational research can be transformed into opportunity for the innovator – if we open our eyes and see the signs consumers are sending every time they use a product.

It’s not just about reporting what we observe; it’s about offering thought starters (such as color change indicator mentioned above) that instigate the critical thinking that ultimately leads to strong ideas.  These ideas can come from you.  You don’t have to offer your observations and wait for the client team to come up with solutions.  Offer your own as thought starters and watch the transformation begin.

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?

Anyone?

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 Salesforce.com 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 (www.inyourpurse.com). 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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