The 3 Questions that will Elevate your Qual Research Results
Posted on May 17, 2017
Written by Hunter Thurman
Most qual research still yields the WHAT. Here’s how to make it yield the WHY.
For as long as qualitative market research has existed, it has been conducted in the same basic fashion: ask consumers what they THINK they think, or what they THINK they would do. And regardless of whether it’s conducted in a paper survey, mall intercept, focus group room, or on a whiz-bang mobile phone screen, ethnographic market research companies agree that this basic research approach continues to yield the same basic answers.
As they craft research plans and evaluate potential market research providers, the challenge for market research pros is that every agency talks a good game, and comparing the value of one technique vs. another is an apples-and-oranges conundrum…
Everyone knows that we’re trying to truly understand consumer behavior. However, few have the proficiency to really deliver it. As you craft your next research RFP, pondering 3 simple questions will help you separate the real-deal from the business-as-usual…
1. What are the WHYs you really need to understand?
Do you need to know “how to prevent share loss to store brand products?” Or, is the challenge actually to “uncover WHY consumers are migrating to store brand products?” And, when you say “consumers,” should research be focusing on current users? Light users? Competitive users?
Leveraging the fields of neuroscience, behavioral science, and evolutionary psychology can help prioritize the foundational emotions and perception drivers that compel human behavior – and help focus a research brief on the aspects of consumer emotions and perceptions that truly drive behavior in your category.
So when you tighten the focus and frame research deliverables as WHY answers, it’s much easier to assess whether the question has truly been answered. And, it results in much more accurate learning to enable real progress towards uncovering the reasons behind consumer behavior that you seek.
2. What pearls lie within your past research and existing knowledge?
Market understanding is a journey, not a project. So any primary research should stand on the shoulders of all that has preceded it, and help inform deeper questioning in key areas. Some marketing research firms offer techniques, frameworks, and expertise that can reveal lots more from past work (and even tribal knowledge within the company) than might meet the eye. Ask potential vendors directly how they address this, and how they use existing knowledge to form hypotheses that enable primary research to dig deeper where it matters most.
Let’s consider the marriage of research and science: Research is defined as observing behavior and reporting what was observed. Science is defined as forming a framework via informed hypotheses, and then using that framework to understand the causation behind observed behavior.
In the hyper-saturated world of brand marketing, understanding causation (aka “the WHY”) is the only way to truly understand – and to enable solutions that truly address it. Need laddering techniques within behavioral science can be very effective in squeezing much more value from the round-file of past research.
3. What truly new lens will you look through?
Remember that asking someone why they behave in a certain way will yield the same perspective – regardless of whether it’s asked face-to-face, in a mobile check-in, or otherwise. Resist the illusion that a new way of asking the question will actually improve the question itself. So what lens will a potential technique or partner bring that you haven’t leveraged before? In what ways will qualitative research observe what a participant is ACTUALLY doing versus what she THINKS she’s doing?
The practice of psychology provides a number of ways to empower a respondent to provide a more transparent view of what’s really driving her perception and behavior. While “the rules” of market research dictate that a respondent ONLY report on her own opinions, psychology reveals that a person is actually quite astute at explaining the behaviors of others. This is because she’s able to assess others objectively – a few research techniques to keep in mind…
- Ask a family member – empowering a mom, for example, to conduct a video interview of her child lets her discover things even she didn’t realize.
- Explain it to a newbie – asking someone to explain a product, or category, to someone with no knowledge of it (such as an imaginary newly-emigrated friend) lets her strip away assumptions and biases to more accurately explain nuances.
- Watch what happens when nothing’s happening – observational research enables observations of things that may not overtly link to a given category, but directly dictate emotional perception. Be sure to look at a respondent’s entire “day in the life” to uncover the weak-ties that may influence the category in previously unrecognized ways.
These are simple questions – but the answers mean the difference between qualitative research that merely re-treads what’s already known, and research that truly enables breakthrough decisions.