Here, you will find information on qualitative research and a variety of suggestions to bear in mind when planning to carry out fieldwork in Spain. Most of the tips and articles are coined by us but we are very much in favour of making reference to other author's links whenever we consider they may be useful to market research practitioners.

lunes, 11 de abril de 2011

Qualitatively Speaking:

A little homework can work wonders(1)

Respondent homework assignments, such as collage-building, audio recording of spontaneous impressions or "thought log" diaries, can improve respondent bonding and increase productivity.

Depending on the goals of a specific qualitative research assignment, it can be highly productive for respondents to arrive at focus groups thoroughly primed and well-immersed in a particular category. In order to accomplish this, a skilled moderator calls upon various tools and techniques in the form of respondent homework assignments. These might include activities such as collage-building, “thought log” diaries, audio recording of spontaneous impressions, cognitive sequencing and in-situ product photographs, to name a scant few. A broad array of tools and techniques can be used in tandem or individually, depending on appropriateness and project objectives. While there is obviously no one-size-fits-all application of these techniques, it is generally felt by this moderator that some form of respondent preparedness can enhance many qualitative investigations by heightening the depth and breadth of insight and learning.

The premise here is that when respondents are thoroughly “into” a particular subject matter, on a premeditated level, they are more psychologically and verbally equipped to contribute, in a meaningful way, to the specific research goals at hand. This preparedness, in turn, combats what we as qualitative researchers and clients have all, at one time or another, disappointingly experienced: the cocked heads and quizzical, empty stares of respondents reacting to questions that, from their perspective, come far out of left field, jarringly out of context with their everyday living experiences and thought processes. This is sometimes what happens when clients and researchers are too close to their products, when objectivity and an unbiased perspective are lacking. Why we do research, after all, is to gain deep insight into how consumers conceptualize and think about a particular category, how they filter choices and actually use a given product, brand or service. This is great, but let’s give our respondents some useful tools to help them dig beneath the surface to produce information that is truly revelatory and useful to brand and marketing groups.

Take for example the goal of getting to the core of brand image/essence in repositioning and branding work. Asking respondents to create separate collages epitomizing a competitive set of brand values, for instance, can really help unearth image distinctions and nuance - and reveal thoughts, feelings and associations which may otherwise be extremely difficult for respondents to articulate. There are other reasons for using this type of tool: Groups are simply livelier and more productive from the get-go. Following brief introductions at the beginning of the actual focus groups, discussion kicks off energetically with respondents telling the “story” of their collages (or other homework assignments), interpreting with ease what the visual images mean to them.

In designing effective qualitative study methodologies, researchers and clients should, therefore, carefully consider whether or not respondent preparedness will benefit study output. Homework assignments may well yield a number of advantages relative to strengthening group dynamics and, therefore, the quality of the learning that ensues:

Respondents immediately interact and bond with one another, resulting in less lost time due to respondent warm-up. When respondents arrive at focus groups with some form of homework assignment in hand, I have observed that they are far more likely to get acquainted with one another in the waiting area, which in turn reduces the amount of time required for group room warm-up. To set this interplay in motion, I typically drift into the respondent waiting area and announce that everybody in our group has, for example, kept a diary chronicling how kitchen remodelling decisions have been made - how design ideas were filtered, if and how husbands contributed to the overall process, the role of professional design consultants, what the biggest headaches were, etc. Given the animated discussion that usually follows, respondents then enter the group room with a sense of camaraderie and shared experience, which makes much of the standard introductory sequence superfluous.

Groups are more productive from the get-go. Given the above scenario and enhanced levels of familiarity and ease, respondents are ready to jump right into conversation. Because they have already essentially bypassed stiff, ritualistic introductory formalities (e.g., name, work, household composition, etc.), respondents are primed and ready to contribute to the heart of the research endeavour with deeper and more revelatory insights. This is not to assume, however, that every research topic lends itself to this approach. While waiting-room conversation about interior design decisions can, for example, be encouraged with highly involving, positive results, issues of a highly sensitive and/or personal nature - subjects involving potentially embarrassing topics such as incontinence, female pattern baldness, impotence - obviously do not lend themselves to this type of uninitiated, open waiting-room discussion. In these instances, homework assignments such as diaries, sentence completion exercises, adjective check lists and storytelling may be better used as private instruments shared only with the moderator.

Descriptions/portrayals of brand persona are animated and involving - and respondents are more able to verbalize emotional and multi-sensory responses that are otherwise difficult to articulate. Homework assignments involving all types of collage-building, cartoon drawing, fictionalized balloon dialoguing, and personifications are particularly useful to help respondents differentiate within categories that may be functionally commoditized. Take for example cooking oil, specifically corn oil. Without homework assignments and the application of projective techniques, home-makers in groups were unable to delineate, to any significant degree, between oil brands. When asked to develop collages at home that epitomized the respective brands, however, rich descriptions revealed brand-differentiating imagery which was firmly rooted in regional cooking traditions and the trans-generational influences of one’s mother, even grandmother.

The subtleties of situational context and spontaneous thought can be captured as they occur, rather than through the potentially distorting filter of recall. We all know what it’s like to try to reach back into the deep recesses of our minds and recreate a specific situation or set of circumstances - perhaps a range of conflicting emotions we felt at particular point in time, what factors influenced a specific buying decision, how a fragrance or aroma affected our mood, what distractions may have pulled us away from initial impulses, how the advice of a good friend or coercive salesperson may have eroded our buying convictions, etc. The point here is that, with the passage of time, our memory of occurrences gets clouded, and it is virtually impossible to reconstruct in focus group rooms many spontaneous thought processes. Recording this information through various homework assignments can, however, document this invaluable information.

The resulting expression of nuance can be useful for ad agencies and creative development. Client teams are able to quickly distil what brand essence and usage scenarios are all about.

Worth the effort
While it may cost researchers more time in terms of upfront planning and preparation, the application of homework assignments can often be worth the extra effort. An experienced moderator can determine whether or not this approach will benefit a given study and set of research objectives.
By Barbara Champion
Barbara Champion is principal of Chicago research firm B. Champion Associates.

(1) This article was originally published in December 2005 by Quirk’s Marketing Research Review