Howdy Crow Friends! Hopefully you’re all enjoying / have enjoyed or are about to enjoy some precious staycation. We’ve had a few questions on #market#research and specifically when face to face qualitative research can begin again. The answer is now – viewing facilities are opening up in a Covid secure way (and need our support) and many hotels are happy to welcome you.
However, it’s important not to forget the needs and current feelings of participants. Many people are nervous about turning up to strange rooms with strange strangers (and equally strange moderators!) for obvious reasons.
And as well as that, many people are working from home, making a trip to do research ‘live’ a specific destination rather than a convenient add-on. As always, the best advice is to think mixed methodology – targeted face-to-face, targeted online as both have brilliant strengths. In fact, there’s no doubt that going forward, the opportunity to blend approaches to get more actionable insight is enhanced as participants who were nervous about online research previously, now feel fluent and confident.
As the Government begins to ease us out of the lockdown, we’re getting a fair few enquires about what brands can and can’t do in terms of research.
As well as working on a number of online research projects through the pandemic, we’ve been listening to and contributing to different debates in the research sector and there are a few clear themes:
The pandemic is not having an adverse effect on recruitment quality (assuming you plan with care)
Yes, people have time on their hands, but there are no real issues with a rise in non-representative or ‘hobby’ participants
Quality of responses remains high (there was a fear that we would get people taking part to fill their time – turns out time is precious even during lockdown)
Face to face has stopped temporarily and will likely be slow to start up.
Research approaches A number of enquiries worry that Online Qualitative research is just a ‘Poor Man’s’ version of face-to-face. As with most things in life, balance is required: there are clear similarities online research needs to be seen as an additional yet slightly different tool in our armoury for understanding people’s behaviours and attitudes.
Face-to-face Groups (also Connections / Mini Groups and so on) There are two factors often overlooked in ’traditional’ face-to-face qualitative research which underline its real value.
Firstly, humans are a social species and Groups give the opportunity to observe social interaction – bear in mind, copying behaviour is enormously important in people’s lives and therefore understanding where there is agreement, dissonance and influence effects that change views, is incredibly valuable.
Secondly, and related to this, as we begin to understand more about the non-conscious pre-eminence (System 1) in our behaviour, so Groups give us the opportunity to study non-verbal behaviour and interaction as well as visual ‘ evealers’ of beliefs, values and behaviours – things like metaphors, for example. They allow us to get deeper understanding in a way that is not immediately obvious and a sense of how heartfelt or deep views are held.
But when can face-to-face start up in a safe way? Well, not yet, clearly but soon – and here are some of the things we’re planning for groups in the coming months:
run smaller groups so we can allow more space – think shorter, mini groups and more of them rather, than larger, longer groups
use well-ventilated spaces
allow longer for recruitment (the recruitment pool will temporarily shrink and we’ll need to reassure about participants well being during the process)
allow participants to bring their own food (no handling, no sharing platters!)
provision anti-bac hand wipes / sanitising gel
advise against sitting behind the mirror clients (who will want to sit in a confined space anyway?) – viewing in room, smaller numbers watching only, or potentially consider remote viewing / streaming too.
As the situation develops we’ll amend our guidance and advice – and obviously, widely available tests / vaccines will make a massive difference.
Online Focus groups, conducted in real time (synchronous) These are run using video conferencing software. They are particularly useful for observing instinctive reactions from participants to stimulus materials, and for verbal engagement between participants. In practice they are best run in a mini-group format with 3-4 participants. Whilst not welcome, a byproduct of the pandemic is making more people familiar with technologies such as Zoom and Teams, which means barriers to using video conferencing are falling (although this shouldn’t be overstated). And we’re learning a lot about the best way to set the calls up to ensure we can see people and their body reaction, not just hearing what they say (avoiding ‘Half A Head’ syndrome!).
The watchouts are that it requires more set up and time to ensure that the participants are comfortable, not distracted and ready to focus on the discussion. Stimulus is also trickier and we’ve been developing a few interesting ways to introduce stimulus and use it to good effect over the last few weeks. So – don’t think of online groups as a poor relation – they have clear differences and advantages which make them a worthy consideration depending on the project objectives and the timelines.
