Meaning making and messaging: Two significant questions in concept/ad/story research​

Suppose the marketer or qualitative researcher were allowed to ask only two questions about a concept, ad, story, or communications piece?  They would be these:  1. What gut reaction to—how do you feel about—this concept, ad, story, or communications piece? Be sure emotions are accessed, with no intellectual analysis  2. What is this concept/ad/story saying, suggesting, or communicating about the product or brand? In other words, based only on this concept/ad/story or communication:          a) What are the brand or product’s physical/emotional characteristics and attributes?                    i) Keep prompting—what else?—as you explore quickly.            b) You can use a fill-in-the-blank exercise to elicit authentic response.  “This concept/ad/story is telling me that the brand/product is ___________, ____________, and _____________.  Explore the meaning of the language/words.   If you’re showing multiple concepts/ads/stories, be sure that you vary the order of sequence to eliminate positioning bias.  Also, tell consumers in advance not to compare and that you’re not interested whether they like this one better than that one.  Comparing can be done only at the very end of the interview, group, or online platform just as a nice wrap-up and emotional closure.  Comparative appeal may or may not be significant to which concept/ad/story is chosen. The first question tries to solicit a vital, active component of emotionality, whether positive or negative. If there’s an emotional “hit,” the ad/concept/story is in the running.  It mostly matters that it creates impact and intrusiveness; it doesn’t matter if the consumer likes or dislikes it. The second question is significant.  If the concept, ad, or piece provides characteristics, attributes, and elements of the brand or product that are accurate, link to the brand strategy, make sense, are fast to grasp, and seem relevant to the consumer, this is what we’re seeking.   Other questions that marketers want to know are helpful and supportive, but secondary. These include: What do you like about the concept/ad/story?  What do you dislike? Why? To whom is it communicating? How likely would you be to purchase or to watch it?  What language stands out? What’s confusing?  What if anything would you think or do as a result of seeing it?  Anything you’d want to improve? Summary:  If there’s an emotional hit and if the ad/concept/story is communicating accurately and the way you want about the brand or product, you’re on the right track.  Be sure a number of consumers including users and non-users, heavy and light frequencies, gender, age, income, education, psychographic segment, ethnicity are included in the story so you can categorize the findings by segment.   ​

QSR case history:  Salad and craving​

Here’s a new success story, aka qualitative case history, that I heard last week in Toronto from our fast food client. Our research team did two large culture-specific authentic ethnographies that were live, in context, at the right timing, and in-person—along with focus groups and digital ethnography—in consumer homes and in their favorite fast food restaurants.  It was for a QSR (quick serve restaurant) brand with almost 100% visibility internationally. We conducted the work in North America.  After hours of observation—but definitely from the very beginning to the end of our ethnographies—our anthropologists discovered the subtle emotional obstacle that was also the biggest core insight.  Craving.  What we saw and experienced:  When moms and dads went through the threshold of this QSR with their kids, they entered into a known atmosphere of craving and indulgence that they loved, desired, and that then took them over.  Even and especially if these consumers represented a typology who much preferred salads, natural and lighter meals, or eating healthy organic foods (we did an algorithm to be sure this conscious, healthy-eating typology was being studied), they invariably felt attracted and pushed as if against their wills to eat whatever they wanted (probably from childhood) inside the QSR.  Then they felt guilty, later.  Basically, as soon as they passed through the brand’s portal, they found themselves compelled to indulge with fries, multilayered burgers, and flurries of desserts even though the QSR’s salads were advertised, readily available, of several wonderful varieties, and deliciously, amazingly fresh. This QSR had been using a freshness positioning for their salad advertising—over 30 years of freshness ads—from 1987 into early 2017.  It wasn’t working.  Freshness is a given and of course it’s the category standard. Then the insight consumer research manager, when reviewing more fresh salad advertising storyboards, remembered the key insight and obstacle from our ethnography.  It was craving.  She convinced the agency to flip freshness and do a new campaign based upon archetypal craving for their salads.  The agency developed a new commercial based upon craving and indulgence, with a male-female couple kidding around about who goes to this QSR to eat salads anyhow, the trickster-like male character with gestures of stealing indulgent ingredients from her salad, and beauty appearance elements of craving in the salad visuals.  The ads moved from outmoded Innocent to new Transformer archetype. Result:  Salads are flying off the shelves. The commercial is differentiating, motivating, and recalled.  Healthy-eating consumers are coming to the QSR and eating salads with delight and indulgence. They experience no guilt and return for more. The advertising campaign for salads is no longer the category stereotype, which is taken for granted by consumers, but aligned with the brand’s core insight of craving based upon real-life, true, emotional, archetypal resonance.   Conquer your craving!​

