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Remember? Using Memory as a Research Tool

December 10, 2011

First-time or most compelling memory

Do you want to gain a deeper  understanding of how consumers experience a particular brand?  One way to do this is an exercise in retrospection, in which you ask respondents to relate a specific memory involving the product.  As is the case with all good projective techniques, the exercise engages the respondent, reaches a dimension not easily accessible by direct questioning, and  provides a way for the respondent to be “in the moment,” (or the “flow,” as Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi calls it when the moment is fulfilling).   Here is basically how it works:

Detailed retrieval of event including range of emotions

  • First you ask respondents to go back to a time when they first experienced a product, or when the experience was particularly compelling. It’s important that the memory be about a particular point in time rather than a “typical” event  (i.e., not “we usually would…” but rather, “One morning when I was about 5…, or “right after I got married”).
  • In addition to describing the event, the setting, the participants, and other specifics, respondents are asked to recall the range of feelings they experienced during the event – good, bad, or a mix.   As a testament to the degree of engagement in the elicited imagery, some respondents become emotional – laughing, or at times weeping.

Comparing the Memory and Feelings to Other Events

  • Ask the respondent to compare their feelings from the event described, to those of other events in their lives in which they experienced that same set of feelings.
  • Encourage them to come up with a different type of events than the one they first related (e.g., if the first memory event is about breakfast, the next account should be unrelated to meals.

Looking for Themes Across Events

It’s important to learn about the range of emotions associated with both the original and other events. This alone will provide a rich narrative that in and of itself may be telling. But the key benefit is in locating the experience in an emotional landscape. That is, where does this experience fit, in the emotions it evokes, relative to other life events? What are the consistent “themes” across the two events. So, for example, sleep aid prospects may not tell you that feeling “out of control” is a key barrier to taking sleep aids, but control may consistently emerge as one of their themes, as shown by its appearance in events they consider similar.

Learning Based on the Exercise

How the memories fit with unique product benefits

Output from this exercise is valuable in these key ways:

  • It conveys not only how a respondent uses or perceives of a product or brand in a particular context, but also the emotions associated with it.  So, a ready-to-eat cold cereal that’s been around years may conjure up the  memory of eating breakfast while watching cartoons on T.V. and associated with emotions of joy, playfulness, and comfort.
  • It provides a context within which to evaluate the product.  What other events evoke those same feelings?  Knowing this helps define the type of joy, and other feelings that are elicited when eating that particular cereal.

As with all projective exercises, the learning is only meaningful when evaluated in the context of other findings about how consumers perceive and interact with a particular product.  The ultimate task is to map feelings and associations onto key emotional end benefits of a product, in order to deepen understanding of  consumers’ relation to the product.  This in turn may  suggest possible interventions for how to make the product experience more fulfilling.

What’s Insight? A Question for Qualitative Researchers

August 4, 2011

Creative insights

Insight is one of those buzz words  these days.  Every supplier or market researcher says they’ve got it.  Variously defined as perception, or understanding, insight is often arrived at suddenly (“aha”!)  as when you have a brainstorm about a complex or difficult situation.

Aren’t consumer insights an inherent part of doing qualitative research?

Virtually all researchers claim to produce insights for their clients as value added, through “insight mining,” for example.   The term has been so elevated that it’s taken to mean something out of the ordinary, when in fact, insights gained from research are the norm.

Once when a client asked me when he would get the report, I handed him my focus group notes and easel sheets and said, “Here!”  Raw data do not make a report.  Neither does a dutiful rendering of the findings.  Any good market researcher analyzes the data, makes sense of them in a way that transcends the findings, and reaches a conclusion.  It’s part of the job description to put the findings  into context, and show where and how they fit into the particular marketing issue at hand.

True, some insights are harder to come by.

Some problems or opportunities may require greater insight and creative thought.  Coming up with “disruptive innovations” or other types of game changers are clearly challenging.

"Blue ocean" strategy"

Sometimes merely gaining an understanding of non-users’ resistances to using a product (not to mention how to convert them) is equally if not more challenging.

Moreover, being able to apply consumer insights using the right marketing strategy requires another type of insight:  how to link consumer insights to commercially viable options.   Without that overall understanding, even the most creative insights will be unsuccessful.

Insights are an intrinsic part of qualitative research.   They are especially important in certain types of inquiry, such as exploring potential new categories or needs.   But, if all good research leads to consumer insights, then it’s not a unique benefit — just one that in some cases is given relatively more attention.

Introverts in Qualitative Research

July 8, 2011


The “Wrong” Personality

When you hear “focus group moderator,” what first comes to mind?  Most immediately picture someone who’s gregarious, outgoing, a “people person.”  In short, traits most people associate with extroverts.    Introverts on the other hand are generally seen as “reflective” or “reserved,” feel comfortable being alone, like things they can do on their own, and prefer to know just a few people well.