Asynchronous Online Focus groups and Bulletin Boards
‘Asynchronous’ is surely a high scorer in Scrabble, but all it means is that people respond in their own time, rather than in an immediate conversation with the moderator. We prefer the name ‘Bulletin Board’ for this reason – you post a message on the fridge door and they respond when they see it
These are run over several days, with participants spending 15-30 minutes each day answering the questions and replying to questions and further probing. They’re not ideal for group interaction, but they can produce good results when this is not needed; they’re great for individual reflection and they are a little more cost effective and faster (end to end) than real-time online groups or face-to-face Groups. At The Crow Flies, we like them, but generally would recommend that they support other methods. They’re particularly useful when used with ‘top and tail’ dialogue approaches for example, a video / face to face interview to kick off; then the online group and perhaps an interview to close.
Qualitative Online Surveys Sometimes people talk about ‘quali-quant approaches’ and they can seem either like a pragmatic badge of honour or a hybrid – somehow, there are methodological compromises. Well, Qualitative Online Surveys are a great reposte to that. If you do not need group interaction these online surveys may be something to consider: this method uses time controls and plausibility checks to elicit good quality answers, both instinctive and considered. It can also include probing, using a Virtual Moderator (which is a predictive AI tool that runs in the background). We can even build in IAT methods too (implicit attitude testing) to grab that initial ‘purchase moment’ reaction.
The depth of the qual findings isn’t as pronounced as in a Group of course, but they are really useful for identifying the fundamentals of what people are looking for – their immediate needs; the instinctive appeal of concepts or ideas (or lack of appeal!) as well as a good level of richness about what territories hold potential and why. There’s another inbuilt advantage – they give a bigger sample size than qual – 150 – 200 would be perfectly feasible here.
Digital Diaries / ethnographic
If you’re interested in how a pandemic affects daily life, or affects your brand / offer in real time, this is the way to go – a longer-term digitally-led approach. Here of course, people’s everyday behaviour has changed markedly through lockdown – this may make these approaches more or less valid.
Intercepts With the right permissions in place, intercepts are perfectly possible. Social distancing is fairly easy to implement and the presence of wearing a ruddy great mask may also help! Bear in mind, that strike rate is likely to be lower as people remain nervous (if you could see our hair at the moment, you’d be nervous too…)
Broadly speaking quantitative research continues as normal – the only thing we’re finding is that for longer surveys, drop-out rates are better – probably fewer distractions. Our development focus on quant is to push into understanding System 1 responses as much as System 2 – Implicit Attitude Testing, Find Time testing are good examples of this.
To chat through in greater detail, feel free to drop us a line.
It’s always great when work that impacts the market gets recognised and one of The Crow Flies long-standing clients, Whitworths, has had just that. We’re delighted to have played our part in the wider team that helped turnaround the Whitworths brand – we’ve partnered with them on research, strategy, innovation and planning . Read more about it in the Telegraph (below).
This was a great example of brand building – a team effort working with great partners (a big call out to Springett’s and Chapter), consistent focus on consumer and commercial insights, and then making some tough choices to free up the space, time and resources to impact the market.
If you’d like to chat to us about your brand building challenge, be it strategy, research, innovation or brand planning, we’d love to talk. And well done to Big Phil and the team at Whitworths!
And so the holiday season draws to a close and as we return to work, most marketeers are struck by the same thought: why don’t I become a pool cleaner and then I can be on holiday the whole year around? For most of us, this is swiftly followed by the realisation that we don’t know anything about cleaning swimming pools and so instead we focus on two very important tasks: planning the big projects that are going to step-change brand performance and planning the next family holiday to a pool somewhere sunny.
Let’s be honest, as we get our feet back under the table at work, the latter often takes precedence and the first thing we do is to immerse ourselves in the research for it. Every source and anyone of value to the decision is engaged: friends and family, consumer reviews, pricing comparisons – the lot. By using them, we maximise our chances of finding the perfect holiday and minimise the risk of disappointment and wasted money.
