The Value of Being There: Rapid Iteration

 Note: This is the last 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.” 

Rapid Iteration is an ideal method for food development.

Rapid Iteration is a fantastic way to product optimal products with consumer interaction and input in a short period of time.

Rapid Iteration provides consumers with the opportunity to interact directly with prototypes, providing input on them and displaying behaviors directly to designers and developers. The prototypes are then revised and again exposed to consumers, building strong ideas in succession.

This method has been ideal for food and beverage development, package design and graphics, and package bundling versions (such as Club packs.) Now, with the accessibility of 3D printing, even parts of or perhaps entire products themselves can be iterated and refined this way.

I’ve found that Rapid Iteration works best when the professional team has a workshop available to actually make the prototypes.

For example, if you were working with a quick serve restaurant chain on a new type of sandwich, you could enlist a local store to make the samples.  You could then provide real-time input into the creation of the sandwich as interviews occurred (“increase the spice in the sauce, take out the onion, add bacon”) and deliver revised piping hot samples, fresh from the oven, for the participants to taste at exactly the right time in the interview.

Rapid Iteration is a fantastic way to produce optimal products with consumer interaction and input in a very short period of time. I’ve been using this process with concepts for many years – write, listen, rewrite.  Now it’s possible to iterate products the same way. 3D printing will only open the doors wider to integrated behavior-based learning into the product refinement process.

By incorporating the consumer into an active, behavior-based process; by gaining their trust and honoring their input; we can continue to discover the insights that inspire innovators to create new, relevant, exciting products for us to enjoy.  And isn’t that what it’s all about?

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

 

The Value of Being There: Expandable Base Qualitative

Note: This is the fifth 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.”

If social media has taught those of us in the insights business 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.

Sometimes, it only takes a small number of broad-based, in-depth interviews to identify a problem and the reasons behind it, and then you would separately quantify what you discovered in the qualitative research by doing a quantitative study.

Expandable Base Qualitative provides you with both the depth of qualitative and the verification of quantitative. It works because a good experiment is repeatable and, once you’ve narrowed down your key measures, the answers become repetitive. It’s a great central location or even in-store technique.

In one study, a company recruited respondents for a soap study and interviewed them in-store to capture their descriptions of their shopping decisions in detail. After a dozen in-depth interviews, researchers collected enough information to frame hypotheses regarding the consumer’s path to purchase.

Researchers were then posted in the store aisle to intercept about 50 additional shoppers and ask them a few key questions about their purchasing decisions. These later interviews were used to verify the hypotheses developed during the in-depth interviews.

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

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.”

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