In other words, they’re assumed to be loners who don’t like the company of others—shy, even. How could someone like that stand up in a group of people and lead a discussion.  And, according to the introvert profile, why would they even want to!

The Myth About Introversion

The truth is, introversion doesn’t explain personality as a whole.  Shyness, for example, is not the same thing as introversion.  As noted by Susan Cain in her blog post The Power of Introverts, “…shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.”  So, for example, Bill Gates an introvert, is not shy.  And Barbara Streisand is a (painfully) shy extrovert.

Introverts are not only not necessarily shy, it’s surprising how many introverts are exhibitionists!  Performance, whether as dancers, singers, actors, or speakers, provides a “necessary release” for some who generally lead introverted lives.

Benefits of Introversion for Focus Group Moderators

  • In a sense, moderating is like acting or other types of performance. It means slipping into the persona of researcher and working within a prescribed discussion guide, akin to a script.
  • A moderator acts within a research setting and focuses on a particular issue. So even though it involves working with people, it’s really more “task-oriented” in a way that appeals to the introvert.
  • A moderator solves problems by becoming an “expert” on how consumers think and feel, much the same as solving problems in the quiet of a library.  This is a key skill in moderating and when it comes to analyzing data and producing a report.
  • Moderators are valued for being focused, detail-oriented, and persistent — key strengths of some introverts.  Being able to see the big picture, is also important.  Contrary to the stereotype, some introverts are big picture people, “who would find detail and process tedious and mind-numbing.”
  • Coming up with insights is expected of any good moderator.  This requires the type of original thinking and creativity that introverts are known for and is increasingly more in demand these days.
  • “I do my best thinking on a plane.” Moderators often travel, which means they are less subject to office distractions.
  • Given the nature of the work, moderators are able to do much of their work, part-time, or at home (which can minimize distractions and allow for more uninterrupted think time).  Working at remote offices is a growing trend and it’s especially true for moderators.

All of this goes to show that not everything is what it appears.  People, including moderators, are wonderfully complex.   That’s what makes their job so interesting, whether they are the type who prefers going to parties, or spending quiet time at the library.

Watch This! Three Examples of The Power of Interactional Research

May 15, 2011

Doctor and patient in "mock interview"

Qualitative Research and The Rashomon Effect

In the classic tale of Rashomon, witnesses to a murder give different accounts of the same witnessed event.  Each witness tells the details of the story in ways that protect them, or make them look better.  The same phenomenon happens in qualitative research.  In respondents’ self reports, they may forget things, gloss over what they don’t want to remember, try  to make themselves look good to the moderator, or otherwise omit, revise, or distort what really happens.

Some of the distortions become apparent when the different versions don’t match.  What really happens?  What if we could be a fly on the wall during the event?

Role Play and Other Observational Techniques

Instead of asking respondents what they do in certain situations, consider observing them “live”, or having them engage in a role play scenario.  Here are three examples of how that method led to greater insight and suggestions for marketing.

  • Buyers and Sellers:  In one study, we watched a customer and buyer interact in transacting a sale.  Next we debriefed the buyer and seller, asking their reactions to the event, why they reacted as they did, buyer/seller satisfaction with the outcome, and the buyer’s likelihood of returning to the store.  Based on this information, the retailer was able to enhance elements of the sales training techniques.
  • Doctors and Patients:  A “mock” doctor/patient interview was conducted among sufferers who would be likely candidates for a particular prescription medication.  Both doctor and patient were blinded as to the purpose of the study.   The patient described her medical history same as she normally would. The doctor  took notes and asked questions, as usual, and made a recommendation or gave a prescription at the end.   The interaction and later debrief sessions showed that doctors did not always prescribe the target medication and/or provided inaccurate information—leading the manufacturer  to revise their detail aids and other communications to doctors and patients alike.
  • Husbands and Wives:  Financial decision-making, buying cars, and buying diamonds, are among the areas explored among husbands and wives, all of which revealed surprising insights that led to more successful marketing and copy communication efforts.

Don’t discount the value of observing interactions as well as hearing about them.   As touched on in these three examples,  conducting role play and live simulations of consumer behavior can not only verify findings but uncover new insights as well.

The NGMR Top-5-Hot vs. Top-5-Not: From “Fixed” to “Fluid”

March 8, 2011

Upon invitation by Next Generation Market Research Group, bloggers from around the world each contributed to a group post Top 5-Hot vs. Top-5-Not’ topics in market research.  What follows is this blogger’s take on the topic.

