EmergeSmarter Blog

Online Projectives: It Could Be Anything!

Posted on Tue, Dec 20, 2011

By Shaili Bhatt, Senior Analyst

Projective questions from in-person interviewing flow smoothly into online qualitative activities! Nancy Hardwick gave a wonderful presentation on projectives at the 2011 QRCA Conference in Las Vegas, and here we explore how these activities work well online.

Most, if not all, of my favorite projective activities in new qualitative research are derived from traditional qualitative research methods.

Online discussions or communities feature an extended interviewing phase (multiple days, weeks or months beyond traditional 2-hour focus groups), which essentially provides researchers with a welcome abundance of time to harvest and probe an always-impressive incoming flow of information. How can researchers effectively utilize this time to engage online participants and immerse them in the topic at hand?

For the time being, quick “top-of-mind” free association exercises are just as important as creative projective questions, requiring online participants to reflect for a few moments (or days!) to capture a particular feeling or experience in a thoughtful post or activity page.

Written exercises like storytelling and other creative activities like collages, when used at opportune times, can be the key ingredients to insightful and interesting new qualitative research. No stimuli are required, and natural dialogue helps to tie it all together.Nancy Hardwick of Hardwick Research presented, “Projectives in Practice,” a detailed compilation of projective techniques at the 2011 QRCA Annual Conference, which was held at the luxurious Venetian & Palazzo Resort in Las Vegas.

2011 QRCA Conference, Projectives in PracticeHardwick encouraged the audience to interact and build upon the listed activities during her in-depth, power-packed presentation. While the focus of the presentation highlighted “what works” with in-person interviewing, the ideas and energy in the room quickly catapulted this to a presentation that refreshed my perspective and sparked the most NewQual inspiration in my notebook.

(As you may know, projective techniques are subjective questions that researchers use to elicit the underlying emotions or subconscious drivers that influence choice, as an alternative or complement to asking direct questions. Many of these techniques originally stem from projective personality tests in Psychology, which were designed for people to respond to fairly nebulous, ever-inconclusive stimuli, presumably uncovering hidden emotions and internal conflicts in the process.)

Throughout the presentation, Hardwick included a steady stream of projective techniques, resulting in a compilation of audience favorites in several important categories:

  • Written Exercises
  • Photo/Drawing Exercises
  • Sorting Exercises

The variety of projectives serve as a reminder for how many of these time-tested exercises can be incorporated into online research.

Written exercises transition smoothly into the online world.

A few of my favorite activities are as follows (sans embellishments):

  • Famous Owners—Pick a favorite/popular celebrity, and describe 1-2 thoughts about who they are. Then, ask what this celebrity’s version of (insert client’s product/service) would be like? What would it look like? How it would perform, and why? Note: This is a great technique for exploring an existing client’s products or services as well as innovation and co-creation.
  • Storytelling: Describe a specific experience from the last time that you…(insert scenario). What Did You Think? Say? Feel?Storytelling Say Think Feel 540x145
  • Tribute/Eulogy—Pretend that (insert product/service) no longer exists. What did it accomplish? What will you miss most about it? Describe all that you feel and want to say about the product, even if you are viewing it in a new light. Note: variations on the theme, such as a “Lifetime Achievement Award” can be more attractive for certain products/services, particularly category leaders.
  • Picture Your World—Pick a picture/color that represents how you feel about (insert product/service). How does this picture/color represent how they feel, and why?

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Very often, writing a discussion guide for online research is about applying techniques that are already available and crafting projective activities to capture the level of insights you can hypothesize…and then some!Hardwick advises to begin with a written exercise “early on” in the discussion, which also works well with new qualitative –even if it’s typed; this early activity serves to challenge the participants to think independently and also allows them to “own” their ideas and suggestions. A well-executed written activity that provokes thoughtful posts is also a great way to encourage insightful group discussions.Online discussion guides written like quantitative-type surveys, with numerous objective questions, can certainly be cringe-worthy. Please do not be afraid to ask creative in-depth questions: the online medium suits that well!

