How Taking Part in Qualitative Market Research Makes You See The World Differently

If you have ever taken part in a market research focus group or group discussion, it’s possible that you might have come out of the process unclear as to exactly what was achieved. When we talk to people about their experience of research participation, they nearly always report having had a fun and interesting time -but sometimes they wonder exactly what the people commissioning the research can have learned from their contributions, and how exactly they earned their cash incentive payment (typically £30 to £50 at current UK rates)

Of course sometimes the exercises used in research are very direct and obvious: If the research facilitator asks the group to compare two images and discuss what they like about each of them, which is most effective, which they prefer and why… as a research participant you will surely listen to the question and consider it, then try to respond to it as honestly and fully as possible.

That is fine, when this kind of considered response is required. But sometimes researchers need to go deeper. We relate to the brands around us in a wide range of ways, some of them consciously (‘I love Brand X, but Brand Y has gone down hill lately’), but other relationships are much more subtle. You might have sentimental feelings for brands from your childhood, or unconscious connections and memories suggested by a logo or piece of packaging. An advert or theme tune might really grate on you for reasons you have never thought about, and probably don’t really care about… but the people marketing that brand do care, and that is why they are paying for these focus groups!

So the researcher might ask you to do some things that seem a little bizarre at face value. We have seen participants asked to close their eyes and imagine what a brand of detergent would be like if it were a country – what kind of climate it might have, what governance, what the national dish might be. Sometimes people have said afterwards that they felt they gave a silly answer, because they had no idea what they were supposed to say… but that ‘top of head’ response can often tell the market researchers a great deal about the impressions their products are making, especially when they compare the responses from a range of different research participants.

Other researchers might get you to draw a picture of how an event made you feel, or imagine two different makes of car were people you met at a party – and then think about how they might introduce themselves and what they’d be wearing, and so on.

It’s all about getting you to think about the familiar in new and different ways, and it’s fascinating to observe or be a part of. We all make hundreds of tiny decisions every day, to buy that kind of shampoo or visit that website over there… each of our individual decisions might seem inconsequential, but when we’re talking about brands used all over the world these decisions scale up staggeringly. Market Researchers seeking to understand and learn from this behaviour have evolved intriguing tools to explore how our minds make these decisions, and being part of this is great fun.

Facilitators Maximize Discussion Productivity

Corporate retreats, often situated in exotic locales, can be a lot of fun for employees. Yet corporations should also make sure to maximize the benefits that are available when so many members of the organization are together in one place. Whether meeting to address a specific problem and brainstorm a solution, or simply to work on team building and group facilitation, a lot of good can come from a corporate gathering. Yet businesses should be careful. Having too many people together in one place, all with varying interests and views can sometimes hinder the flow of ideas. For a company to get the most out of the gathering, it should strongly consider bringing in an outsider to help with company discussions. Doing so will boost the productivity of any kind of meeting, as the professional hired will usually possess unique skills, experience and training that allow them to do more than someone within the organization could. So, what kinds of services can a facilitator provide?

Team Building Services

One great offering is team-building services, which target unseen issues related to the group’s dynamics. Using the three-level approach by Leadership Strategies, these professionals will work to uncover dysfunctional behavior and a lack of trust among employees. Additionally, they will be on the lookout for poor communication and an inability to address disagreements. These certified professionals will not only diagnose these issues but will also help to remedy them, by giving everyone a chance to speak and by mediating and resolving conflicts without allowing them to take over the event.

Strategic Planning

Events devoted to strategic planning will also benefit from the addition of an outside professional. These experts will do research prior to the event to diagnose the problem and gain a better understanding of each participant’s interests. During the event, they will make sure that each participant has the opportunity to speak so that a genuine consensus is reached. Then the discussion will shift to defining achievable objectives and writing down a detailed plan for how these objectives will be reached. Since this individual comes from outside of the company, they will bring no personal bias or interests to the table.

Conference Planning

These experts will not only be helpful during an event, but can also aid in conference planning. Their experience means that they have attended a number of these events in the past, and thus understand what elements allow these events to be successful. They will focus on balancing the amount of time devoted to discussions, guest speakers and audience engagement to make sure that everyone benefits from the event.

