Often, clients come to Insights in Marketing thinking traditional focus groups will be the best tool to get at an issue or question.  However, due to changes in technology, new methods of gathering data, busy schedules, and tight budgets, this is becoming a misguided assumption. To be clear, focus groups are an important part of the qualitative picture and will remain a key element in the tool box for the foreseeable future.  However, with increasing frequency, we are building research plans that incorporate at least one other form of qualitative and, often times, a number of different approaches in one study to better understand behavior, thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.

Venturing Out into the Unknown – Complementary Qualitative Techniques

We find that our clients are often unfamiliar with the variety of tools and techniques available or unclear about how those tools can be used together to get the very best information possible for a given project, target, or idea.  Some of the tools at the ready are ethnographies (both in person and online), online qualitative (focus groups, bulletin boards, blogs, and mobile texting) and shopper insight studies.

Real World, Real Setting

Ethnographies provide a rare look into a consumer’s world.  It allows the observer to better understand actual versus claimed behavior in a real-world setting. This technique is best used when trying to understand the consumer’s overall life for building a target profile. It is also used to better understand category or product usage or to observe a ‘typical’ behavior such as cooking, cleaning, surfing the web, etc.   However, it is that ‘real’ behavior that is often difficult to observe first hand.  There are techniques we use at IIM, such as employing video or on-line web cams, to get closer to a consumer’s actual behavior without interruption or intrusion.

Online Insights

Online work is becoming a much bigger part of the qualitative landscape.  This format, especially online bulletin boards and blogging, provides ultimate flexibility for consumers to talk when it is convenient for them which yields far greater thoughtfulness and depth of responses than would be gleaned in a traditional focus group setting.  Most of these techniques unfold over a number of days instead of hours, but can be used for everything that traditional groups are used for (from concept and packaging development to product placement and everything in between).  Here are a few online techniques that IIM employs on a regular basis:

  • Bulletin boards are best to provide geographic disparity and reach harder to recruit consumers (new moms, etc.).  They also allow us to talk about sensitive topics and/or get into a topic, brand, or behavior more deeply.
  • Blogs are typically used as homework or pre-work to either other online or in-person work.  While these provide consumer-driven content, participants are given ‘assignments’ to direct behavior and feedback that will be most useful for the study.
  • Webcam interviews can allow clients to have one-on-one discussions with consumers across the country.  They also can be used in website usability work, simple concept and packaging work, or even ethnographies without ever leaving the office.

At-Shelf Inspiration

Shopper insights can utilize a number of tools such as in-store, online, blogging, texting, groups or some combination of all of these.  Shopper insight work is used when in-store decision making, shelf impact, promotion, and/or shelf placement are being explored.  Additionally, shopper research can be ethnographic in nature to give us insight into how a target consumer shops.  Technology further complements shopper research with the ability of consumers to take pictures and videos in-store to help further understand what drives awareness and purchases.

So, how do you choose the right solution or combination of solutions?

In general, we encourage our clients to come to us with an issue, question, or objective and then let us devise the plan that will provide the solution in the most time and cost effective way possible.  We are all looking for the best, most honest answer to a particular question or problem and look to partner with clients to use our knowledge and expertise to do just that.