Ask, Explore, Understand

ASK, EXPLORE, UNDERSTAND – that is qualitative research.

It’s pretty simple really. I get to say that after working as a professional research consultant for nearly 20 years.

Absolutely, there is a highly developed skill set, science, tools and techniques that come into play and yet the bottom line is this…

Qualitative consumer insights work is about talking with people while actively listening, observing people without judgment, and ultimately interpreting what one sees and hears.

As managers, engineers, marketers and brand owners, you are the experts on your product, your packaging, your message. But are you the expert on your consumer? You know what message you want to send, but do you know how it is being interpreted? You know how your packaging is designed to perform, but does it work that way in the hands of the consumer? (Young, old, large, small, strong, tired or weak hands?)  Or maybe they have a better idea. You might recall the upside-down condiment revolution, spurred by consumers’ organic behaviors.

And sometimes we get too close to things to view them objectively. In a workshop I sometimes present for clients, I show a crayon drawing of a dog. Honestly, it is the best drawing of a dog I’ve every seen…from the two oblong legs, the multi-colored bulbous body, the stick-thin tail, the tiny round head and obvious smile. You see, my daughter drew that for me when she was 4 years old. It’s really a masterpiece. I know you would think so, too.

Now, jump to reality – it’s a rather scary creature. But you get the idea. There is a need for varied viewpoints, a fresh perspective. Do you believe every consumer sees, hears, thinks and acts in the same way?

We can learn from and find inspiration in consumers’ challenges, their work-arounds and their organic behaviors. What are they doing on their own that we can help them do more easily? What are they missing that we can provide?

Some companies push back on the research investment saying, “Consumers don’t know what they want.” And many times, I agree. Consumers often find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine or envision what they want or what is possible, and sometimes they don’t even recognize an unmet need until they are presented with an option. But that is okay. It is not their job to design the solution. But it is your job, or your researcher’s job, to listen to and interpret their stories. Listen for desired benefits, then design and deliver the features or the path to get there.

Qualitative consumer research is fluid and evolutionary, with many avenues and options to help you go from questions to answers to action. It’s not sterile focus groups. It’s about conversation, observation and understanding. In today’s massively competitive landscape, make sure the actions you take, the products you provide and the messages you send are the right ones from your consumer’s perspective.