Yet ironically, and increasingly, for big marketing projects research is questioned. It may be because of experience of researching a project to death (which inevitably leads to inaction) or receiving an overly researchy, non-commercial answer (which often leads to a recommendation to do more research!) or just a general sense that the research has merely described the past. It’s so easy to listen to the research naysayers who belittle its value and instead advocate riding with the white knights of ‘big data’, off-the-shelf industry reports, or frankly, personal intuition and a survey cobbled together on Twitter.
At The Crow Flies we’re not curmudgeons, advocating that you should simply do what you’ve always done and damn the consequences. But at its best, we see the value in well constructed research, when engaged consumers and engaged clients are brought together over the right questions to uncover commercial solutions to commercial opportunities.
The Crow approach to managing research powerfully is to think about The Nest and The Egg…. ‘The Nest’ is the research framework. Neither too broad in scope nor too shallow in depth and focused on fuelling decision making. ‘The Egg’ is how research participants and client stakeholders are immersed, involved and fully engaged in incubating the project to deliver results that can be leveraged with scale and impact.
Get this balance right and research can significantly increase your chance of delivering commercial success on those next big projects before you head off on that very well researched family holiday…
The Nest– focused, usable, scalable
The critical 5% Research is typically around 5% of your budget – but it’s the most critical 5%, everything else hangs off it. Give it focus; give it attention, immerse yourself in it and it will deliver.
Ask for your answer Too many research projects don’t go far enough. Uncovering consumers’ unmet needs is only the start. Finding out how your brand can solve them should be the output – which brings us on to…
…focus on the interface Brands are not built on research alone, nor on research strategy, planning or innovation…they are built at the interface of the four. Set-up your research and all the parties involved to ensure the outputs directly inform action.
Methodology blah blah We know people find new research techniques interesting and exciting but often they promise more than they deliver. Focus your brief first and foremost on finding the unmet consumer needs that unlock commercial success and don’t fret about the technique.
Usable utility Elaborate videos & complex segmentation models are of no use if they don’t build shared understanding & uncover new, usable insights. Prioritise outputs that will help the marketing team to make decisions and the sales team to scale up your brands, profitably
The Egg– immersive, informal, impactful
De-objectify the process Consumers are real people. They’ll only tell you what they really think if they feel comfortable & relaxed. Informal is the new formal and releases real truths.
Go long Longitudinal and dialogue techniques will cast light on how consumers actually behave over time. These fresh perspectives can unlock real value.
Get engaged Time is short & attention spans ever shorter. Put engagement at the heart of the process – give quant studies personality, reduce the length of interviews. Focus on what’s essential to learn.
Raw not just scrambled There’s a role for the formal debrief but raw can be better. ‘Live’ debriefs the night of research, open dialogue & discussion for big opportunities at pace.
Sunny side up Consumers are marketing savvy and love to get creative. Don’t just ask them to tell you their frustrations, involve them in creating the solutions. It’s amazing what they come up with
It’s time to reconsider the very real commercial value that research can unlock and to be a little more sceptical about research naysayers – ultimately there’s an agenda behind it. For a different approach to market research and brand building that maximises your chances of delivering commercial success, get in touch.
Rob Parker is a Partner at The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 1283 246260
The boardroom table was packed with ‘suits’. Grey faced executives, tired from wearying international travel and delayed jetlag, early starts, late finishes and the effects of all day grazing on stewed coffee and day-old Danish pastries. Jauntily, the Brand Manager struts into the room and dims the lights. The lamp from the lectern illuminates his keen eyes. He introduces the new advert. Stresses that it’s not quite finished yet and a little post-production is needed. Reminds the room who the target audience is and when it will be launched. He plays it. 60 seconds of cinematic brilliance. A new Swedish director applying his talents to toilet rolls for the first time. Edgy. Contemporary. Challenging. The tonic this brand needs.
The executives shuffle slightly. One or two look at each other. Another frowns.