These are just some of the many meeting facilitation options that a company will have. For more information, executives should find a service that matches these professionals with interested companies. These types of services will typically offer many options for type of service, and can customize a solution based on pricing concerns or the level of experience desired.

Why Would a Focus Group Facilitator Be Necessary?

When a business decides to launch a new product, it must invest millions of dollars in order to bring the product to the market. These dollars are spent primarily on research and development (R&D) and there is no guarantee that these dollars will ever be recouped. If the product is a complete flop, it will lose millions of dollars and cripple the company’s finances. For this reason, many companies use focus groups to determine how consumers feel about a specific product before producing and releasing it. Companies that bring together a group must hire a facilitator to lead the group’s discussion. This article takes a look at how group think works and what role a group facilitator plays.

A focus group is a form of qualitative research in which a set of consumers who match the target demographic are asked their opinions and attitudes to a specific idea, product, or service. The group facilitator asks participants a wide range of questions and participants are able to interact with other group members. Ideally a focus group will sustain a conversation and all participants will feel that they can speak freely. This free exchange of ideas allows the company to get the most honest reaction to a proposed product, service, or marketing campaign.

There are three phases of focus group planning that a group facilitator will have to complete. He or she will complete work before, during, and after the focus group. This professional will actually start working right after the company decides it is time to hire a facilitator. The group leader will help plan the event by identifying objectives for the discussion, determining a location and group of participants based on the objectives and the target market, and finally he or she will develop a script. This script will include an opening section that explains how the event will work, a section with open-ended questions that spur conversation, and a closing section that thanks the participants.

Once planning is completed, the group facilitator will conduct the focus group. He or she should record the session either with a voice recording or a video, with participants made aware that they will be recorded. The facilitator will follow his or her script during the session, but an experienced professional will know when to ask spontaneous questions. He or she will also focus on getting full answers, keeping the discussion on-track at all times, and making sure that every participant is given the chance to speak. The group facilitator will also keep an eye on time so that all questions are addressed.

When a business decides to hire a facilitator, it will also have help dealing with the results of the focus group. The group facilitator will use his or her notes and the recording of the session to create a written summary. This summary can then be analyzed to determine whether a product or service is ready for the market, or if a marketing campaign needs to be retooled before the product or service is released.

Companies that hire a facilitator to lead their focus groups will minimize the occurrence of costly product or service flops.

The Voice of the Customer – How Market Research Leads to Product Success

What is the best way to truly understand your customers’ needs? That’s right, just ask them. It seems simple enough, however many companies and product development teams omit this vital step in the process.

Why Is Research So Vital?

For the companies who engage in market research the findings are invaluable. The information captured during research exposes consumers’ likes and dislikes of a product and its features. It gives a glimpse of the future of a product or category and often generates new concept direction. Research gives the design team a look into the consumers’ mind and an opportunity to tweak designs to compare one against the other until the final design is exactly what the consumer wants and the price he is willing to pay. Compare it to an eye exam. As the doctor flips the lens, the patient tells him which is better. The same applies to product research, giving the designer the best opportunity to hit a homerun.

In addition to capturing the emotional and behavioral response of a product, research can also raise a red flag when you are heading in the wrong direction. For example, if focus groups of parents tell you they will not pay $100 for a certain type of toy as it is presented; you can almost guarantee that it will fail on the market if you ignore their warnings. This finding is certainly invaluable when you compare the cost of re-evaluating the product to the cost of failing in the market place.

As markets and consumer expectations change, knowing who your customer is and how they spend their money becomes more and more important. And, just when you think you know who the customer is and what they need or want, it changes. Research gives strong evidence of who the customer is and how to best reach them. More importantly, when used over a period of time, trends and market changes can become more easily identified. Analyzing the history of the research also reminds the team how the consumer and the product have changed over its lifecycle, which may lead to new areas of interest for future product development.

As consumers have become more savvy, so have retail buyers. They have come to expect companies to perform due diligence as proof that a new concept, category or design will be successful. The most effective way to do this is to present the new product through the eyes of the consumer, through market research. Without this, you must rely on cold statistics, studies and your “gut feel”.

