Since most of those reading this understand qualitative research, I will not expand on the basics. However, this is such a wonderful tool but True North believes so many miss the mark with this method . . .

A good moderator should do more than simply manage the conversation.

A good moderator should be very well grounded in the decisions to be made, potential options the client may pursue, potential roadblocks, areas the client cannot pursue, and any other relevant hypotheses.

We always hear unexpected things; in fact, this is a benefit of qualitative research, learning things we did not expect. But the moderator cannot pursue lines of questioning if they don’t understand the potential company decisions, limitations, hypotheses, etc. This is the basis of good probing and knowing where to follow-up.

This is why my favorite moderator while I was on the client side was a former Director of New Product Development in a well-known firm. She understood what it took to take a product from the qualitative research phase through to launch. She was a business-person, not just a moderator.

Likewise at True North, our moderators are business-people who have been on the client side and are very well experienced in qualitative research.

It’s all about finding the emotions that drive the decision.

All the latest behavioral economics research has revealed that humans make decisions unconsciously and emotionally and justify rationally.

When we ask for the reason “why.”  We expect to hear the rational reasons.  But we also know that these may not be the real reasons.  Thus, we listen for those emotionally laden words such as . . .

  • I’m confident . . .
  • I don’t trust . . .
  • That scares me . . .
  • That makes me feel good . . .
  • That’s a lot of work . . .
  • That makes me feel good . . .

This is where we dig in and probe.  This is where we find the real reasons “why.”

Projective Techniques

Projective techniques provide very useful set of techniques that allow us to understand the real reasons for choice (or to reject).  They primarily focus on letting the emotional guard down so  that we can get to the real reasons.  The following are a few of these methods:

  • Projection on others — If we ask why others do something – and they will project their own beliefs on their answers.
  • Photographs – Asking the respondent to find a photograph that illustrates how they feel about the topic – and then use the photograph to describe the topic. This gives a very rich, unfiltered opinion.
  • Metaphors – Ask for a metaphor that describes how they feel. This works great. Tell us investing is like a roller coaster tells us a lot about how they feel in just a few words.

Reporting

The power of qualitative is that real people are explaining their beliefs.  Numbers and percentages can be theoretical and distant.  It is hard to ignore a customer telling you when they will not buy your product.  This can have a much stronger and real impact on decision makers.

Thus, at the very least, we will bring in quotations of the respondents.  But depending on the issue, and especially if the results are going to senior management or others who could not observe the research first-hand, we like to create short video reels on different topics.  This allows decision makers to truly understand what was said, including the emotion attached to the statements.