Then the Chief Executive pulls his finger from the dam. They don’t understand it. It lacks energy and pace. Is it supposed to be funny? Why is it so different from the last ‘new campaign’ a year ago? Will it shift boxes? They doubt it. The Marketing Director attempts to parry: remember, she says, “that you are not the target audience”. “We need to think about the needs and attitudes of Millennials here”. But it doesn’t stand up. The tidal wave of criticism washes over the new advert, which sinks without a trace. The Brand Manager leaves the room, with a grey face, tired and weary.
Who knows in this fictional situation (inspired by real events) whether the new advert was any good? It may have been ground breaking or may have been clap-trap. But how we could we re-imagine the Marketing Director’s defence? What if we really could put our senior stakeholders in a situation where they really understood the target audience? Here are a few techniques that are illuminating and fun.
Picture this! You need to start by constantly reminding your stakeholders who your target audience is (or are). What are their attitudes, their needs, their frustrations? How do these relate to your product category? You may choose a series of pen portraits, some voxpops, a short film or even a comic strip – however you do it, best to be clear who your audience is and be sure to bang on about their needs relentlessly.
Method Act: get your critical stakeholders to wear the shoes of your target, to reallybe them. Is your brand a healthy snack? Get them to live on 2000 calories a day for a week. Or to only snack on unprocessed ingredients. Or to cut snacks out for a few days completely. Is your brand targeted at people who go clubbing regularly? Get them to work behind the bar for a night, or go out with a group of clubbers (release their inner pogo-er…)
(Sofa) Safari: it’s amazing what you can do from the comfort of your sofa or desk nowadays. Use resources to hand to find out about your consumers’ world. Targeting farmers? Go on to DEFRA website; read Farmer’s Weekly, organise a trip around a pig farm. But do it with a purpose: go back to your definition. What are the frustrations? What are the problems we need to try and solve? Do we know enough yet? Keep on immersing yourself in their context, their world.
Wingman: looking to target the gluten free market? Find some friends who have food intolerances or are coeliac. Interview them. Prepare a meal with them. Go shopping with them. Find out what makes them tick. Hear about their frustrations. And not just them: speak to their partner, friends or family. What are the impacts on them? There’s something illuminating about getting alongside your target and watching how they live their life.
Just watch out for variety and breadth. If it’s your Board you are going to immerse in the world of your target audience, ensure it’s everyone on the Board, and that they experience a range of situations. One may be broad in scope – a safari for example, getting them out and about, another may be tight (for example, living on a vegan diet for three days), one may be relatively short, another more extended.
What we’ve found with our experiences at The Crow Flies is that an immersion programme such as this starts our seeming like a major effort for the senior stakeholders, even a distraction. How can we fit around already busy diaries? Surely they don’t want me to do this – isn’t this what they should be doing? But once the benefits are seen, once the connections start to happen then reality bites. A safari, Consumer Connections – call them what you will – are quick and incredibly engaging ways to build stakeholder understanding and alignment by getting them to put their feet in the metaphorical shoes of their consumers. More than this, they’re a way of getting brilliantly useful stimulus into the execution of your brand’s plans (including your expensive TV advert).
David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses. email@example.com; +44 (0) 1283 246260
Criticising research is rather like shooting fish in the barrel nowadays: it’s an easy target. In the corporate world, such criticism is often used to demonstrate the new and innovative thinking of today’s marketeer. No more the focus group. No more the 20 minute quantitative survey. We will be like Apple! We will trust our instinct and back our hunches! The future of driving is driverless!
Yet the headlining grabbing abilities surrounding driverless car efforts underline why knowing your consumer is so important. If nothing else, it underlines why having a clear knowledge of motivations for different sorts of drivers is crucial. Putting aside the ethical and moral questions that surrounds apportioning blame should accidents occur, the real issue in driverless cars is, well, just that – the car becomes driverless. A point which seems to have been missed in the rush to the prize.
I don’t know about you but I like driving. I enjoy the freedom behind the wheel. I cherish – always have – the independence of owning a car – just as the pioneers of the American West cherished their horse and later, their Harley. It’s partially about the driving but it’s also about a whole host of other emotions: freedom, thrill, at times, security. Oh, I’ll be curious about driverless cars: I’ll be interested in the tech both with the cars and the infrastructure, but I’m not ready to forgo that deep, almost primeval feeling that driving can give me.