Running creative “focus” groups in 2017​

What’s the best way to run what used to be called focus groups when this methodology is the beginning to a hybrid, innovative, exploratory, qualitative research effort?  Once upon a time, the original style of focus groups was used for everything…from concept reaction, to behavioral and attitudinal focus, and to get high-level needs information at a broad, diverse level. Groups were sometimes the only methodology; their findings were then quantified.  Then, focus groups fell out of favor 10+ years ago, as online bulletin boards and mobile techniques emerged. There were complaints of bandwagoning and too much subjectivity with the old focus groups.  However, groups are back in fashion again.  We’ve discovered (as have clients) that we really want to—need to—understand the social and collective elements of a product, concept, or category.  The social and collective are just one of multiple perspectives on the persona of the consumer, and the social and collective are only possible through live groups.  Of course, groups aren’t a final word on a study because we want a 360 view of the consumer through more individualized online and personalized in-situ ethnographic methodologies.  But, groups remain the best beginning to a customer journey because they open the inquiry into multiple perspectives that can finetune the online and put it into an observational dimension once we’re at the ethnography stage.  Through the creative group, we get to know the real consumer in person. When running contemporary focus groups in 2017 that start an exploratory effort, let them be as spontaneous as possible. The new name of the game is to eliminate “focus” from the methodology of focus groups.  Run them for a little longer time, like 2.5 hours, and take a break in the middle, to get consumers really relaxed and friendly with you and the others.  Don’t worry too much about bandwagoning and competing opinions.  If it gets too much, you can always take out the disturbing consumer. Use a lot of projective exercises, keep crayons and archetype cards around for new insights, go deep emotionally, and ask a few off-the-wall questions about consumers’ lives, loves, and interests outside of the topic at hand.  Ask about weight loss or dating even if we’re in the middle of a technology project.  Ask if anyone had a dream or a fantasy that they can tell us about…on anything as long as it’s not TMI.  You’ll be surprised how revitalized a group can get when the subject is really relevant.  We can always go back to the real topic once a new wave of subjective vitality has inundated the group.  We like to double moderate our creative groups when it seems right.  If two anthropologists are going to do a phase of later observational ethnographic methodologies, the same two anthropologists or psychologists will run the group together, one sitting across from the one in the moderator’s seat.  Two moderators frame the group.  There are three benefits for double moderation: The consumers get to know that there are several research leadership styles, they get to know the other anthropologist by name and personality who might do their personal ethnography in another week or moderate their portion of the online, and the other anthropologist can take over while the first moderator leaves the room, checks with the client team in the back, or gets materials ready for showing and discussion. Things stay livelier with two.  The moderators can talk with each other and ask questions out loud, like, I wonder why the group went silent when we showed this concept?  Consumers dive back in to answer two of us.  New or deeper questions that one moderator didn’t think of can be asked by the second.  Sometimes, we have a client from the backroom sit in the groups to act as a second moderating force.   In 2017, the way we moderate our groups is to actively seek looseness and environmental subjectivity, creativity, and spontaneity.  We encourage emotions, adding in projective techniques early on. We go on and off topic.  We add in moderators.  We put in a wishing module that extends to consumers’ lives and families independent of the topic.  The topic remains important, sure, but it’s not necessary to run a strictly linear group with a totally democratic style.  No, we don’t want distressing or disturbing dominators—nor wallflowers—but people are people and we want to see them interact in a highly social experiential mode that portrays the collective spirit of the concept or category. In summary:  Wish a little.  Let the group dive into the collective unconscious.  Let creative—rather than focus—groups be the entry point into a hybrid qualitative effort that quickly moves into online and ethnographic dimensions to gain a 360 perspective for our consumers.​

New with classic components make a great research design​

Issue: Everyone wants the newest research techniques. They’re exciting, innovative, and productive. Issue: Are they right? Is newest automatically better, faster, deeper? Sometimes yes…sometimes no. Issue: Classic processes like live focus groups, in-depth interviews, live ethnography, and live vision sessions are being downplayed yet continue to have superb benefits for insight. Issue: Online and social media can be amazingly fast and powerful. But, a counterbalance between online methods with in-person processes allows us to interact with real and virtual people, target a specific demographic, recruit psychographic segments for certain initiatives and see the differences in front of us, and allow the feelings of the observing team to expand as they listen to live participants speaking and engaging. Solution: Let’s design when, how, and where the newest research techniques can be incorporated into the classic so valuable processes are not abandoned for only online platforms. Solution: Add live and online team debriefs during the research for iterative effects. Solution: Make a live presentation of findings a working session to give food for thought for next-steps, quantification, and new concept development, not be an etched-in- stone monolith. Solution: Send the draft qualitative report to the marketing team in advance so they can add their recommendations to present simultaneously online and live with qualitative results.​

