Choosing the Right Research Methodology: Part 2

To read Part 1 of this series click here “Introduction to Market Research Methodologies: Part 1”

MROCs (market research online communities) employ both qualitative and quantitative methodologies to gather feedback. Now that you are a bit more familiar with each type from Part 1 of this series, let’s talk about when to use each methodology appropriately.

When is Qualitative the Best Approach?

In the business of research, one is typically handling several projects and dealing with several key stakeholders at once. In cases where you can easily get stakeholders to articulate objectives, which is often a lot harder than it sounds, it can sometimes be difficult to determine if qualitative research is the best method for meeting these objectives. Or you may have a client who insists quantitative is the right approach, but you think there’s more to be done.

On their website, QRCA (Qualitative Research Consultants Association) lays out some helpful scenarios to think about in these cases.

Situations where qualitative research is often used:

  • New product idea generation and development
  • Investigating current or potential product/service/brand positioning/ marketing strategy
  • Strengths and weaknesses of products/brands
  • Understanding dynamics of purchase decision dynamics (not just quantifying but truly understanding the “whys” behind these decisions)
  • Studying reactions to advertising and public relations campaigns, other marketing communications, graphic identity/branding, package design, etc.
  • Exploring market segments, such as demographic and customer groups, especially with ethnographic or “deep dive” studies
  • Studying emotions and attitudes on societal and public affairs issues
  • Assessing the usability of websites or other interactive products or services
  • Understanding perceptions of a company, brand, category and product (again, not only to measure but to more deeply understand these perceptions and hear them in consumers’ own words)
  • Determining consumer language as a preliminary step to develop a quantitative survey

When is Qualitative the WRONG Approach?

QRCA also lays out some helpful advice for when qualitative should not be considered the right research approach.

According to their site, do not expect qualitative research to:

  • Count, measure or offer statistical validation
  • Determine the best product concept or price point; or establish the importance of specific customer needs or satisfaction criteria
  • Be a substitute for quantitative research because of time and/or budgetary constraints when quantitative evaluation is critical

Applications of Qualitative Research: Case Studies

Case Study #1: Using Ideation or Co-Creation Sessions to Discover New Ideas, Uncover Unmet Needs

Recently, we had a food and beverage client come to us with some concepts for a “healthier, multi-component, Lunchables-type product” to be potentially released in stores next year. Basically, the product consists of various combinations of ingredients all together in one package (meats, cheese, crackers, sweets, etc.).

They had already completed some internal work to mockup various combinations they thought would be successful. However, while discussing objectives, it became clear that not only did they have quantitative research questions around the already developed concepts (purchase intent and other key measures, packaging questions, etc.), but they also had interest in “seeing what other combinations” consumers could come up with, and how these fresh ideas might fit in with (or, perhaps more importantly, NOT fit in with) what they were already considering internally.

While a quantitative approach with the concepts would technically get them answers, and probably be successful, it may not have provided the entire, robust story they wanted to know. We realized it would be fruitful to run a co-creation/ ideation exercise ahead of any quantitative research, for a few reasons:

  • To understand any gaps in their current knowledge regarding what consumers want for these types of products/what combinations make the most sense/what is missing from shelves currently. We always say you may THINK you know what consumers want, especially since in this case they had a few years of data to inform their work, but let them tell you (or, at the very least, tell you again in their own words).
  • To allow fresh ideas to “entire the mix” and, if nothing else, eventually be evaluated against what they were already thinking about.
  • To see if any changes should be made to the developed concepts prior to testing them. Again, researchers are usually dealing with multiple stakeholders, and timing may not always allow for this step, but it’s a great “gut check” if it can be worked into timelines. And in this case, the client came to us early enough in the process to allow for it. After completion of the ideation exercise, they were willing to take time to tweak their concepts as needed (or add new ones to the mix).
  • To allow the community members to have some fun, get creative, and feel they like are part of the development process for new products coming to market. They love these types of activities, and participation is always high.

Keeping all this in mind, we decided to run an ideation session for community members. We provided them with the list of possible components/ingredients, a few guidelines, and presented them with a creative “Challenge” to see what they could come up with. KLC has tools built right into its online community platform that allow for independent ideation and co-creation among community members, including its own proprietary co-creation methodology called CrowdWeaving®.  From our website:

By innovating with consumers, you uncover rapid insights and develop customer driven solutions to make real-time business decisions that have an impact on both your business and your most loyal customers….you gain deeper insight into consumers’ key needs and drivers of behavior and uncover key opportunities for innovation.

Qualitative exercises like this work well in a community setting for multiple reasons. As mentioned earlier, participants, particularly those recruited for online communities, enjoy qualitative research and being asked to get creative, and are often pretty good at it too. Also, it makes them feel involved because it occurs very early in the development pipeline, when the problem to solve may be agreed upon, but a solution has not yet been created.  

