Tag Archives: Focus Groups

Qualitative Research: If it ain’t science, it’s crap

Without a doubt, quantitative research is science. It involves systematic observation and experimentation to better understand consumer behaviour.

Surveys represent the bulk of our quantitative work, converting wide-ranging written and verbal, and positive and negative opinions into carefully coded numerical values that can range from -100 to 100. Neuroscience converts brain waves, skin responses, and eye-tracking behaviours into even finer grains allowing us to better understand the differences between men and women, buyers and browsers, high-income and low-income people, and so many other distinct groups of people. Big data has jumped on the science bandwagon with even more intensity. Billions and trillions of numbers can be categorized and re-categorized into untold numbers of groups and associated with untold numbers of perfectly coded, perfectly transcribed analyzable data points.

But qualitative research? That’s a completely different story. To be valid and reliable, as well as reputable and respected, marketing research needs to behave as a science. Does qualitative research meet the criteria to be considered a science?

First, science is systematic. Are any of these characteristics systematic?

Delineation of precise characteristics in the selection of individual interview participants, according to demographic, psychographics, and personality characteristics such as age, gender, income, education, region, language, sociability, product usage, product opinions, and more

Preparation of standardized discussion guides to ensure consistency across multiple focus groups and multiple interviews

Standardized training of group and session leaders to avoid introducing, creating, or encouraging bias due to group think, dominant group members, reluctant group members, hostile group members or any of the wide assortment of other potential problems

Detailed understanding and selection of the tool best suited to uncover the problem at hand from among hundreds of possibilities such as grounded theory, narratology, storytelling, ethnography, shadowing, participant observation, focus groups, interviews

Detailed methods for converting non-verbal and non-numerical results into standardized data points such as coding books used for both manual and computer-assisted coding

Second, science is experimental. Are these characteristics experimental?

Preparing products in a variety of colours, shapes, sizes, formats such that research participants can be exposed to some or all of them in pre-determined orders

Examining the reliability and consistency of opinions, across people, across groups, etc, by choosing complimentary and/or contradictory research tools and research leaders

I recently spoke with a qualitative researcher who insisted that qualitative research isn’t science. They insisted that qualitative researchers can’t talk about data and can’t use numbers except in nominal ways. Perhaps some qualitative researchers take pride in not partaking in science. Maybe it’s a nice topic of discussion when it comes to talking with clients about why they should go with one method or another. Maybe my friend is wrong.

Is qualitative research is a science? I have to say yes.

Annie Pettit, PhD is the Chief Research Officer at Peanut Labs, a company specializing in self-serve panel sample. Annie is a methodologist focused on data quality, listening research, and survey methods. She won Best Methodological Paper at Esomar 2013, and the 2011 AMA David K. Hardin Award. Annie tweets at @LoveStats and can be reached at annie@peanutlabs.com.

Community 2.0 vs. Focus Group 2.0

This post from ZDNet raises the interesting question regarding the boundaries of community 2.0. Recently Intel and Asus requested user feedback for a dream PC. The concept was that users come together, talk about what they want, vote about it, then Asus will build it. No one would argue that this is a community effort, and that it is an online forum, but would it really be considered community 2.0? So the author of the ZDNet post, Joe Brockmeier asked the question

“What do you think? Community, or focus group 2.0?”

Do you have an answer to his question? What are your thoughts?

Focused Group Dynamics

One of the best things about my job as a moderator is getting to create an atmosphere where a group of strangers feel comfortable enough to talk about a focused topic for a couple of hours.

It’s fascinating to be in the driver’s seat, gently nudging each person to give a point of view or express their opinion. And it’s just as interesting to watch the complexity of group dynamics in action. What a joy it is when the group interacts and expresses differing opinions in a constructive way, providing true insight. I believe this doesn’t happen automatically. Rather, it comes with a bit of finesse. While there are times when it’s necessary to go to more dramatic means to ensure cooperation and avoid group think, the following steps will help you get there most of the time:

1. Set the Stage’I believe people in most focus groups generally want to give you what you want’insight from their perspective. I also believe that people need ‘coaching’ many times on how best to do that. So, it is your responsibility as the moderator to properly set the stage. Tell respondents that you expect everyone to participate, that you expect them to have at least some differing opinions. Explicitly stating your expectations in the beginning will help you when you have to shut down the loudmouths and call on the wallflowers later in the discussion!

