If you work for a brand and your role involves dealing with consumers, then you probably understand how qualitative research works. Whilst big data and quantitative testing can highlight what consumers are doing, it takes qualitative exploration to understand the ‘why’ behind their motivations and behaviours. This blog is broken down into two parts. For the ‘qual’ initiated, skip to part 2, where we talk about recent use cases on video. For the uninitiated, you may want to refresh your knowledge of use cases by reading the first part.
The ‘Qual’ Cliff
Qualitative research is about exploring the unknown. It uses methods and techniques that allow researchers to explore the ‘grey areas’ of a topic. Whilst the research is typically focused around a single topic, or engages with a specific group, interactions with the research team and participants involve freedom of expression and exploration. This means that participants can reveal the things that matter to them, share important perceptions or provide important feedback on ideas and innovation, all under the carefully guided hand of the researcher. The ability to explore these ‘grey areas’ means that factors which brands had been previously unable to consider, or which they believed were unimportant, can be shown in a new light and are often revealed to be the key to their future success. In turn, this can lead to grounded insights that can reshape services, products or brand perceptions.
Online Research Communities
Generally, qualitative research goes narrow and deep. Online communities are normally between 5 and 50 members, depending on the objectives and insight required. For most brands, it’s about:
- exploring new propositions to develop revenue streams and consumer-led growth
- understanding purchase behaviours and motivations
- exploring why consumers aren’t engaged with services and products
- testing what consumers think about a change of branding or a new product or service
Ultimately our research helps brands understand what they need to do to connect more successfully with their customers. If that wasn’t enough to interest you, here are (broadly speaking), the main use cases for online qual with target audiences:
Customer Lifestyles - Analysing how lifestyles influence purchase decisions.
Usage and Attitudes - Understanding how customers use a product/service, evaluating its appeal and identifying opportunities for improvement or innovation.
Customer Journey - The complete sum of experiences that customers go through when interacting with your company and brand.
Shopper Insights - Focuses on the in, and near, store behaviour and experiences of consumers.
UX - Looking at the experience of users interacting with your product and the emotions involved.
CX - Customer Experience, in contrast to UX, encompasses all the interactions a person has with your brand.
App/Software Testing - Testing product technology from a user perspective. Less functional testing, more testing responses and thoughts, feelings about the app.
Usability Testing - Usability testing is a technique used in user-centred interaction design to evaluate a product by testing it on users.
Branding - Focused testing of branded communications and messages with prospective audiences.
Brand Perceptions - General testing of what people think about brands.
Concept Testing - Tests a basic product or concept idea, without the context of a brand identity. Great for dialing into functional and aesthetic specifics.
Category Insights - Develop a deep understanding of why a brand picks up certain market dynamics beyond its market indicators, like market share.
Segmentation - Defining an audience or consumer group based upon behavioural traits or demographics
Advertising/ Marketing- Exploring reactions to advertising or marketing campaigns
Communications - Testing the effectiveness of messaging and comms
Innovation - Brainstorming consumer-centric ideas
NPD - New product development. Focus on latent needs of the consumer.
Co-creation - Creating consumer-centric products, using their input to achieve this
Why the time for ‘qual’ is now...
This ability to connect directly, and personably, with consumers has never been as crucial as it is now. Traditionally brands have defined the identity and interaction style of their customers, depicting and defining the life that their customers could (and should) own through marketing and communications. These brand identities were based upon the perceived needs and values of a homogenised market, which largely reflected the faces of those within the boardroom. However, progressive societal changes mean that new influential demographics have arisen and the once predictable nature of buyers is mercurial. Diverse customers are increasingly looking for companies that they feel resonate with their personal brand identity and cutting ties with organisations that are unable to connect with them. Thankfully, qualitative research offers a way for brands to begin to do just that.
Online qual is fast, unbounded by geographical location, less expensive than traditional F2F research and removes lots of the associated bias. We’re in a digital age where it’s natural for people to log in to a device and share their thoughts and ideas either in a community or one-to-one setting. Here are some recent examples of online qual we’ve been involved in. There's also a video where I talk through our work for Unicef, Tulip (Norgard Mikkelsen) and a major US Insurer.
Rebranding and brand testing - Barclays, when considering a rebrand of their services and style, wanted to understand which parts of the brand were considered ‘sacred’ to customers; what they should keep, what should they focus on and what should they improve? Seven days of qualitative fieldwork helped them highlight these assets and refine them according to customer personas and life stages. Finance and insurance is currently a ‘hot’ area for qualitative research. Fintech ‘brands’ differentiate themselves from ‘traditional’ banks by putting their customers at the heart of their innovation.
New mission and vision statements - Condé Nast International. As part of their recent global rebrand, CNI wanted to explore what their employees thought were the essential elements needed to craft a new mission and vision statement. We helped them distil the thoughts and ideas of employees in six countries using our community research platform, Together. Buy in was essential and we helped uncover the essence of CNI and a solid platform on which their insight teams could build.
Target audience research - Channel 4 have invested in their continued effort to deliver diverse and truly inclusive content, and wanted to speak to minority ethnic groups and identify where they could improve on their programming and outreach. Sampling a group of ‘seldom heard’ individuals, we explored the issues that mattered to them regarding how their communities should be represented, the mistakes that broadcasters were making and the identity portrayals that these groups would welcome. From this work, Channel 4 were able to restructure their diversity strategy and ensure that it connected in exactly the right way, developing new content that displayed real stories and individuals.
Discovering family contexts - Unicef needed to create new fundraising opportunities that would raise the profile of their relief work and encourage British families to support them. To help them understand the triggers and motivations behind charitable giving, we recruited families across the UK and explored the challenges they face, the ‘state of the modern family’ and how these factors can intersect with charities.
Exploring Concepts and Ideas - VouchForMe wanted to check out what consumers thought about their novel ‘insuretech’ product and trust related concepts in the UK market. We found that their proposition required a change of focus, with messaging that targeted UK families rather than friends.
Sharpening Sales Content - A Major US Insurer wanted to reach out to their sales teams in the US market to sharpen up and develop their sales content. They engaged with 59 sales agents across the US market in a win-win-win scenario. The fact the agents were being asked was a great motivator for them, the client moderated the online community themselves gaining first-hand insight and connections with the agents. They were able to sharpen up their collateral with meaningful and up-to-date messaging that reflected the market.
Consumer engagement - GamesStop. In an age where gaming hardware and software can be purchased at the click of a button, without ever leaving the house, how does a traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ gaming store stay relevant? After seven days, and plenty of game-tastic exchanges, the study uncovered some incredible insights. Gamers lack, and still want, a physical space to meet up and connect. They loved the idea of casual game lounges where they could meet new people, share their passion and compete on a friendly level. The idea of GameStop providing such a space was well received because of its long heritage with the community.
Product category research - Tulip, with Norgard Mikkelsen. Tulip wanted to understand people’s bacon consumption habits so that they could innovate new product categories. We looked closely at how people were using bacon in six markets and fed this insight into a concept development sprint. We completed the work in just 10 days.
Our work with Unicef, Tulip (Norgard Mikkelsen) and A Major US Insurer.
And there are many more inspirational examples here. Wherever there are consumer touch points in your organisation, there should be qual research.
What do you want to know about your consumers?