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Let's Get Real! Getting Below the Surface with Qualitative Research, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we focused on thinking about respondents differently, thinking about the research experience differently, and thinking about how respondents think. The first step to applying this understanding is to challenge yourself to think differently as you plan and design your research projects.

Here are some suggestions to help you think differently about your research projects. These are not cookie-cutter solutions that will apply to all projects but are worth considering with each project.

So, Let's Get Real!

First, Set the Stage. We have already discussed that respondents may have feelings and memory patterns established by participation in previous research projects. Additionally, the research experience itself may be entirely foreign to participants. We can use the screener to address these situations.

The screener is designed to identify the right respondents for the research. But it can help prepare the respondents for the research experience by setting the stage. All screeners include a research topic, which can do two different things for you:

  • First, it informs the respondent, so there is potentially less stress around the research experience and creates a sense of ease that will help them open their minds to the research questions.

  • Second, it prepares the respondent for the research experience by providing information that will trigger thoughts before the research, which will start to warm up their brain. It can also prepare respondents by breaking a memory pattern. That is, if every time a respondent participates in market research, the topics sound the same, they expect the same experience and fall into default behavior driven by memory patterns.

We looked back on screeners for projects on the same general disease state, which explored various business questions and research objectives. The research topic included in the screener was "a study about diabetes." But the objectives varied and included market landscape assessment, positioning, sales aid testing, creative concept testing, and a few more. How would respondents have approached the research if, instead of "a study in diabetes…", we had invited them to participate in a special discussion about future predictions in innovative treatment of diabetes (a.k.a. market landscape assessment)? Or about suggestions for making rep interactions more beneficial to the physician (a.k.a. Sales aid testing)?

Since we know that experience can dictate the attitudes and expectations of respondents, we should also find out about their experience with market research. We typically ask about the respondent's past participation to weed out the "professionals" and to ensure that respondents have not participated in research recently on the same topic. We should also ask about their research experience. Would it be helpful to know if respondents had a good or bad experience in research so that you could prepare them properly and address any concerns?

We can also use the screener to set expectations for the research experience. If the project requires respondents to do many projective activities, it makes sense to take them through one during the screening process. This goes beyond the question designed to gauge respondent fluency and prepares them for the types of questions in the actual research.

Application Examples

Now that we have screened our respondents and begun to break the memory patterns, it's time to start the research experience. Keep in mind: warm-up is critical, set the mood, take your time, and use cues to your advantage.

We know that our brains work better and faster when there is the opportunity to get warmed up. Ask yourself what benefit you could get from ensuring respondents are ready to start the research. In addition to the screener, you could give pre-research assignments (collages, sentence starters, etc.) for them to complete. Another warm-up is to text with them for a few days before research begins. A brief "lobby questionnaire" can help them warm up, or you could start the discussion with visualization exercises.

As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, recall is more robust when individuals have the same frame of mind as the original experience. When we want respondents to tell us about an experience, we need to take some time to set the mood for them.

We also know memories and experiences are often tied to color and imagery. Instead of asking patients what they recall about the time they were diagnosed, ask them what color comes to mind when they think of their experience. You could also use a visualization exercise.

We know that it can take time for respondents to recall or recollect more meaningfully. While we all work under a time constraint depending on the time the respondent has committed, what if we took additional time to build rapport, create comfort, and help the respondent think better? That small amount of time could make a dramatic difference in the quality of the final results.

You can consider many other things to get into the respondent's subconscious. We encourage you to think and talk about what other options exist for you. What different methodologies might you consider? By thinking about respondents and research differently and considering some practical ways to apply those ideas to your research plan, you will be able to get under the surface with your respondents consistently and efficiently to deliver quality insights.

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