The reemergence of qualitative research​

I liked the article below about how big data is necessitating the reemergence of qualitative research. It’s from today’s 7-14-2016 blog from ThinkNow, an Hispanic panel group who write some great articles on miscellaneous research topics. It mirrors a situation at the recent IIex 2016 conference in Atlanta, a 3-day conference filled with insight innovation from all over the world, in which a key presenter said (about qualitative work I had conducted for their recent multiphase project for International Data Corporation and Rackspace): “I’m falling in love again with focus groups. It was wonderful to listen to high level decision makers sit around and intensely talk about their perceptions, misperceptions, confusion, and knowledge, back and forth, right in front of us in a facility. I understood so much that I couldn’t have learned with online or mobile. This jump-started the remainder of the project.” Here is Roy Kokoyachuk’s article from ThinkNow in its entirety:  As Big Data Rises So Does the Need to Talk Directly to ConsumersWhen big data came on the scene a few years ago there was a lot of hand wringing in the market research industry about what the future was going to look like if all online consumer data was going to be available for marketers to analyze and exploit. In-person qualitative research, with its old-school approach and methodology, seemed to be a good candidate for extinction in an age of pixels and clicks. Why would marketers want to talk to consumers if they could see their every purchase and eavesdrop on their online conversations? Wouldn’t consumers reveal their likes, dislikes and motivations for all to see and marketers to exploit? Now, in mid-2016, we have a pretty good sense of how things are shaking out. While it’s true that we share quite a lot about ourselves online, it’s not always the type of information that marketers can use. While Amazon, Google, and Spotify do indeed know a lot about our purchase behaviors, browsing habits and music preferences they don’t know why we bought something, looked something up or chose a certain song to listen to. All the information Amazon, Google and Spotify work with was created after we’ve searched for or clicked on something. They have a limited view, however, as to why we went to their sites in the first place. Without the ‘why’ marketers are left guessing as to how to incite future purchases or gauge interest in future products. The ProblemThe ‘why’ was supposed to come from the social listening side of the equation. Facebook, Twitter, et al were going to tell us what motivated people to do what they do. While they do uncover interesting insights there’s something coloring many of those findings – social acceptance and vanity. A significant predictor of whether an online conversation approving of or disproving of a product or service is often-times the content of the first comment in the string. Subsequent respondents then echo the initial sentiment to gain social acceptance. Additionally, the comments and images we post online for all to see are not necessarily reflective of our real selves. If they were, a large proportion of us would be walking around staring into mirrors, making duck lips and tilting our heads just so. Our ‘better’ online selves are happier, enjoy life more and have more ‘friends’ than our offline selves. The problem for marketers is that in 2016 it’s still the offline self that spends money on products and services. Amazon can set their algorithms in motion once we’ve clicked on something or made a purchase but until we do they’re clueless as to what to say to us. The SolutionWhile everyone was distracted by their glowing screens something interesting has been happening in market research – old school qualitative research has been making a comeback. After a lull in qualitative research which occurred while consumer insights teams absorbed the new tools they had at their disposal and figured out what they could and could not do, we’re experiencing a resurgence of interest in ethnographies, focus groups, shop-alongs and IDI’s. In a nod to the new online world, some of it is happening online but a lot of it is reverting to face-to-face methodologies. We recently conducted a series of focus groups among individuals without health insurance. Not having health insurance is not something people brag about on Facebook. In fact, one might get the impression from online posts that Americans are perpetually smiling, spend most of their time on vacation and are ‘living the dream’. Listening to group members describe their struggles with health insurance access, fear of financial catastrophe and concerns about their and their family’s health, one realizes that this type of conversation can only be had in-person. Several group participants hugged the moderator on the way out and thanked him for allowing them to share their feelings on the topic. The moderator had done little more than listen attentively and probe for more information but an intimacy was achieved in those groups that felt intensely human. Of course, not all focus groups revolve around such weighty topics but a good moderator can help people uncover the inner motivations for their preferences. An online post can tell us “Mustangs are cool!” but it doesn’t usually reveal that “I want a Mustang but work in a law firm where most people drive Audi’s and BMW’s so I’m kind of embarrassed by wanting one.” Further probing might lead an ad agency to have an ah-ha! moment that could lead to an ad campaign that drives buyers to showrooms. Knowing that someone clicked on a picture of a Mustang is interesting but will only get you so far in developing resonant marketing messages. As long as marketers are selling products and services to human beings there will be a need to understand them on an emotional level and thus a need for qualitative research moderated by humans​.  About the author: Roy Eduardo KokoyachukRoy is a Managing Partner at ThinkNow Research. He started his career at Warner Bros. Media Research. A desire to pursue multicultural market research full-time led him to join a full service Hispanic & multicultural market research company, in 2003 as Vice President of Advertising Research. He became Executive Vice President in 2006 and opened an operations center in Tijuana, Mexico and directed the company’s entry into online research. In 2009 he initiated the creation of the first nationally representative opt-in market research panel of U.S. Hispanics – CadaCabeza. This panel broke new ground in panel building by focusing on the recruitment of Spanish speaking Hispanics as well as the English speakers typically found on online panels. He co-founded ThinkNow Research to further pursue his passion for multicultural consumer insights. Posted in Analysis, and qualitative research, Big qualitative and big data, Methodologies and research findings, Qualitative market research | Leave a comment »

