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Specialised qualitative research

X25_1_woman_up_blue1.jpg Qualitative research covers a wide range of techniques, approaches and ideas. The use of online and mobile research with cameras and videos has greatly increased what qualitative research can deliver. Different types of research problem, or different types of market require different specialities. Here are four examples

Our sensory-emotional technique is a particularly powerful way of exploring and eliciting the hidden patterns that drive our responses to products and advertising.

Brand and marketing development

Most market research is focused the creation and testing of marketing materials from advertising, to packaging to the brand and the product itself. Most of this type of research is focused on imagery and associations, consequently there is a strong use of stimulus materials and concept testing.

A great deal of this type of research has become almost semi-automated. Similar discussion guides, similar stimulus materials and similar analysis combining to provide a view of what the customer sees as valuable, normally with no great or earth-shattering revelations, just a gentle confirmation of existing views. More of a safety harness, than a provider of great insight.

However, with a slightly broader brief and more skilled researchers, a more original line and approach can be taken using a variety of different stimulus and the use of hybrid techniques to develop stronger understanding of what the brand means and what is possible with the brand.

With mobile devices, researchers can step into the lives of consumers (with their co-operation and consent obviously). This can extend from video logs for real-time observation, combined with interviews, chats, to the use of photos and snapshots and tasks to draw out the underlying responses to the brand or the category. The outcome from this more in-depth research is new brand positioning and new campaigns with new angles. Consequently some care is needed to know that this is what you are really looking for.


Customer relationships and customer journeys research

Unlike brand or marketing research, where imagery and associations are highlighted, customer relationship research is focused more on events and stories surrounding a relationship - the journeys and experiences faced by real customers. The aim being to identify gaps and opportunities and unmet needs.

In this type of qualitative research, respondents are taken through their purchase journey and through the development of their relationship with the business, product or service, the touch-points between the customer and the business. This can be as simple as walking the customer through their experience, and talking about what happened, what worked and what could be improved each step of the way. But with smartphones, customers can actually take researchers with them showing their live experience and reactions.

The impact of this type of research is typically on the operations of a company, rather than the image of the company (although clearly if there is a mismatch this needs to be pointed out) and typically forms the basis of customer satisfaction and conjoint studies. This type of qualitative research is often tied into other aspects of relationship development and service design.


New strategy and new product research

Let's face it, research into the future is difficult. Most high tech companies are making decisions about products that will come to the market in two years time, for a target audience who is on average already two years or more behind the versions being sold today. Consequently when you research potential new products, you may be trying to project at least four years ahead of your customer's current experience (and for new products such as 3G mobiles, there may be no prior experience).

The researcher therefore needs to be able to take a broader view than just simple qualitative research about opinions and views. Research needs to stretch to historical and analogous products, looking at use-cases and what the customer is trying to achieve and how things are used. Choosing the right set of customers to research can be essential to find the views of customers at the leading edge.

For this type of research into unknown futures, the researcher themselves needs to be educated about future possibilities, with a technical literacy drawn from looking at related markets and experience of seeing gaps. In many ways this is like employing an expert who also happens to be a researcher. For many companies, this expert researcher is very often a member of their own staff, who then commissions research based on his/her expert knowledge of the market. In these types of projects, the business needs to prime and teach the researcher, who has to be comfortable with the technical elements of the category - for instance, in health, or tech, or scientific instruments.


Business-to-business qualitative research

If you were to ask many researchers what the key quality of a good consumer-focused qualitative researcher was, they would probably say the ability to get inside the consumers' heads.

For business research, a similar maxim applies. For business-focused research, the key is the ability to get inside the mind of the business. Business markets are quite different from consumer markets. To understand what a business thinks, you need to understand how the business works, how it is put together, what the culture is, who makes decisions and what the drivers of the business are.

Although brand and image have a strong place the long-standing relationships and mutual self-interest mean brand and image are formed more in terms of reputation, reliability and expertise, than ever just pure marketing hype. The ability to follow-through and deliver and to provide service are often the most important parts of a product. A good business qualitative researcher, therefore needs a solid grounding in how and why businesses work.

For help and advice on carrying out advanced qualititative research contact

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