For others, driverless cars could be a relief – long schleps on motorways. Stuck in the middle lane with rabbit-like nervousness because of the lorries on the inside and the hustling Execs on the outside. In busy, nose to tail traffic, perhaps when driving to unfamiliar places (although there’s another emotion I love about driving – discovery). Perhaps, even an extension to ‘reverse park assist’ in urban environments. Yep, I get the rational logic. It’s the irrationality of driving, what it means, how it makes you feel, that’s been missed in all this. I’d rather the development money went into a car that runs on tap water or air – then we’d be making real progress. And chatting to a few drivers (heaven forbid, in research perhaps!) may – just may – be quite revealing.
It was a point of real frustration, what psychologists call a ‘trigger point’. A client pushing for everdeeper insights. “We need to mine for them, reveal the hidden beliefs and the unconscious needs”, she said.
“But what about all the blindingly observations and truths about your consumer? The ones you already have and have been consistently ignoring for the past two years?”, I retorted, in my head.
The conversation rolled on: how research moderators let their own biases or poor questioning distance themselves from the real truth, failing to uncover the deeper needs. They would prove to be the key that unlocks the door to future prosperity, apparently.
Yet here was a business posting mid single digit volume and profit declines with unrelenting consistency, with fragile to no brand momentum and struggling to create a meaningful vision, a meaningful agenda for their categories. And they want to dig deeper?
A related story. I was once involved in an Ethnographic research project when ethnography was the ‘new news’. A drinks client, dissatisfied with existing research techniques and wanting to be at the bleeding edge to discover deeper, more profound insights. £140,000 later and what we in fact discover is that what consumers really look for in this particular type of (cold) drink…. is that it’s always chilled. Bleeding edge? Bleeding something, right enough. Here was a business that wanted to distract itself from the hard work of doing the basics brilliantly – right outlets, right experience; right serve – to chase the fancy dream of a White Knight in Shining Armour*
Understanding of your target market can come from all sorts of directions – not just down.
I mean, yes, it is possible to find unconscious needs: through gaming or role-playing, through well purposed ethnography and longitudinal studies, through metaphor and story telling. There are ways. But the question at the end of it all is: will it be usable by my brand? Will I be able to plan stuff off it that builds my brand? All too often, seemingly profound ‘insights’ are unusable, and therefore of no value.
Me? I like shrewd observation. I like accompanying harassed parents as they go shopping with their kids, or chatting to a Grandmum about the pressures of feeding their grandchildren ‘the right things’ in the short window of opportunity between nursery finishing and Mum getting home to check. Or talking to a Big Issue seller about their journey from homelessness, from being bereft of hope and opportunity, to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Of sitting alongside someone sifting through their e-mails and all the requests to give or buy. Or the businessman in a forecourt shop balancing a wallet and loyalty card in one hand, with his keys and a bottle of pop in the other, whilst the Assistant asks him if he would like to fill in a customer survey to win a Grand.
And I like collision. Of throwing the observations together. Of seeing what crashes out of the carnage. Of seeing where the ensuing conversation reveals about what we really think, truly believe. The juxtaposition does this: ‘you may think I’m a bit well, weird, behaving like this…but look at them, they use twigs’. Of feeling the energy that arises when apparently conflicting ideas are forced together.
And challenging beliefs. To feel the nervous energy as someone realises that their belief is more of a doctrine and really isn’t supported by fact. But hell, they’re going to believe it anyway and what are you going to do it about Mr Researcher?
Getting real insights is like active listening. Proper listening is hard. To switch off (or at least turn the volume right down) of the voice in your head, and concentrating on what the other person is saying. Of checking their meaning, not challenging. Of listening to the words, not developing counter arguments. Getting real insight is like that: it’s like being a detective or policeman. You’re looking for the things that aren’t said, that aren’t done as well as those things that are. It’s about setting up hypotheses and working through them. And when you’ve found the cause, prosecuting the hell out of it.
Because more than anything else, a good insight is only ‘good’ if it is usable by your brand or your company. If it allows you to do and plan something, not just now, but for a few years at least. How ever you find your insight, if you can’t act on it, or are not willing to, save your time and your money and do something else.