Leave room for the unexpected when writing questions and avoid mechanical dialogue. Don’t be overly repetitious.

When using projectives, encourage honesty and spontaneity while asking for details. I like to throw in a few natural quips at the end of questions, for example, “It could be anything!” (As in, “What’s your favorite part about ______? It could be anything!”) It is interesting to note how such a brief invitation can lead to a wider variety of posts. Treat it like a conversation, because it is!

Tags: market research tools, Market Research Conference, qualitative research, Online qualitative research

Do Not Let Your Research Suffer from Decision Fatigue

Posted on Thu, Sep 22, 2011

By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President

If you have conducted focus groups, or even observed them, you have probably noticed that the energy level can vary over the course of a day.  I have always taken this as the normal course of events. But, it turns out there is a rather interesting explanation for this ebb and flow — decision fatigue.  A recent article by John Tierney in the New York Times, “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?,” describes the research surrounding this phenomenon in great detail.Online Qualitative

I had always thought people simply get tired during the course of the day, but Tierney demonstrates that the mere act of making decisions wears us down, making us less able make additional choices.  He points to a study in which individuals who simply review material were better able to make choices about it at the end than those who were forced to repeat incremental choices. 

He also notes that those who receive food make better decisions.  And, it is not the psychological reward of the food that works.  Tasteless, but sugared grub will have more effect than a sugar-free sundae.

What is the impact of decision fatigued?  One makes poor decisions, of course.  But, what is a poor decision?  The fatigued person defaults to the familiar, the usual, the expected.  In other words, he or she avoids making the hard choices — just those choices we would like research participants to make.

So, what is the lesson here for researchers?  Well, I am going to take the cans of Pepsi and cookies on the table much more seriously than I have in the past.  I might even ban water and diet beverages.  On a more fundamental level, it has caused me to re-think the number and nature of exercises I ask people to perform in a focus group.  Let them create a collage at home rather than force them to select pictures for a collage during the interview.  Might there be implications for questionnaire design?

Concerns about decision fatigue also make on-line qualitative and MROCs look all the more promising.  Participants can respond to our tasks at the times they are freshest and best able to evaluate whatever it is we wish them to judge.

There is another troubling issue Tierney raises.  “Decision fatigue is a major — and hitherto ignored — factor in trapping people in poverty. Because their financial situation forces them to make so many trade-offs, they have less willpower to devote to school, work and other activities that might get them into the middle class….  A trip to the supermarket induces more decision fatigue in the poor than in the rich — because each purchase requires more mental trade-offs.” At first this seems like an important, but a political concern.  Yet, it has implications for those who wish to understand the behavior of consumers.

Dan Peck’ Atlantic article, “Can the Middle Class be Saved?” described what he calls the “hollowing out” of the American middle class.  His economic arguments are familiar. Over the past several decades, a larger proportion of the nation’s wealth has accrued to a smaller proportion of individuals at the top.  But, in the process, the middle class has fractured.  Now, the non-professional middle class are more likely to resemble in behavior and attitudes the “high school drop-out poor” than the “college educated members” of the middle class.

The sub-text — many more of those whom we survey or wish to have in our MROCs and focus groups are likely to be in a semi-permanent state of decision fatigue.  Our methods and approaches will need to be much more sensitive to this fact.

Tags: MROCs, market research tools, qualitative research, Online qualitative research

Wizardry of MROCs: A Meaningful Journey

Posted on Wed, Sep 7, 2011

By Shaili Bhatt, Senior Analyst

It never fails to fascinate me how much people will share about themselves online—especially for longer market research studies where typical time constraints are a non-issue and participation is at one’s convenience.  People can be endlessly interested to complete interactive discussions and creative challenges, even if the rewards are not immediately tangible! As qualitative or hybrid qual-quant researchers, we can foster and utilize human curiosity to the fullest in market research online communities (MROCs).