The gaze: A new workshop in planning​

There is a similar paper with an anthropological tonality for the EPIC Conference in Sao Paulo, in September 2015, but we are awaiting word on this business anthropological organization’s acceptance. I would welcome comments, additions, or suggestions from fellow researchers and clients alike. Description of session content This session will communicate the provocative dynamics, results, and implications of an exciting researcher-on-researcher qualitative project conducted by cultural anthropologists who are specialists in observation and who have long been fascinated by the subject of the gaze, worked for years with (and occasionally without) client teams, and enjoy speculating on what being observed by client teams means for research, researcher, and participant. Our definition of the gaze starts very simply, i.e., as the researcher’s state of mind, emotions, internal and external sense of value, sense of power and freedom, and specific actions that result from an awareness that one is being viewed and impacted by an authoritative client presence. Our dual collaboration as anthropologically oriented ethnographers and moderators will identify how other researchers feel about the gaze and how their reporting of experiences related to the gaze can benefit others in improving and expanding client relationships, clarifying modes of observation, better negotiating methodologies, scope, process, findings, and techniques with clients, and achieving more positive outcomes in research…generating a win-win experience for both researcher and client. The gaze project is based upon findings from dual anthropologist-moderated in-depth interviews with researchers using Skype or in-person depth psychological processes. Representative qualitative researchers are interviewed from inside and out of the QRCA, from the U.S., Canada, and Europe, drawing from the interactions and feelings of highly experienced moderators of live groups, IDIs, and ethnographies, specialists in online research, as well as trained academic cultural anthropologists and psychologists. We include interviews that are a mix of ages, genders, and specialties in qualitative researchers, cultural anthropology, business anthropologists, cognitive and depth psychology, representing a blend of expertise and clients. The research has a longitudinal aspect: Each researcher-participant is being interviewed twice, with the second interview a few weeks from the first to gain deeper insight into the gaze topic once introduced and speculated upon previously. Case histories and narratives will describe how the gaze differs by type of client, when the client gaze is welcome and when it’s not, how the course of a project changes when there is a deep gaze vs. lack of involvement, the delights and challenges of being observed by clients, how knowledge is produced during the gaze, and thoughts on the alternation of researcher roles as both subject of the gaze and as the one who is observing the subject-participant. Outline of session This researcher-on-researcher project is thought to include brief theoretical foundations of the subject of the gaze, then report key insights and findings from researchers to define how the power, motivation, and expertise of the client gaze influences qualitative research positively and negatively. This is especially relevant within the ever-intensifying atmosphere and potentially changing client observation and relationships within hybrid, digital methodologies, big data, online communities, and social media research with which qualitative research like groups, IDIs, and ethnographies now compete and interact. Interactive gaze exercises and a section of best practices for client relationships, gleaned from our participating researchers, will add closure to the workshop’s powerful communication of what being a researcher in relationship with clients means in contemporary life. It’s 60 minutes in length, and I want to leave time for audience participation and interactivity. However, potential sections could include the following: How the client gaze impacts contemporary qualitative researcher feelings, performance, choice of methodologies, and perceived strength of outcomes Learn which client interactions on your research seem productive, empowering, and beneficial; which are difficult, distracting, and counterproductive; and how to make them better Differences between the client gaze in live research vs. the gaze of observers of online boards, chats, and communities How researchers are affected, enhanced, changed, and shifted by the gaze and physical presence of client teams related to personal performance, creativity, thinking quality, risk taking and question style with participants, development of meaningful insights, and output How researchers define the better, more powerful and productive client team vs. the team that needs researcher problem solving, forbearance, and negotiation with some illustrative videos from real-life ethnography Implications for best practices with ways to improve client relationships and working experiences Surprising outcomes from a key question: If they could do it all over, which researcher would choose the client gaze again and which would choose a research life without clients Differences between American, UK, and European researchers with regard to the client gaze There will be opportunity for interactive learning and trying out of observational exercises to intensify knowledge of and negotiation of the client gaze This is a totally new study, still in process, with groundbreaking implications. The timing of this workshop/study – with its integration of some academic theory, an intense qualitative research methodological basis, deep results from actual researchers, development and execution by two cultural anthropologists who are skilled in observation, and its inclusion of interactivity and practical results – seems relevant now that the Qualitative Research Consultants Association is openly admitting new styles of qualitative researchers like academic researchers and special qualitative consultants who specialize in qualitative methodologies.​


Qualitative Market Research