In addition, rising product liability concerns have increased the need for product research. Understanding how users interact with products and the assembly, use and misuse of products has quickly become an important effort in liability consideration. Fortunately, liability concerns can often be seamlessly tied into many research methods, allowing companies to gather demographic, preference, market, trend and liability data with the same research program.

Types of Market Research

Market research can be very flexible, based on project needs and budget. There are several research methods that can be used throughout the product development process.

Focus groups

Focus groups typically consist of a group of participants and a moderator. The moderator asks the group questions to begin interactive dialogue. This research method is an excellent way to learn why people make the choices they do. The group dynamics often leads to uncovering new ideas and unidentified needs.

Mall Intercepts and Surveys

While focus groups concentrate on the “whys”, surveys focus on “what proportion”. Surveys can be implemented as a mall intercept, where consumers are individually interviewed in a mall or retail establishment, by telephone or through an online survey. All of these methods can successfully gather quantitative information quickly and accurately, however due to intellectual property concerns, care should be taken when using online surveys to gain opinions on concept sketches, etc.

Observation Studies

Observation research studies, a less formal research method, add a unique perspective to how consumers interact with products. By simply watching consumers interact with products in stores, you can gain great insight into their preferences and how products compete on the retail shelf.

Trend Research

Trend research should be considered during the brainstorming and concept phases of the product development process. Trend research often results in new category development and unexpected product applications. This is exactly how a new version of a classic themed product became a best seller at Target. While the Catalyst design team worked to address consumer assembly issues of an item currently in the market, they identified a niche opportunity that was a perfect fit for their client. After recognizing a grass roots affection for a nostalgic stool design, the team presented the idea of re-introducing the stool design to the client’s marketing team, but with modern improvements for the mass market. Just like that, Catalyst had identified an opportunity that became hugely successful simply by taken the unbeaten path during trend research. This type of research can include things like internet research, retail audits, industry and non-industry related trade shows or other events to name a few.

Choosing the Research Team

The people included in the research team can range from corporate level management to marketing assistants. Market research companies may also be included for the design, facilitation and data analysis of the program. However, for product specific research, studies show that the inclusion of product designers (internal or external) plays a valuable role for several reasons.

First, designers view the world from a unique perspective. They can often capture and sketch participants’ ideas on the spot for clarification. This is particularly valuable when weeding out product concepts or brainstorming new concepts.

Second, a strong designer takes personal ownership in his designs. Since designers are intimate with the product, they offer valuable input on things like questions that are asked and what type or how many concepts should be included in the research. In addition, the design team may need feedback in areas that other members of the team may not consider as valuable. Designers want to understand customer needs and expectations, but in order to do that, they need to see and hear the participants’ feedback first hand. Both positive and negative feedback challenge the design team to see their concepts through the eyes of the consumer. It challenges them to dig deeper into their design not only to meet consumer expectations, but to exceed them.

The few product development companies who understand the importance and value that research adds to the product development process actually integrate market research services into their process. While careful not to let the market research consume the team, budget and timeline, they and their clients often rely on research results to validate concept direction, cost/value clarification and feature/benefit preference.

As odd as it may sound, market research results are often considered among the list of “authorities” during the decision-making process, especially since research results should be reviewed by non-linear disciplines within the group. Consider this example: marketing team members will tune into cost/value comments and suggestions while product designers will most likely focus on ergonomic/style feedback. At the same time, engineering representatives will weigh fit and function comments more heavily than others. Relying on only one of these interpretations is short-sided, leaving significant opportunity on the table. It is the combination of these perspectives and the pure, honest consumer feedback that helps companies determine product direction with confidence.

Market Research Leads to Product Success

The inclusion of market research in the product development process can often make the difference between success and failure. Rather than assuming the team has all of the answers, engaging in one or more of these research methods can confirm your position, raise a red flag to a potential issue, identify a new opportunity, validate cost versus value or give them a new perspective on how their product is used and perceived in the marketplace. Market research increases the opportunity for success by removing all of the guess work and understanding your customers’ wants, needs and expectations simply by asking them!