The combination of a longer MROC timeframe and our innate curiosity allows the moderator and the accompanying backroom to set off on a meaningful journey with consumers.  Many of the questions in MROC studies are pre-structured by the researcher, clients (and sometimes an agency or two), yet we make it a habit to leave plenty of room to play, revise, and add new topics.

With MROCs, process-driven adventures excel when they are led with experienced online moderation, including large spoonfuls of strategy, analysis and fun. (Calling Mary Poppins…)Wizardry Online Research

Blossoming the conversation in a visually appealing, fun and organic fashion, with posts ranging from the serious to even silly, is more of a creative endeavor than a task.

Every day, our backroom insights are shaped by the individuals in the community as much as the group at large.  Over time, consumers share and develop the most interesting points of reference, and as researchers, we identify each clue and investigate it.  At any given time, the data is as granular or “big picture” as we need it to be.

What if you could lead a newly formed community on an adventure to explore products they use every day or on special occasions?  What if you could explore their lives to conceptualize products that don’t currently exist?  What if you could craft questions to be so engaging and educational that the community members have fun on this journey (and forget that they are communicating with technology or are in a market research study to get paid)?  What if they could  journal their experiences in real-time every day of the study and follow how other members may be experiencing similar issues, motivations, desires, or loss, communicating these thoughts and feelings with each other?

Imagine the ideas they could share, the products and product substitutes they could seek, and the roller coaster of emotions that we can feel with them, neatly captured online or on mobile devices—in text, pictures, collages and video—day by day. We get to know who they are, individually and as a group, and by the end of it, we are celebrating new insights and Aha! moments along with birthdays, anniversaries, storm survival, holiday survival, new friendships and team accomplishments.

This is the reality at the heart of today’s MROC studiesMROC Online Research Wizard of Oz—resulting in more meaningful journeys, with more individuals coming together to form fully committed, vibrant communities that are brimming with insights and co-creation, with depth beyond anything most capture from a traditional focus group.  At times it can feel like stepping into the land of OZ and emerging with the key to the city.

Are MROCs part of your toolbox? If you’re working with MROCs, please share your story here, and if you’re not MROC-ing and/or if you’re not particularly enthused about this methodology, please share your side of the story too.

Tags: focus groups, MROCs, Online qualitative research

Are Emotions Less Emotional?

Posted on Mon, Aug 1, 2011

By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President

I am staring at a series of collages I had participants create for a project I just completed.  I have always loved this sort of creative exercise.  It helps (forces?) people to stretch their right brains.  They make more connections and associations when they create the collages and discuss them than they would in almost any other exercise I use in a focus group.  Also, I discover symbols and metaphors reflected on the collages and in the responses of their creators than with almost any other analytic approach.Market Research Collage

I was surprised to read an article in the New York Times recently that seemed to suggest something novel in the technique.  I have been using it for years.  One of my approaches is to have participants create collages out of whatever pictures and objects they have around the house.

As I looked as those collages, I realized they said much about the ways a group of young men and women felt about one of their favorite activities, which shall remain nameless.  I could see changes that had taken place in the way creativity is expressed by people who are not specifically trained to be creative.

  • Fifteen years ago a typical collage would contain pictures from a range of magazines.  And, they would also be taken from both the advertising and the articles.  Now, it seems that people’s image frame of reference is much more restricted. It is not unusual to see the same pictures repeated in several collages.  It is evidence that magazines are much less a part of everyone’s daily life.  When I conduct ethnogaphies, many houses I visit have no evidence of magazines.

    It was commonplace for collages created by men to have pictures from the sports page of the local newspaper or from Sports Illustrated.  No more.  All sports news is on-line.  And, as more and more people use smart phones, they are getting their sports news in such a way they can’t even print a picture.

