Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's tipped

In the past year or so, it’s tipped: I can’t think of more than a handful of segments of interest to market researchers that aren’t living at least some of their lives online.

And most of these segments not only have access to the web, but are (now) also very comfortable using this medium to communicate.

They write and forward emails to friends who share, or emphatically don’t share their views. They contribute to bulletin boards aligned with, or diametrically opposed to their interests and values. They have their own blogs or comment on others’. They’re likely to be even more comfortable communicating this way than they are in real life.

The point is that often, and increasingly, they’re using these media to voice their opinion: to make themselves heard.

Isn’t that exactly what we ask from respondents in our research focus groups?

BBFGs mirror the way people voice their opinions and communicate with others, including corporations, in the real world. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bulletin board focus groups

We’ve recently been experimenting with over time, online groups, aka bulletin board focus groups (BBFGs). BBFGs are conducted in a virtual group room, using browser based, and usually dedicated, software.

In contrast to real time online groups, the BBFG ‘session’ typically runs for a few days (but could run over several months). The moderator posts questions over time, and respondents have the flexibility of logging on, at their convenience, to answer questions and interact with other respondents.

I think that BBFGs are the most exciting thing to happen in qualitative research in a very long time. 

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Qualitative research online

If you had asked me about online focus groups only 12 months ago (interestingly, no one did), I would have said that I didn’t think they were a very good idea.

Online focus group research seemed to be a relatively technology driven practice, rather than there being any real synergy with the way people communicate (which is ironic, given that this business is about understanding people).

And I’d always thought of online focus groups within the real time context. Apart from researching real time focus groups themselves, I can’t see the benefits of conducting a group online in real time.

The stress of getting participants to ‘turn up’ and log in at the same time, the fight for text time (what if there are slower typists?), the moderator’s unenviable task of trying to keep track of it all, on the hop, maybe missing a beat and missing the whole point...I really don’t get it.

My opinion of real time online groups hasn’t changed.

But look out. Here’s the silver and very magic bullet: over time online groups. 

Next time I blog, I'll explain why.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What if...

Compromise is inherent to most qualitative focus group research. It’s part and parcel of the deal. Experienced researchers acknowledge the compromises and the good ones work to try to minimise their impact.

Importantly though, despite these compromises, we still get good information. We still get good insights. And we still deliver very useful output for our clients.

But imagine the kind of data we could get if we didn’t have to make those compromises…

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Biased? Who me?

I’m blogging about the compromises we make when we conduct focus groups (no, I haven't forgotten the magic silver bullet. Just a few more blogs to go...).

Today, it’s all about biases.

How someone looks, the way they speak, the number of mini-pizzas they eat during the group…all these factors influence the way we ‘hear’ them.

At a superficial level, most researchers are trained to acknowledge and try to minimise these biases. But it’s a tall order, and quite unrealistic, to expect that we can put these biases aside completely.

Without shadow of a doubt, personal biases impact on how we perceive, and deal with respondents within the group environment. Not to mention how biases impact on the way respondents perceive, and deal with each other and the group dynamic. 

Monday, April 21, 2008

Air time and thinking time

A fluorescently lit group room, resplendent with a two way mirror, a video camera and a microphone hanging from the ceiling.

This is hardly an environment that readily inspires great banter, deeply considered thinking or for that matter, honesty. 

And consider a standard 1.5-2 hour group, with 6-7 respondents. Each respondent only gets an average of 10-15 minutes air time (after introductions, warm ups, etc). Throw in a few relatively vocal participants and notwithstanding a switched on moderator, that air time shrinks again.

Even if respondents are thinking deeply about the topic at hand, within this context they may not get a chance to, and nor may they want to, share it with the group.

Again, it’s a compromise.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What about Tilba Tilba?

In addition to the approach to, and the insight we might get from focus groups, sometimes we compromise on location and in effect, our sample.

While we may feel it would be prudent to include various state, regional or even international perspectives, we settle for a Sydney/Melbourne split. 

Budget, time and/or logistics prevent us from going to Perth, Tilba Tilba, Auckland, Hobart or Blackheath. 

Friday, April 18, 2008

Getting in the way

Today's post is about insight - or specifically, how insight can be compromised when we conduct focus groups.

As savvy moderators, we (politely, and with great skill) cut off the rambling respondent in an effort to optimise and preserve the group dynamic. I’ve no doubt that we miss several gems each time we do.

But we have 6 other respondents all rearing to speak (or needing encouragement to do so), and we need to make sure everyone feels included and listened to lest we sabotage the group dynamic.

