This post is from Dr. Nick Anderson, a psychologist at Dr-Groks, who has spent his career helping brands all over the world to understand the complexity and apparent irrationality of their consumers and apply sound psychological principles to create impactful product design and communications.
Qualitative research is about relationships.
In our research-lives the relationships we have with consumers and end-users is central to getting our jobs done. The better we can know them, and get them to share their lives, behaviours, and beliefs with us – the more astute our insights become and the better our work is as a result.
Lots has been written already about how online platforms can help us connect with our consumers, but there has been relatively little mentioned about how a well run platform like Recollective helps with client relationships too.
For me, the relationship I have with my client-partner is just as important as the ones I have with my consumers. The more honest and authentic this relationship is, the more we feel like partners, and the more focused (and fun) the work is.
Here are 3 ways an online platform is a great client-friendly approach to research.
1. There’s a role for every kind of partner
I have clients who have decades of research experience themselves – they want to be fully involved in research design and execution; I have clients who are relatively inexperienced, but want to take every opportunity to learn; I have clients who literally know nothing about the research process but know they have important questions they need answered.
The tangibility of an online platform facilitates all three types of relationships.
- With experienced clients we play together with the tools available, thinking up new applications and ways of stacking method together to get us to new places.
- For the learners, the platforms simple building blocks helps them understand how a study comes together, and how multi-method research works. We can run through a study in bite-size chunks that they can fully engage in and have input on.
- Clients without a research background, can run through an entire study pre-launch in the role as consumer, and can give feedback on method and structure from their own unique perspective.
Everybody gets to feel completely involved in the full research process, and an add as much or as little as they want.
2. Everybody is invited
There is almost always an extended team of people with a vested interest in the kinds of product research I do (a lot of prototype and communications development for big global clients), and, while my key client is usually someone from an internal insights team, behind them there is a project team full of researchers, developers, designers, lawyers, marketers, packaging engineers who care deeply about what is happening in the research.
With more traditional qualitative research they might expect to get an invite to an ethnography and stand awkwardly in the background, not really sure what to do, or sit in a darkened room behind a 1-way mirror to observe focus groups, and end up checking e-mails and eating candy… but they never truly feel part of the research.
When I run a platform I have a meeting with the whole project team (or whoever wants to come) and take them through what the consumer will be doing online during the study. It is familiar and it tells a research story much more clearly than a 1-dimensional discussion guide. They get to ask questions – “what if…?”… “could we…?”, and the research is always stronger after these meetings.
They are then all given access as observers to the platform and can log in on their own terms. No eyes-rolling at the thought of an entire day spent in a backroom somewhere off-site, no sighs of frustration at the thought of the awkward in-home that makes them feel like a third wheel; instead I have a roomful of people thinking about how their commute home suddenly just got much more interesting.
3. It encourages healthy behaviors
I love my clients. When I get together with other agency friends and they tell me about the latest nightmare they’ve had with a client, I genuinely have no stories to tell. They find it very annoying.
However, there are a couple of behaviours that threaten to derail research from time to time that I could live without, and the platform is great at stopping them in their tracks.
Someone (probably someone very senior with a very clear point of view) jumps into the backroom while you’re running groups, hears… well… exactly what they want to hear and jumps back out, convinced that they have witnessed definitive support for their idea or point of view.
On the platform however everything is out in the open. If someone is selectively picking up the bits that support their own point of view it’s easy to direct them to other information that puts it in context, or refutes it, or gives you the opportunity to post a discussion on it to dig deeper. Whatever happens, it opens up questions that invite consideration and buys you all the time to do a full analysis before reporting back the real results.
Paralyzed by quant-creep
One of the biggest challenges I have with more “traditional” clients is a misunderstanding of what qualitative research is and how it should be run. They like a fixed discussion-guide, they get nervous if you veer away from it. They worry about “the n”, they want consumers to give things “marks out of 10” or “vote for the best”.
Great qualitative research is organic. It grows in the moment, we change what we do as we learn. It is not a static discussion guide – or a 2 minute conversation in a dark backroom 10 minutes before the end of a group – “can you just ask the lady on the end if she really really likes it?”. It’s about in-the-moment analysis, the freedom to change the whole set-up if that’s what’s needed; and, on the platform the organic nature of what we’re doing is a much easier narrative to follow for the uninitiated.
The surprise ending
Sometimes, a client will have a really strong point of view which they might keep to themselves because they “…didn’t want to influence the outcome”, or are unsure of its validity, or when to bring it up. This can be the kiss of death to a project when you find out at the end that a really promising route forward wasn’t followed up because it was assumed to be less important than other things that were going on.
The magic of the online backroom is that it’s open 24-7. Anybody can say anything at any time. They can send a task to you “just follow up on this thing that someone said”, or ask a question. All your clients can chat with each other or even send you a private message, meaning that the likelihood of that hidden gem of a point of view being shared at some time (actually, the right time) during fieldwork increases exponentially.
All aboard the research train
People care about the research you’re doing. They want to know what’s going on with it and that things are progressing well. Some clients like regular e-mail updates, some randomly phone you to chat through the latest findings, but many of the team members who are invested in the outcome are excluded from the consumer research. As one designer said to me recently – “usually I create the prototype and pack it up and then get called to a meeting a couple of months later to be told by someone I don’t know what consumers thought of it… but… with this I was in for the whole journey. It was really exciting!”
The platform gives autonomy to everybody to engage as they like. It not only excites and inspires them; it helps them do a better job. They get to watch and re-watch usage video, they get to ask questions pertinent to them and engage in the richness of the conversation that their creations generate. They get to feel the emotions that their work generates and they refocus on what’s important – the people they are working for in the first place: their consumers.
So we come full circle, I get closer to my consumers, I get closer to my clients, my clients get closer to their consumer, and the research grows and becomes better and better.