    And, the images that do appear on the collages are almost exclusively from advertising. This change is a bit more difficult to explain.  What qualities do the images from advertising possess that other images do not?  As I listen to men and women discuss their collages, the answer becomes obvious.  Advertising magnifies and simplifies the representation of emotions.  Its images are designed so that consumers “get it.”  I can only conclude that generations raised on the media can understand their own emotions only through the intensifying lens of advertising.
  • The collages also reveal what is a complementary trend.  The Internet, in effect, has short-circuited creative thinking.  I used to see collage creation as a serendipitous process in which my participants wandered through magazines or their homes and happened upon pictures and objects that triggered a response they might not otherwise have felt.

    Now, however, collages have become more logical and literal.  I see a trophy in a collage, and I ask its creator to explain it.  Oh, he says, I felt successful, so I Googled “trophy” and printed the first picture I found.  So the search for images had become less about metaphorical and and more interpretation.

    I can’t help but feel that this presents a problem for my collage exercise.  The Internet enables consumers to get THE answer, and that answer more often than not is verbal and logical.  The emotional dimension is lost.

What this all suggests is that in the age of the Internet, with Millennials as targets, we need new ways to tap into the emotions of consumers.  Or, we ourselves need new metaphors for that emotional response.

Tags: market research tools, qualitative research, Online qualitative research

MROC Engagement! The Magic of Friday Night

Posted on Tue, Jun 28, 2011

By Shaili Bhatt, Senior Analyst

It’s Friday night, and I am logging in to check posts in the online community. It’s true that we can find and recruit people who are ready to talk/type in the day (and night), and yet their enthusiastic, sustained engagement can be an issue for long-term communities.

Your opportunity to connect on a personal level with each participant, particularly at a natural time for conversations, is where the magic happens…Consumer Engagement Secret 540x360

One of my secrets is to spend an hour or two to moderate the discussion on a Friday night.

Friday nights are not just for “going out,” even if it’s one of the first warm Fridays of Spring or Summer (like tonight when I began to write this)—For some participants, it’s their time to connect with friends and family, and even other members in the online community.

My secret is to login to the discussion after work and dinner to connect and let them know that I am right there with them. From prior years of experience, the gesture goes a long way, and the connection that forms among us on these nights is often deep and long-lasting.

Share your questions or experiences with online community engagement in the comments!

Tags: Market Research, market research tools, Online qualitative research

Reality Check: Online Communities Are Here

Posted on Fri, Jun 24, 2011

By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President

Last week, I saw David Sirota discuss his book, Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explains the World We Live in Now - Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything. His thesis is that, beginning in the ‘80s, American society has become increasingly focused on the individual.  He, of course, used words such as “narcissism” to describe this.  One piece of evidence he offered was that the number of people who were members of a civic organization had almost halved over a 15 year period beginning in the early ‘90s. Online Communities

Well, we have heard this all before; it’s the “Bowling Alone” argument.

But, as I listened this time, my first reaction, probably influenced by all of the online research C+R has been conducting of late, was to think, “Hey, wait a minute.  What about all of those online communities and social networks?  Aren’t communities both growing and proliferating?  Isn’t there lots of interaction among the members of these communities?  Hasn’t our ‘social capital’ merely moved online?  Isn’t the tendency of people to select their own affinity groups a replacement for traditional communities?”

The answer is yes and no.  It is important for marketers to keep in mind the differences between online communities and physical communities when they plan their strategies and conduct their research.

  • Online communities are not physical; they do not have locations.  This observation may be in the category of “Duh.”  But, what does the difference mean?  We conduct surveys that use a “nationally representative sample.”  That sample reflects general population distribution.  Perhaps, it is more important to reflect the density of different self-selected communities.  A traditional qualitative project might be conducted in different markets to achieve a “national representation.”  Might it be better to be in a single market, but reflect different communities — evangelical Christians, environmentalist, and the like — in separate focus groups?  And, most obviously, if online communities are the way people are organizing themselves, shouldn’t we really be talking to consumers online?
  • Online communities are more homogeneous.  Members of online communities consciously select themselves.  They seek members with whom they share beliefs and interests.  And, if that is the case, do my samples of members of these online communities need to be as large as a sample of a physical community?
  • Online communities are more fragile, less stable.  Recent news suggests that Facebook traffic is declining.  There are a number of ways to interpret this data, but the trend highlights the fact that people enter and leave online communities with much greater frequency than they enter and leave physical communities.  I might have confidence in the results I obtained from a well-designed survey of my town for three years.  But, if I were to rely on a survey of an online community, I might want to revisit my results in half that time.