By doing our job (great facilitation), we’re actually getting in the way of insight.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Compromise |ˈkämprəˌmīz|

This week I’m blogging about the compromises we make when we conduct focus groups.

Sometimes the decision to conduct focus groups is, in itself, a compromise.

Finding busy respondents who have the time and are willing to participate in market research focus groups is difficult. It can also be a challenge to find respondents willing to participate in studies of a sensitive nature.

In many instances such as these, we wouldn’t even entertain the thought of running focus groups.

It’s not because we don’t think there’d be some fascinating discussions if we could convene a focus group. More often than not, we compromise with one on one interviews because we have much more chance of getting these respondents to participate at all.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The silver bullet

In over 12 years of doing qualitative research, I’ve conducted more focus groups than I can count. It’s an approach that, with thoughtful and appropriate application, can deliver fantastically useful information.

But as all seasoned researchers/buyers are aware, using a ‘traditional’ focus group methodology involves compromise. And quite a lot of it.

Over the next week or so I’m going to blog about these compromises. And then I’m going to blog about a magic silver bullet of sorts.

“Oooooohhhh how mysterious and interesting” I hear you say. 

Too right it is!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Good ideas

I don’t think good ideas actually come from research per se. That is, respondents don’t (typically) hand it up on a plate.

Research can definitely inform, inspire and/or spark good ideas.

Further down the track, research is key in shaping and sharpening good ideas to make them resonate with consumers.

But the good ideas themselves? That’s the hard bit and the clever bit. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hey Mike, what's a good question?

Mike Hall once said ‘The best stimulus is a good question’ (Other people might have said it too, but I heard it from him first).

At the time (back in the days…), this was a great revelation to me. I couldn’t get rid of those convoluted mood boards, the word cards, etc fast enough! But in my haste to jettison that big and heavy qual kit, I forgot to ask him the obvious: what is a good question?

Here’s my take on it: A good question is, essentially, a good (informed) idea with a question mark at the end of it. 

Sunday, April 6, 2008


When there are several big players in a market, it’s just that much harder to get an edge.

I’ll generalise from a sample of one (me!) to say that there isn’t much between most of the big brand FMCGs, telcos (pick any other category that's cluttered) as far as their brand communications go. None of them really stand out.

That’s probably because, (ironically?), most of these big players do market research.

To understand their respective target markets, it's likely that they're asking the same sorts of people the same sorts of questions. And so they should. This kind of research is fundamental. 

But while I’ve no doubt that the majority of these companies’ communications are based on sound consumer insights, the problem is that they’re all based on the same (or very similar) sound consumer insights. So you end up with parity of sorts.

Beyond a salient creative execution, it’s no wonder that no one’s really standing out.

Friday, April 4, 2008


What is it?

My definition: consumer understanding, that’s really, really useful.

Clumpy! Insight is a much prettier word.

So the question for Friday (aaakk, already?!?) is:

How can we get better insights?

This is a BIG and reasonably consuming question for researchers and research buyers.

The answer is simple in one sense: you can get better insights by asking better questions.

But there’s also a not so simple follow on: what's a 'better question'?

I think there’s a fairly narrow ambit between ‘getting it’/and ‘seeking it’. You have to get it, at least around the edges, before you can even start to formulate the kinds of questions that will get you the most relevant/powerful insight(s). 

You almost, nearly, need to know the answer first.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Take it for a whirl

We're still on Terrible Questionnaires...

Tip # 3: Pilot the thing! 

I thought everyone knew about this one too. But they can’t be piloting the questionnaires in my Terrible Questionnaire folder. They really, really can’t.

Fill it in yourself. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Is it easy to answer? Are you bored with it?

Then, and this is really important, get other people to fill it in (before you send it out). Which bits are boring? Which bits are difficult to understand? Listen to their feedback. Then fix the questionnaire and pilot it again (and again) until it’s user friendly.

The more user friendly it is, the better the quality of the data you’ll collect.

Anyway, that's the last of my ramblings on Terrible Questionnaires (for now). I'm moving on in my life. 

See you next time for some thoughts on insights.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Grid lock

The topic today is grids. Specifically, the grids you get in some online questionnaires, with the brands listed along the top of the page, and a string of brand attributes down the side.

I’ve seen grids with 70 odd cells (or more!) to complete. You even have to scroll and scroll down the page to see the whole grid. And then there's another 70+ cell grid on the next page.

Do you really think respondents will go through each brand and each attribute and rate them thoughtfully?

Chances are you’ll get random answers so they can just get to the next page. And then it’ll be a race to get past all the other grids just to get the incentive. 

Reliable, quality data? No!