Qual Myth-Busting

Dispelling 4 Qualitative Myths

Date: November 16, Katrina Noelle

During qualitative market research training, there are some ‘golden rules’ that every researcher learns.  But sometimes you need dispel the myths and to bend those rules a bit.

Here are some reasons to break our traditional qualitative market research rules, and why deviating from them can enrich your work.

Myth #1: “Never asked closed-ended questions.”  

These are questions that can be answered with a single word response. It’s a big moderator no-no to ask questions like, “Do you like the product?” rather than, “Tell me about the benefits you get from the product and what it means to you?” This technique works well to draw out participants, to not let them ‘get away with’ short answers.  

However… some participants are talkers. They will talk your ear off on all kinds of tangents, and the only way you can get what you need is to ask a well-timed, precise, close-ended question. So, use them at your discretion to get to the crux of the issue, and pinpoint exactly how they’re feeling.

Myth #2: “All participants are created equal.”  

As researchers, we should never show favor or bias toward a single participant, and we don’t let the ‘good ones’ sway the findings. 

However… while it is true that all participants are valuable, and should be heard and incorporated into the result, some of them just give you perfect quotes. Great participants offer up verbatims and metaphors or start their sentences with helpful phrases like, “I prefer this product over all others because…” These people are a gift. So enjoy that gift!  

Let their quotes pepper your deliverables and use their metaphors in the readout. Client teams will remember them too, and it will help them tie your insights back to the fieldwork – and to the real people who were a part of it.

Another caveat to the ‘all participants are created equal’ mantra is your first participant. By all means, stack the deck! Vet that first person or two even more carefully than the rest, they are key to your research starting with a bang. As a researcher, you’re testing out your guide/ flow/ stimuli/ tech in the first interview, so make sure you have a great first participant to help you get started. (And even better, have a great a stand-by waiting to fill in!)

Myth #3: “Never directly say what you’re there to learn.”  

This training is valid, especially when you’re working on a ‘blind’ project and can’t reveal the sponsor of the work.  

However… not everything benefits from a projective technique – sometimes you can just ask questions directly. When projects allow you to be more open, trust your participants (especially if they’ve signed a confidentiality agreement!). Tell them what you’re working on and have them help you solve the problem. They’ll be excited to think through it with you, and it often sparks their creativity when you level with them and ask some questions directly.  

Myth #4: “Think of ‘fun’, ‘creative’ articulation questions during screening and/or and introduction questions in fieldwork.” 

You definitely could, but…. People know why they’re in a research study and they know how to introduce themselves. 

If COVID has taught us anything this year, it’s that we’re really all in this complicated, crazy life together. Participant ‘warm-up’ questions have now scaled back to things like, “How ARE you?” or, “How’s 2020 going for you?” or, “How are you hanging in there today?”

I’ve personally just started asking, “Tell me what I need to know about Bob, what’s going on in life right now?” And in that moment of shared experience and personal connection, they’ll tell you who they are. They will let the mask slip, and they’ll tell you about their household and their job, and all those other things we usually like to cover up-front. And if they don’t tell you, just ask a follow-up question! It’s really a matter of relating to your participants on a human level, not about ‘breaking the ice’.

What qualitative market research myths do you find yourself necessarily busting? Or rules that you’ve successfully bent? Share yours with us and let’s bust some together!

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