Taking the fluff out of Qualitative Research

By Piers Lee

The need for researchers to make stronger recommendations to marketing departments is encouraging corporations to seek deeper consumer insight through qualitative research.

Bamboozling clients?

A common comment among our clients is that qualitative research can produce voluminous reports festooned with words that readers cannot understand (e.g. words such as “festoon” to decorate in a flowery sense). In an attempt to impress clients, qualitative researchers may bamboozle (mystify) them with complex qualitative analytical models, and obfuscate (confuse) with lengthy and rambling conclusions and recommendations.  Qualitative research needs to be reported in the same way as other methodologies, answering key questions such as “what does it mean?” and “how do we apply it for the best return on our marketing strategies?”.  While intellectual stimulation gained from an insightful piece of qualitative research is interesting, the paying client still wants straight forward, unambiguous reporting.

Delivering an analytical framework

We have studied many of the new approaches in qualitative research and the various consumer psychology analytical frameworks.  From this we have developed our own model, encapsulated in our Tri-Sight® qualitative technique.  We recognised that consumer psychology is becoming more complex in the face of proliferating social media and cultural influences.  Our goal has been to demystify consumer psychology, develop a down-to-earth analytical framework, and deliver reports with clear recommendations.

Five psychological needs

One of the best-known consumer psychology models is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Although conceptualised in 1943, it remains popular in sociology research and management training today.  Maslow defined five levels of human needs: physiological, safety, social, recognition and fulfilment.  For most of the consuming classes, the basic physiological and safety-related needs can be taken for granted.  The three other levels in Maslow’s model – Belonging, Self-Esteem and Self-Actualisation, are broad and generic, and require breaking down further to be applied effectively in modern consumer markets.

Core consumer desires

BDRC Asia expands these to ten core needs, subsets of the top three layers of Maslow’s model.  Some examples include the powerful need of consumers to be taken seriously, where they crave recognition (e.g. for hard work or status earned).  It can work in both ways: people are motivated by status symbols (e.g. expensive brands, platinum credit cards) but are offended when they are ignored (e.g. not having their phone calls returned, being kept waiting).  These issues are very much refining customer service propositions.  For example, a common on-hold message is “your call is important to us”, to persuade the customer that they are being taken seriously.  Although we live in a more virtual world, we still hanker for the reassurances of our physical world.

Likewise, we still enjoy our favourite hangouts, such as our preferred Starbucks or bar.  Observe how stressed we get when our habitual hangout closes for renovation or closes down completely.  Physical locality (nearness) is very important and helps the local retailer whose customers need the assurance of permanence.

Tri-Sight® identifies the strongest desires

At BDRC Asia we have applied our Tri-Sight® qualitative model to a range of products and categories.  Very often the strongest desire of consumers is to have control. This manifests itself in the products and services we adopt.  Technology helps us manage our day (calendars and to-do lists), ensure we do not miss out on opportunities (near-permanent connection to email and the Web), bank online, and buy insurance to control risk and medicines to control ailments.  The loss of our smart phone induces panic as we shift from in control to out of control (losing our contacts and possibly our money). While we seek order in our lives, we also seek to stimulate our mundane lifestyles through a measure of excitement. This ranges from small doses among the more risk-averse (the occasional pleasant surprise)  to high doses for extreme risk-takers. It manifests itself in dangerous yet pleasurable activities such as extreme sports, fast cars, travelling off the beaten track, and gambling (stock market or casinos). What makes BDRC Asia’s Tri-Sight® qualitative model more user-friendly than others is that it relates modern-day needs to products and services that are all around us.

We use complex elicitation techniques (e.g. through the use of imagery), but the client does not usually want the detail reported – they may not care what the picture is, what its meaning is, or what its implications are. Hence, we deliver clear recommendations focusing on what to do about the client’s brand, product, or service based on the qualitative research evidence.

Creating structure out of chaos

In attempting to take the fluff out of qualitative research, we aim to create structure out of chaos. Good moderation and elicitation techniques produce a lot of useful verbatims, but it is the application of these analytical frameworks that allow us to categorise them, interpret them, and communicate the findings in meaningful, bite-sized pieces. We help to structure the findings that allow analysts and industry experts in our teams to deliver the most insightful strategic recommendations to clients.  To find out more about any of our research, please email Anthony Dobson or Piers Lee.

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