From “What” to “So What”
Thursday, November 17, 2011
When I explain to people the benefits of qualitative research compared to quantitative research, I tend to talk about quantitative research as being the solution when you want to know what people are thinking. Qualitative gives you a richer exploration of why people think what they do, but because of small sample sizes in qual, you cannot extrapolate to the larger population.
Then I started asking myself – “So What?” As I was designing focus group questions – I would ask “So what? Why is it important to know this?” As I was facilitating discussions – I would ask myself “So what? How does this help me to understand why respondents feel the way they do?” And most importantly, when I was writing reports or preparing for client debriefs I would ask myself at each research finding “So what? How does knowing this provide value to the client?”
Qualitative research can easily fall into the rut of just repeating what we hear in focus groups or online discussions – and so the real test of a research finding for me is if it does more than just replay or summarize the “What” we are hearing and answers the “So what?”
I always tell my clients that I don’t make recommendations. My job is to clearly outline the pros and cons or the strengths and weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean that the insights for research should just be a complicated resorting of respondent comments. It has to be a thoughtful analysis that provides insight and clarity into how the respondent groups evaluates and react to the research topic.
So – in our next project together – don’t hesitate to ask me “So what?” at the end of the project.
Posted in: Benefits of Qualitative Research
In the role of the participant
Thursday, June 23, 2011
I recently participated in the MRIA course: Moderating Tool Box which focused on projective techniques. Projectives (or the use of indirect questions or activities to explore respondents' deeper feelings) certainly aren’t new. They include familiar exercises like:
- Creating collages: using pictures and words from magazines or newspapers to create a poster reflecting perceptions and feelings about a topic.
- Personification: describing a brand or a product as a person. How would they dress? Where would they shop? What kind of job would they have?
- Storytelling: respondents tell a story related to their experience with the topic.
What was most beneficial about the course was how it was taught. Our instructor would introduce the basic premise of each projective technique and then she would ask one of the students to moderate a discussion using the specific technique. The rest of the group completed the activity as respondents.
This was illuminating!
First – it confirmed for me how effective projective techniques can be. I continually found myself thinking how effective the different exercises were at getting me to focus and organize my thoughts – and not in a linear, rational way – but in a way that could capture fleeting or disconnected ideas.
Second – it helped me to understand the respondent’s experience. I tend to favor projective techniques that will be most comfortable for respondents and I shy away from anything that might feel risky (anything that involves drawing for example). But, wouldn’t you know it, the projectives that made me feel most uncomfortable were the ones I found to be most effective.
Participating as a respondent gave me valuable insights into how to be a better moderator. I now understand how best to introduce these techniques and I also know when respondents are going to need some gentle reassurance to give them the confidence to fully immerse themselves in the activity. I can speak from experience and tell respondents that while it might feel awkward at the beginning, it will all come together by the end of the exercise.
Projective techniques also leave you with fantastic visuals, carrying the emotion from the focus group to the report.
Let me share with you some of my worksheets as examples of the great visuals that come from these exercises. In this personification exercise, we were asked to draw and decorate stick figures representing customers at specific outdoor/camping stores. I won’t tell you the stores I was depicting.
Immediately following that exercise, we did another projective technique called the 3 Panel. The 3 panel exercise is used to depict how you feel before, during and after a specific activity. Our task was to draw how we felt while completing the personification exercise. At the end of the two day session though, I thought this 3 panel exercise could apply to any of the projective techniques.
You can see how these visuals will bring life to a written report.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, I learned that some projective techniques interfere with the sharing of information, overshadowing the research. For example, writing exercises designed to explore the relationship between brands or concepts and the consumer (e.g. Write the resume for brand X, write the obituary for product Y) could take respondents off on a tangent. When completing these exercises, I found myself focussing on creating something that really looked and sounded like a resume or obituary – rather than thinking about the attributes of the product were focussing on. For me, these particular exercises became more about form and not enough about function.
At the end of the course I found myself thinking about what a great investment of time and money it had been. I have a much better sense of how the projective techniques work from the respondents’ perspectives and I have some new tools for my toolbox ... and I have thrown a few out.
POSTED BY SANDRA JOHNSTON
Posted in: Qualitative Research Techniques
Milestones and beginnings
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
This is a big year for me personally – a year of important milestones. Johnston Research will turn five in the next few months. As an independent researcher, I have completed 100 projects and by the end of 2010, I had completed focus group number 500. And then there is the age thing… let’s just say my age now ends in a ‘0’.
It is also a year of learning and new beginnings. Johnston Research now has a website. For a long time, it just didn’t make sense and quite honestly, I could never carve out enough time to get a website set up. However, with the hiring of Jessica (another great new beginning), we had the the opportunity to make it happen.