And one of the great aspects of having an online community is we can go back out to this group (with additional, fresh sample if needed) to continue through other phases of research. Bringing consumers into the research process early, and continuing to ask for their input throughout the process, instills in them the feeling of being a trusted advisor and forges a deeper relationship, which results in richer feedback for you, bringing you closer to a successful product or service.  Co-creation community methodologies are designed to allow you to have an ongoing dialogue with your customers, incorporating them throughout all phases of the development process – from ideating, collaborating, to evaluating. At KLC, we often refer to this as ICE.

 First, you can use ideation tools to present challenges and have consumers come up with solutions to challenges, again continuing to determine pain points and gaps in the market.

Next, you can collaborate with the customers. Allow customers to see the product in each phase of development and work with you, and each other, to make it better. Ask what they like versus dislike, and what’s missing. Repeated direct engagement not only ensures that customer insights are integrated with every iteration of the product, but it sets a foundation for brand loyalty because it allows them to work together to impact products/ services they care about.

Once you have worked through a number of iterations, go back to consumers and evaluate how their feedback was used/ changes that were made with quantitative surveys and or even quick polls. In this example, this will be achieved through some sort of concept evaluation, possibly evening pitting some fresh member ideas against already developed concepts.

Customers, as members of the community, will appreciate being involved in all steps of the process from beginning to end.

Case Study #2: Using One-on-One Interviews to “Deep Dive” with Participants

A few years back we had a client looking to learn the best way to position a new cancer insurance product. One obvious approach was to have their ad agency develop ads (print, commercial, etc.) and get member reactions. However, being a few years into their online community, the team was really interested in taking a few steps back, being more proactive, and working with a smaller group of members first. This would allow them to truly understand how to talk about a sensitive topic like cancer, and the importance of a potential cancer insurance product to certain groups. After some initial qualitative group discussions around the impact cancer has had on their lives, we selected members to be brought into individual asynchronous interviews. This allowed us to work on-one-on with them, to go beyond “scratching the surface” and dive more deeply into the emotional impact of cancer and how it’s changed their lives. Knowing that they were handpicked for a special follow-up project, and working one-on-one with a moderator they know and trust, allowed participants to feel more comfortable and therefore provide robust, thoughtful responses to sensitive and highly emotional questions.

This was important work, not only to understand their needs and desires for potential products, but also to hear the words and phrases they were using to describe cancer and its impact. These words and phrases could then be evaluated (quantitatively) by being put into ads or some other way. To bring it back to QRCA’s advice, this one definitely falls under the “Determining consumer language as a preliminary step to develop a quantitative survey”, so we knew it was the right approach to meet their objectives.

When designing our study, we asked projective questions specifically designed to elicit emotional responses, such as:

  • You previously indicated that cancer has affected you in some way, whether it be a diagnosis, a family member/friend’s diagnosis, etc. Please share a little about how a cancer diagnosis has affected you. 
  • How has this experience changed your outlook on life in general?
  • How has this experience changed your lifestyle with regard to your health?  What health habits have you changed as a result of cancer, and why?
  • How has this experience changed your lifestyle with regard to your finances?  What have you changed with regard to financial planning/savings/etc. as a result of cancer, and why?
  • Thinking about how cancer has affected you, If you could go back in time to your younger self, what, if anything, would you say about this experience?  What would you advise?
  • Now for something a bit more creative…If cancer were an animal, what animal would it be, and why?
  • What about cancer insurance – what animal would cancer insurance be, and why?
  • What three words come to mind when thinking about cancer?   Why?
  • What three words come to mind when thinking about cancer insurance? Why?

These in-depth interviews were followed-up by a few other qualitative exercises, including a co-creation Challenge similar to what we discussed in Case Study #1. Their Challenge was to give a pitch for an advertising campaign for a new cancer insurance product – again to identify key words and phrases that might motivate them to consider purchasing cancer insurance. Then we took a break while the client team absorbed all of the information gathered so far. Eventually, we moved into a quantitative phase, conducting surveys with a few concepts designed based on everything we heard during the preliminary, qualitative work.

Final Thoughts

Remember, a full understanding of all the different research methods available, and when to apply them correctly, is essential to success as a researcher. And it’s important, whenever possible, to let the objectives determine the path to take, not other factors like timing or budget. Easier said than done, of course! At KLC, we always encourage clients to fill out project briefs that outline the background of a project, as well as objectives, timing, and maybe even hypotheses for results. You’ll notice that methodology is not on this list, and that’s because we find it limiting. It’s always better to discuss the other items from the brief, mull over objectives, then determine possible approaches to get at them. This will ensure success and, as mentioned previously, allow you to be a researcher that provides those full, robust pieces of the puzzle that a client may not even know they want (or need).

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