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Multi-modal/Multi-Touchpoint Qualitative – and Why We Love It!

Over the years, we have had the opportunity to employ just about every qualitative methodology available to researchers today. From traditional interviews, focus groups, and dyads to online communities and mobile ethnography. While we recognize that each methodology has a place and a value, we have also observed that something special happens when we combine methodologies in a multi-modal, multi-touchpoint approach.

Combining different methodologies, over time, with the same group of respondents allows us to get different types of responses and deeper insights. We know that the closer we can be to how people think, process, and behave, the closer we get to an insight that can affect strategy. Because each method elicits a different type of information, a multi-modal, multi-touchpoint approach over a longer time-period cannot be beaten.

What is a multi-modal, multi-touchpoint approach?

The multi-modal, multi-touchpoint approach combines more than one methodology with the same respondents over time. Combining methodologies provides a better chance of connecting with respondents in their space and time, thus getting them closer to their personal reality. Each opportunity to communicate with the respondent allows us to peel back the layers to get to those deeper insights that matter to the business decisions you need to make.

Why Consider Multi-modal/Multi-Touchpoint Approaches

There are three reasons multi-modal, multi-touchpoint qualitative should be part of your tool kit.

1. Different methodologies yield different responses.

Face-to-face communication is dramatically different from computer-mediated communication. In face-to-face communication, you must pay attention and process what the other person says, feels, and means. You also have nonverbal cues that help you determine meaning, interest, and intent. When you are face-to-face with someone, you may be confrontational or less likely to be completely honest.

On the other hand, Paul Booth, Ph.D., an assistant professor of media and cinema studies in the College of Communication at DePaul University in Chicago, notes that “when we communicate through computer-mediated communication, we tend to trust the people on the other end of the communication, so our messages tend to be more open.” Different methodologies yield diverse types of information.

2. Time matters.

We often ask respondents to think back to an earlier experience or retrieve a memory in marketing research. How memories are stored and how we access them should influence the methodologies we choose and the ones we decide to mix within a project. Some methodologies require respondents to react immediately, while others give them more time to react.

Memories are always mixed with an awareness of the current situation. Sometimes, new information and suggestions may become incorporated into old memories over time. Further, memories are stored in different parts of the brain connected by neural networks, and the strength of those pathways determines how quickly a memory can be recalled. Additionally, distraction at the time of memory recall can slow or impair the process of retrieval and thus change the memory.

There are distinct kinds of memory retrieval that include recall and recollection.

  • Recall: This type of memory retrieval involves being able to access information quickly and without a specific cue.

  • Recollection: This type of memory retrieval involves reconstructing the memory using cues and clues. This takes longer but may yield a more accurate description of the experience.

Consider what type of memory you want to understand as you choose your methodologies.

3. Layers have more depth

Different methodologies, either with the same or different respondents, reveal layers of insights. These layers:

  • Allow you to see the answer to a question through different lenses (i.e., different approaches yield different responses).

  • Give respondents an approach that will be most comfortable for them.

  • Result in a mix of media that facilitates developing and creating deliverables with impact.

  • Empower respondents to use both recall and recollection to get more details around an experience or event.

  • Maximize the results you get from each respondent.

  • Build trust and safety so that respondents and researchers get to know one another and ask the really difficult questions to get deeper and richer insights.

A Multi-modal/Multi-Touchpoint Case Study: Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Our client challenged us to walk a mile in the shoes of terminal cancer patients. We recruited 24 patients diagnosed with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer that had metastasized in their brains. None of these patients were going to survive their disease. We asked them to participate in multiple methodologies because not all participants respond equally to each. (For example, some like videoblogging, others prefer to be interviewed.) Using different approaches let us meet each respondent in their preferred method and gave us multiple layers of information:

  • 24 patients into a 30-day online community

  • 7 days of online video blogging with 12 of 24 patients

  • 60-minute telephone interviews with 8 of the 12 patients

  • 4-hour in-home immersion with 4 of the 12 patients

To illustrate how combining modes gave us different information, here are two examples:

One respondent shared his thoughts about dealing with the diagnosis in the online community. He talked about how he had to be strong for his family, and as a result, he made significant efforts to not think about it and not to face the reality of the future. It was, as he said, just too difficult. However, when we went to his home after spending over 37 days with him online, we learned that he had a very present, very constant reminder of his diagnosis and his loss of a future with his family. In his kitchen, right next to his medications, he kept a special bottle of wine that he and his wife bought on their honeymoon, planning to drink it on their 25th anniversary. Unfortunately, he is not likely to make it to that anniversary. So, multiple times a day, he takes his medicine and faces his reality every day. This helped us understand the two states (not thinking about it and constantly thinking about it) that exist in his world.

Another respondent also participated in the community and the video blogging. She was open and forthcoming throughout the research and shared stories about the need to be strong and carry on. It was not until we were in her home, after getting to know her, that she felt comfortable enough to tell us about her suicidal ideation (which she, thankfully, never acted on). We would never have reached that insight without using the multi-modal/multi-touchpoint approach.

For these respondents, the multi-modal/multi-touchpoint methodology opened the door to discussions we would not have been able to have in a single point of contact.

The Critical Success Factor: Creativity

Creativity is a fundamental aspect of the research process, from design to back-end analysis. Edward de Bono, the originator of the idea of lateral thinking and the author of many books on thinking and creativity, states: “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns to look at things differently.” And looking at things differently is the heart of successful marketing research. Multi-modal/multi-touchpoint methodologies foster and encourage creativity by delivering varied information. And that’s why we love them!

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