2. Be in Charge’you, as the moderator are responsible for the discussion thread. If you don’t manage it, someone else will. Do not be afraid to shift a respondent from an off-the-topic monologue. Time is not your friend in a group’you only have a set amount of it to extract insights. Therefore, keep yourself and your respondents focused on the objectives of the discussion. Again, be in charge of what you want to hear!

3. Use Non-Verbal Feedback First’this is especially important when gaining reactions to communication pieces or concept ideas. Get a quick read non-verbally by having participants write their opinions first. I also believe that structuring the verbal feedback process is helpful. Ask for positive comments first, then neutrals, then negatives. Structuring the feedback this way helps you stay on a path of constructive feedback rather than everyone jumping on a negative bandwagon.

4. Control the Loudmouth and Nurture the Wallflower’it is important to your clients to hear from everyone (if they all have something meaningful about the topic to say, that is’) So, again, it is your job as the moderator to ensure that the ‘loudmouth’ doesn’t overtake the conversation. You can do this by simply stating, ‘Thanks, I really want to hear from XXX.’ When trying to get the ‘wallflower’ to speak, it helps to make strong eye contact with them and when all else fails, call on them. ‘I haven’t heard your thoughts yet, XXX. Please tell me what you’re thinking.’ Specifically stating the respondents name who is not participating will usually at least get them focused in again.


Negative Feedback can be positive

A recent article by Jacob Morgan at Social Media Today looked at the positive effects of negative feedback through social media. As opposed to cringing every time he receives it, Morgan looks at it as a good thing. He gave two main reasons why.
You can listen to what your users are saying, and make changes to improve your product as a result. It can be looked at as constructive criticism because you’re hearing how the consumers truly feel about your product and make your changes from there.
It’s also a lot like a giant focus group. These people are taking the time to tell you what they think of your product. If negative feedback is what’s keeping your company from fully harnessing the power of social media, take a step back and see what it actually does. Jacob is right, negative feedback only makes you strive to improve your product.
Do you agree?

Enter with Caution

Before jumping blindly into your business, it’s very important to determine whether your product or service is a good one. Beliefs alone will not sell products; market research not only confirms your beliefs, but it might also help find a manufacturer interested in making your product. Stephen Key presents two out of five options for market research in the beginning phases in this post on All Business. Here are the first two:

  1. Pull-Through Marketing. Use your sales sheet as a basis to show to potential licensors. If they would license it, then you have a good idea of whether or not your product will sell.
  2. Focus Groups. Focus groups are generally for those with bigger budgets, but it can be modified to work for your budget. It consists of collecting the demographic the product intends to sell to, and posing questions such as: Would you buy this product? Be creative in selecting a target audience. Stephen gives an example of going to the mall if you are planning on targeting kids.

What other strategies have been useful for your organization in the initial stages of market research?

A New Social Platform to Share Market Research

I came across this blog post today about a company called UnLtdWorld, a social networking site for entrepreneurs, that has a unique proposition. As the post describes it:
The platform will allow anyone logged into the network to access all the data behind the UnLtdWorld Research Lab for comparative and historical analysis. It will allow for real-time and dynamic use with other datasets, and within mash-ups and applications that can be deployed anywhere on the web.
This means, that companies and organizations will effectively have a focus group like statistics that are being updated constantly. Market research as it stands today is very time consuming and by the time the data is collected, may no longer be relevant. This will provide users the unique opportunity to have all of the information they need at their fingertips with the ability to manipulate the data as they require. The UnLtdWorld website states thee following as their goal:
UnLtdWorld aims to help build the capacity of social entrepreneurship, and enhance the efficiency of relations between social entrepreneurs, relevant stakeholders and the general public. We aim to do this mainly through the UnLtdWorld Research Lab, the world’s most powerful mapping and graphing of social entrepreneurship, and of social and environmental issues.