Whether you’re in the marketing research arena or another people-focused field, qualitative research revolves around exploring and understanding perceptions, preferences, and behaviors. Through decades of qualitative research experience at IIM, we’ve honed in on many actionable “dos” and “don’ts” to deliver the powerful insights our clients need. Here are a few key points we’ve learned:
1. Know your objectives.
Seems obvious, but it’s amazing how often a very excited and well-intentioned team dives into a research initiative before completely buttoning up the objectives of the work. Chances are you don’t start a road trip without knowing where you need to end up. Starting a research initiative without clear and aligned upon objectives can have a similar result: lots of wandering around, mixed opinions about where you should end up, issues with timing, and potentially an irrelevant or otherwise less-than-impactful result. (Making sure that the entire team is comfortable with the approach and on board with the timing is also helpful at this early stage, but even those points stem from the objectives so, again, objectives come first).
2. Focus on the screener.
Ensure that your screener specifies the appropriate characteristics, demographics, and product experience of the people with whom you need to connect. Allow sufficient recruiting time to find the appropriate target consumer. Once recruiting is underway; the focus shifts to the guide, stimuli creation, and other elements. However, if you’re not engaging the right consumers, even the most well written discussion guide and best developed stimuli is useless.
3. Design your discussion guide around your objectives.
Your research objectives should continue to be the leading driver of your topic and discussion set. Work with your consulting partner to ensure that lines of discussion will appropriately address the objective points.
4. Listen carefully for the themes.
Your research objectives should guide your path, but listen to what the learnings are telling you, which may be different than what you expected. Going into qualitative research with a hypothesis is great. Reviewing the learnings and trying to make them fit into what the team “needs” to hear is not so great. Listen to the data with an open mind and to allow the research to guide the findings.
5. Have an experienced partner.
It’s important to find an experienced, capable and trained partner who is willing to work with the entire team to help achieve the research objectives. Conversations should be open and welcoming of additional perspectives. And, sometimes, the role of a true partner is to push back and tell the team things that are important, even if it’s not really what the team wants to hear. Valuing and, in fact, encouraging open and (sometimes uncomfortable) conversations leads to deeper learnings and a stronger initiative for the team as a whole.