I find that in many cases, people will generally talk for the sake of being heard, whether they actually have anything to say or not. I am probably guilty of this myself from time to time. It’s why I try to keep myself from speaking one out of every three times I feel like saying something. It turns out that you can learn something if you stay silent long enough. 😉
I find that consumers in market research often fall into similar talking traps. If you ask a question in a focus group, in-depth interview or even a more immersive, ethnographic setting, chances are consumers will feel compelled to answer, whether they have a meaningful reply or not. Consumers often feel obligated to share an opinion or response since they are being paid to answer questions…as far as they are concerned. What can end up happening is you end up with a whole lot of data that says much of nothing.
I find that the best way to counteract the response-based research effect is to supplement data collection in qualitative research with consumer-generated content that has nothing to do with talk.
I read this article today on Ad Age about Added Value’s technique of using consumer-generated narrative that got me going on this topic. (Thanks to Lenny at BrandScan 360 for bringing it to my attention).
I think you can get a great deal deeper into consumer’s lives, heads, hearts and souls by taking a more creative approach like this one. Asking consumers to write stories allows the benefit of context and adjective generation when it comes to finding out how they relate to a brand, product or category. The trick is, making sure you use this tool with the right target consumers: creative types often are better at constructing narratives, for obvious reasons.
Another tool I, as well as other practitioners, have found valuable is collaging. Asking consumers to construct portraits using words, images and their own drawings can unleash some powerful metaphors. And when you have a large enough sample constructing collages on a topic, it’s fascinating to see the patterns of metaphors emerge that can really help give meaningful direction to communication and product development strategies. I’ve seen it work wonders in categories like automotive, apparel and in FMCG food categories.
Photo diaries and journals are also exceptional tools for understanding lifestyle context. It allows the researcher the benefit of being immersed in a consumers life for a period of time where the relevent context is concerned, without having to be there. If given the right direction, consumers can generate a week or two’s worth of snapshots into their world that can be used as a part of a more holistic data collection regimen.
Part of succesful research is understanding enough about the culture of the target for whom you are seeking to generate understanding and customizing approaches that allow for collection of a depth and breadth of insights. Dialog and observation are often only one piece of the bigger data-pie when it comes to qualitative research or consumer anthropology.
And the fun part is, the more qualitative data you get from different sources, the closer you can get to actually quantifying the patterns you identify. I believe they call that “quantilative” research. I can’t wait till the day that art and science makes greater strides.
My final point is this: don’t limit your approach to consumer research by relying solely on conversations with consumers and short spurts of observation of their world. Get more bang for your research buck by allowing consumers to work harder and be creative. The result is not only more data to chose from, but data with much richer meaning that comes from perspectives neither the research or consumer can consciously articulate otherwise.