Focus groups are a tried and tested qualitative research staple, having risen to prominence in the 1950s (1). Yet in today’s highly competitive environment relying on focus groups alone is limiting. If everyone just uses focus groups how can anyone possibly unearth new insights (2)?
Use multiple qualitative research methods
The recipe for success is to use mixed methods. As insights can come from anywhere, look in different places, from different angles, and in different ways. When designing research we advocate four strategies to unearth new insights; we call these the four Cs: Context, Challenge, Collaboration and Calculation.
To understand the context in which consumers make choices requires getting up close. For example, through observation and recording daily life. To understand who consumers are, their needs, behavioural influences and the processes involved in choosing to buy or consume a product. They are seldom what you think. For example, by exploring the customer journey (say in food) from discovery through to choosing, buying, storing, preparing, eating and using the left-overs and packaging helps reveal what’s important and nice-to-have at each stage. Including success factors such as convenience, ease of use and sustainability. Observing meal preparation also helps reveal product misconceptions or packaging inadequacies. And observing eating occasions helps explore social drivers and barriers. All pinpoints previously unconsidered product, positioning and promotion issues, and opportunities.
Provide challenging experiences
What consumers think and feel is based on their own frame of reference i.e. experiences, prejudices, and memory. Stimulating with new experiences helps uncover new, hidden or forgotten thoughts. Do this by taking them out of their comfort zones and giving new experiences. For example, giving consumers a new or different product to try, helps reveal new or unmet needs, or barriers to overcome. Combining loyal and lapsed consumers in a ‘conflict situation’ to debate what’s good, bad or plain ok about a product or service helps reveal barriers to usage. It can also shed light on the strength of views and whether, and if so, how these can be overcome.
No-one has a monopoly on good ideas and we live in a society with increasing free-flow of information and collaboration. Consumer’s familiarity with advertising and brands means that they are more ‘savvy’ and able to converse in ‘technical’ terms. This is a boon for researchers and marketers as it allows consumers to evaluate and create new marketing solutions. The concept of collaboration applies to both who, how to and what to research. The only limiting factor is our imagination! Involving technical experts or opinion leaders in research brings even more critical and creative thinking. It also brings the future closer.
Calculation = adds
While qualitative research is good at answering ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions it is less effective at answering ‘how’ many or ‘how much’ questions. Simple scoring techniques overcome the problem by distinguishing the ‘really good’ from the ‘ok’ responses. These also allow people to think for themselves and mitigate the group ‘herd’ effect. They also spotlight winning ideas and make sure research really helps marketing colleagues drive the business forward.
1. While focus groups are a qualitative research’default’, embrace the 4 Cs, to view your challenge in a new light and unearth more insights.
2. While quantitative and qualitative research were once different disciplines, and worlds apart, they are now blurring and overlapping. This presents new creative opportunities for researchers.
3. It is a myth that mixed research methods costs more. When writing your next market research brief be clear about your questions and guidelines – especially budgetary. This encourages agency ‘creativity’ ;-).
(1) University of Columbia, History of Focus Group Research
(2) An insight is a ‘consumer need, want or belief that points to a new opportunity. Perhaps giving extra importance to something that has previously been ignored, forgotten or dismissed. Net the insight should shed new light and aid the business or brand. Chapter 13, Managing Market Research, The Marketing Director’s Handbook.