*The armour has to shine, not sure why.
**I don’t, you’re quite normal, trust me
David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that discovers and maps the direct route to success for categories and brands. firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 7885 408367
Sainsbury’s results last week seem to be more evidence that the food retailing bigwigs are feeling the pressure to change their paradigm. Netto entering into a joint venture with Sainsbury’s themselves; the continued growth of Aldi and Lidl, both through expansion and new sites and organic growth – attracting those ‘middle ground’ shoppers who traditionally would go to solely one of the big 4. The day after their results, Sainsbury’s announce that because it’s getting tough out there, they will invest a further £150m in price discounts: £150m lost in the fight to defend their distinctiveness, their differentiation.
Of course the price we pay for our food is a major concern. But moving retail strategies towards a price orientation demonstrates the lack of confidence leaders have in their brands – and shines a light on the real problem that needs fixing.
The experience a retailer offers is part of their customer’s value equation, even if research reports say otherwise. Take dairy: this is a category full of rich and evocative pastoral images. In a recent project, we built a mental collage with consumers of what dairy meant to them. Here was the picture that was constructed: standing at the top of a verdant green hill, the leaves of an oak tree overhanging, you look down into the gentle ‘V’ of interlocking hills and there, nestled in the distance is a farmhouse, with smoke gently drifting up from its log fire. A farmer slowly chugs across a field into a vintage tractor, and cows, ready for milking, amble through the farmyard. The farmer’s wife calls to her children who are catching butterflies in a nearby field.
Utter fantasy of course, yet…not. Consumers think of dairy as full of goodness, heavenly food in fact, enjoyable eating, reminding them of good times and nutritious. Yes, they are aware of the high fat content and equally aware they shouldn’t over indulge, but these concerns are not sufficient to impact negatively on their positive dairy world-view.
Look at dairy in retail though: it couldn’t be more different. White packs, plastic and shrink wrap packaging everywhere, glaring red POS pronouncing BOGOFs and price slashes, all cheddar beiges, and goats-milk whites. This is a shopping experience that, rather than being full of warmth and happiness, is emotionally and physically cold. This is a shopping experience where the potential of premium pricing through premium experience is lost.
In fact, this is a shopping experience typical of where food retail is heading; it’s happening throughout the major supermarkets as they wrestle with the no frills approach of the discounters. In turn, the retailers pressure their suppliers for a category growth agenda because they don’t know what to do. The truth is, to not understand how the brand or category exists in the consumers minds is a major risk – commoditising the shopping experience puts you at peril. It is no surprise that at the premium end of the market the retailers are more confident in their approach. Waitrose is the oft cited example, but another, smaller retailer embodies this consumer understanding more than most. Up in the north, with stores in places like Milnthorpe and Garstang, you possibly wouldn’t expect a retailer to be thriving with this approach, but Booths is.
I recently went to their Windermere store in the old railway station and it was a delight. This isn’t just a retailer who operates the hackneyed old stereotypes like ‘get fresh near the front’ or wafting the smells of fresh bread throughout. It does these things of course, but with thought and panache. Artisan breads were laid out on a table, with short descriptions of what they contained, how they were baked, what they’re good with. The delicatessen didn’t just feature bowls of olives but also great northern standards – a pie range to die for, more sausages you could shake a pig at, it catered for everyone not just middle class Mediterranean-diet wannabes. Beer wasn’t laid out by type, but by region, with a big focus on local. Local suppliers were the hero everywhere in fact – Goosnargh Ducks, Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese and inevitably crafty crisps featured with point of sale showing, who made them, where, when and why. This was a food retail experience much closer to being romanced like in a luxury car showroom, the Apple Store or a great bookstore. This was a retail experience where more clearly than any other there seemed to be a partnership between supplier and store. And oh, look, they’re doing very nicely thank you.
Commoditising price is one thing, but commoditising experience? Well, that’s a trap you’ll never get out of.
David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that works with shoppers and consumers to help brands find a direct route to long lasting success. email@example.com; +44 (0) 7885 408367; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.