Another new beginning is this blog. The purpose of the blog is to talk about the business of qualitative research. One of the things I most enjoy about research is being involved in such an interesting array of topics. It is so energizing to be invited into the client’s world for a few weeks or months and to become immersed in their issues. But, it’s not just the topics that are interesting, it is the process. Part of the interesting strategy of designing research is making sure we use the right approach and the right process to capture the best range of information. That is what I plan on writing in the blog – my opinions about how qualitative research can best be used in the Alberta marketplace.
… and of course, you can influence what we write about. I wouldn’t be much of a researcher if I didn’t ask for your feedback. Let me know your thoughts about the blog and I welcome suggestions for blog topics.
POSTED BY SANDRA JOHNSTON
Posted in: Other
Why don’t we just ask them?
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
In the testing of advertisements and creative material, I often get asked "Why don’t we just ask the respondents what they want to see in the ad?" I strongly discourage these kinds of questions during focus groups.
I understand why this question seems appealing. If we have the people in the room we want to impact, doesn’t it make sense that they would be in the best position to tell us?
In a word – No. First of all, respondents are not marketing and communication experts. They cannot tell us what will engage and motivate them, they can only tell us what has engaged and motivated them (I know Don Draper would agree with me). It is for that reason that I encourage giving respondents material to react to. The material doesn’t have to be complete or fully developed (and often it is best when the material is clearly still in concept form), but respondents should be given the chance to respond to a few different approaches that utilize different tactics to tackle the advertising objectives.
Respondents also don’t understand the full scope of the advertising objectives – nor should they. They haven’t seen the creative brief and they aren’t fully familiar with the product, concept or issue being discussed. As a result, respondents can get fixated on ideas that we know simply won’t work for the project.
These open “What would you like to see?” questions also take up a lot of time during the focus group – time that can be better spent reacting to specific approaches and providing clear feedback on what engages, communicates and motivates.
This is not to say that respondents cannot provide great insight into new ways to reach and influence them, but if I am doing my job properly, these ideas will come to the surface during the focus group discussion as we explore reactions to presented materials and concepts.
The reality is, we often don’t know what we want until we see it or are exposed to it.
The following video is of Malcolm Gladwell speaking at Ted2004. He talks about this specific challenge as he discusses the evolution of spaghetti sauce…except that he does it in a much more interesting and entertaining way than I can – Buon Appetito!
POSTED BY SANDRA JOHNSTON
Posted in: Creative Assessments
My emotional engagement
Thursday, April 14, 2011
I have had the good fortune to work with the Full House Lottery for many years. It is one of those really enjoyable projects; the clients are interesting and smart, the topic is one that research respondents like talking about and discussions can get very animated, and of course, it is for a good cause (University Hospital Foundation and Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation). In addition to working on the lottery, my husband and I have been purchasing tickets for a long time. We also had the very good fortune to win the Harley Davidson bike the first time we bought a ticket - isn’t that what everyone dreams of!
One of the things we discuss every year during the research is how best to promote the cause or the beneficiaries of the lottery, so it certainly is top of mind for me. However, at the media launch for Full House Lottery in March, two men spoke about how they have benefited from the lottery and it brought home the importance of supporting the lottery in a very real and meaningful way – and in a way I had never thought of before.
After years of conducting research, I understand on an intellectual level the importance of creating a personal or emotional connection in order to motivate your audience. I've seen how a person's body language, opinions and even their demenour can change when they have made an emotional connection to a topic.
On that day, I connected in a different way to the lottery. One of the speakers at the launch was Chad, a young professional – a few years younger than me for sure, but close enough that I could say we are of the same generation. A little over a year ago, this man suffered a grand maul seizure out of the blue. He felt healthy and fine up until that day. This felt like a story that I could have heard from a friend or a peer. This was a healthy young man who could have been a brother, a friend, or a friend’s husband. It was discovered that Chad had a brain tumour, and during the treatment of that tumour, his doctor used cutting edge equipment that very few hospitals in Canada have access to (and he had access to it because the hospital foundation had purchased it with lottery proceeds).
I am not going to do him justice, but Chad said something along the lines of “You cannot control what is going to happen to you in life – you can only be prepared. So whether it is socking some money away in RRSPs or supporting great causes like this one, just do what you can to be prepared.”
I had not really ever thought about the tickets I buy for the lottery as being something you do to be prepared – as preventative. Somehow to me, it had always felt reactive, a way to solve a problem, not prevent one. But I liked that feeling, that through my support for the Full house Lottery I had helped the University and Royal Alex hospitals be prepared to treat their patients. It was just a subtle difference - but a world of difference.
POSTED BY SANDRA JOHNSTON
Posted in: Charitable Organizations