The Qualitative Arena: A more flexible, “fluid,” modular approach is what’s hot today, requiring market researchers to be faster, more flexible, and more nimble on their feet than ever.  That’s because of many factors, including:

  • The Economy. Today’s economical challenges that make clients more aware than ever of value for the money
  • High Tech. The advent of new technologies (e.g., flipcams, smart phones) that enjoy increasingly widespread penetration and enable faster, more flexible feedback from participants
  • Greater Demand for Speed (side effect of high tech). The demand for fast turnaround times given the faster pace of doing business (thanks in part to technological innovations)
  • Facebook et al. The growth of social media, providing raw data and the potential for real time research (as well as the risk of misusing the information)
  • Going Global.  Greater globalization requires methods that can handle physical, linguistic, and cultural “distances”

So, in accordance with these trends, here are the top 5 Hot and 5 Not Hot Not ways of doing research these days:

What’s Hot:

  • Hybrid research, including qualitative forays during, before, and/or after quantitative surveys–as a way of streamlining the process and getting faster actionable results
  • “In the moment” ethnographic type research following respondents wherever they go, in shopping, or performing specific tasks, as a more “naturalistic” method, and a check on more traditional methods
  • Multidimensional input (pictures, video, audio, behavioral, etc.) to enhance and extend participant’s verbal responses
  • Client participation in research/research design (with, at one end, do-it-yourselfers trying to make sense of social media and panel participants themselves, without the guidance of research professionals)
  • Global projects requiring guidance and materials sensitive to language and cultural differences and here in particular, the need for remote, online methods

What’s Not:

  • Large-scale studies with slow turnaround and hefty, wordy, reports
  • Studies using only face to face, or one means of gathering data
  • Geographically dispersed studies that require travel to all locations (instead of, say, in-person portions combined with remote techniques)
  • Groups based on wide screening criteria (i.e., tighter demographic clusters representing greater diversity more the norm)
  • Strictly verbal reports of what’s happening/what’s happened (instead of watching it occur, or learning first-hand through respondent diaries)

So what else is hot or not these days?  Please feel free to add to the list!

Show and Tell: The Power of Images in Qualitative Research

March 4, 2011

If deprived of favorite OTC brand

Want to get richer, quicker, deeper feedback from your qualitative research?

Give collages as a homework assignment to participants before conducting your research.  Even the least articulate respondents may have a lot to tell you, if you just let them show you what they mean.  The image to the left represents the depth of feeling and consequence a consumer said she would feel if deprived of a certain OTC product she regularly uses.

Collages may be about needs, brand image, “ideal” products, or anything else you’re exploring.   Here is another example showing how listeners of a particular radio station they preferred felt, and how they would feel if the station were taken off the air:

Life with favorite radio station

If favorite radio station were taken off air

In both cases, these and other images in participants’ collages, helped us understand how their morning “dose” of radio had an important impact on their day, including their mood and their interactions with coworkers and others throughout the day.

When interpreted in the context of verbal responses, such images provide another window on how respondents think and feel.  Collages may lead to a fresh line of questioning that may be stimulated by a particular image and its meaning to the respondent. And the net effect is a richer yield in terms of findings and insights.

Don’t know how to do it? See this article Got Pictures? to learn more about the benefits of collages in qualitative research, as well as step by step instructions on how to set them up.  Meanwhile, if you’ve done them, please do add your own experiences with collages!  What works?  What doesn’t work so well? Let’s hear it!

Surprise! The Projector is Always Running, Even in Online Bulletin Boards

February 11, 2011
Projective Techniques in Online Bulletin Boards

Face to Face vs. Online Research

An assumption among many seasoned moderators, who have cut their teeth on qualitative research conducted face to face, is that you can’t really get the same in-depth or richness of response from online bulletin boards.

And that assumption holds true for some types of research.  But in a recent study  designed to learn why a certain name brand retail store, new to a particular area, was not doing well, online one-on-ones conducted through BlogNog provided clear direction as to what the new store  needed to do to compete more effectively.

Projective Techniques Used

Two projective exercises were used in the study:  One was to write a eulogy at the “funeral” of one of the more successful stores in the category, and to assume that the newly introduced store (which was the subject of the study), would be its replacement.  The other was to personify the brands of the store in question compared to key successful stores in the area, imagining them as actual people.

What We Learned

The findings provided vivid and detailed reactions based on the combination of direct and less direct questioning.  The projective exercises were key in confirming and extending the findings.  Both elicited rich feedback and insight in ways that did not appear to be constrained by the online approach.  Further, there were advantages:

One advantage was evident in one respondent’s initial response to the brand personality exercise:  “I don’t think of stores are people.”   But when she came back the next day,  she completed the exercise.  Apparently, she needed more time to convince herself she could do it.   Another advantage was the luxury of “thought time” for coming up with follow-up probes and additional questions, without the time pressure of “real time” interviewing.

BlogNog:  Easy to Use

Another issue with conducting online research is that there is generally a learning curve associated with online platforms.  BlogNog is unique in that it requires virtually no training.  It operates the same as blogs or Facebook, with respondents and the moderator seeing the same set-up.  If respondents are asked to upload an image, for example, they see the familiar “browse” button used in many other applications.  In short, it allows the moderator to focus more on how to understand and learn from respondents with less technical distraction.

The question before conducting the study was whether online bulletin boards could deliver output enriched by the effective use of projective exercises.  The answer is that it did.  And doing it through BlogNog made it just that much easier.

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