blog header image

Qualitative Research – Best Practices, Best Outcomes

Jo-ann Munoz

April 12, 2016
Jo-ann Munoz

Some of the most successful innovations that keep brands, products, or services ahead of the category and the competition are discovered sitting in a dark room, eating candy or other high-calorie snack foods, and really listening to customers.

I can vouch for this, having participated in several hundred focus groups, mining insights to grow brands and businesses. For example, the idea for a revolutionary new kind of cat litter was directly inspired by a consumer comment in a focus group. It sparked an R&D idea that hadn’t been considered before and a benefit no one else in the category was claiming. It was launched with language literally spoken by cat owners that left no room for interpretation. And it was a huge success.

If you are new to qualitative research – or even if you are an experienced focus group road warrior– here are some things to consider to help ensure success.

Note:  a number of companies offer on-line qualitative methodologies, which can be useful, but I believe have some limitations versus traditional formats.  For purposes of this article, I will focus on face-to-face qualitative interactions.

The first step is to make sure all project stakeholders understand the research objectives and methodology, and if possible, have them attend all qualitative sessions. That way everyone hears everything, and no one bases his or her point-of-view on what two respondents said in the first focus group.

Secondly, you need to employ a strong moderator. Moderators need to be able to guide a discussion without influencing it and balance the contributions of each individual in the group. They need to be objective and independent in their analysis and reporting of the opinions provided to them. Category experience is a plus, as the more experience moderators have in a product category, the more they are able to probe important topics, issues, and responses.

Third, prepare a logical, straightforward discussion guide and single-minded, focused stimuli.  By dong this you will be able to better understand the value of individual ideas and how to combine them into powerful value propositions. Be prepared to respond in real time. Have writers, designers, product development, and research personnel attend– what they hear may be the catalyst for a new idea that can be developed into a stimulus on the spot and inserted into the discussion.  It’s most important to have an open mind. You are conducting this research to hear what consumers think, feel, and believe.  Listen to them and park any preconceived notions outside.

Finally, don’t make decisions regarding the results of qualitative research using quantitative methodologies, that is to say, don’t select an idea based on adding up the number of people who responded positively.  Remember – qualitative methodology is directional.  Frequently, qualitative research will give you as many insights on what not to do as what to do.  Taking these insights and applying sound marketing instincts and experience will yield the best and most actionable results.