Online communities are the new reality.  They are indeed a rich, focused source of information.  But, a changed world requires changed methods and perspectives, and C+R is prepared to guide you through this new territory.

Tags: MROCs, market research tools, qualitative research, Online qualitative research

“Are you Scared of Change?” Top Barriers for Technology in Research Innovation

Posted on Thu, Jun 16, 2011

By Shaili Bhatt, Senior Analyst

Event coverage for IIR’s 2011 Technology Driven Research Event in Chicago: “Are you Scared of Change?” Dr. William MacElroy, Socratic Technologies

Risk-aversion can be a common characteristic of large companies.  In the final presentation slot at the TMDR event, Dr. William MacElroy from Socratic Technologies explained his research behind a common complaint by technology-driven researchers:  Why do research companies hate technology?

Putting Technology into Perspective

Dr. MacElroy attended a different presentation five years ago, where another presenter announced a list of things “that will be dead in five years”… yet everything on the list was discussed at this 2011 Technology-Driven event.

According to Dr. MacElroy, many researchers enable themselves and their teams to “hate technology” by promoting some of its possible risks.  To identify such researchers, Dr. MacElroy shared some of the ideas that researchers who are averse to these new tools and methods have said about technology:

Technology in research …

  • “is expensive.”
  • “may change the organization in a negative way.”
  • “may be a dead end.”
  • “is time consuming and expensive to provide client education.”
  • “is a chaotic, problematic process to implement.”

While the benefits from early adoption are unclear, and some of the risks above have been valid concerns in less-than-agile organizations, the ability to gain a technological edge is advantageous and attractive in the marketplace.  Nevertheless,  constant demands from competitive parties for research companies to stay current and relevant to the broader picture can be difficult, and for some, short-lived.market research tools 

Barriers to Adopting Technology
There are existing technologies that can assist research teams with Project Management, yet there are evidently some firms that do not take advantage of them.  Professor of Management at Bentley University, Hans J. Thamhain, an expert in R&D Risk management who has held management positions with Verizon & General Electric, has studied the corporate barriers to adopting technology.  Within his findings, he cultivated a list of their barriers to adopting technologies related to project management, some of which simplify to the following ideas…

  • value of technology is not known
  • how to apply technology is not known
  • how to use technology is not known
  • lack of agreement about technology
  • technology involves too much paperwork
  • technology reduces personal drive and problem solving
  • technology create too much work
  • misuse of technology
  • high cost of technology
  • too busy for technology
  • technology is a threat to personal freedom
  • technology is different from established work processes and procedures
  • technology will have a negative impact on teamwork and cooperation
  • bad experiences with technology in the past
  • technology is not appropriate for our clients or products

To understand how technophilic companies operate beyond these barriers, Dr. MacElroy conducted another field study to interview the Senior Managers and Research Managers in various-sized organizations.

According to Dr. MacElroy’s findings, without growth, the success rate and profitability  of technophilic firms that are smaller and younger tend to decrease over time.  He cited that only three firms exhibiting at a 2001 conference about technology in market research are still independent and in business in 2011.

In addition, Dr. MacElroy commented that, in most circumstances, the size of the agency is inversely related to their propensity to adopt new research technologies.  For many of these firms, guarding the current technological investment is more important than new experimentation.  For example, when online research was initially introduced, Dr. MacElroy suggests that some research firms were averse to online research because they were guarding their phone houses.  Now, when telephones are no longer the preferred method of research communications, it is more acceptable to love online research in 2011.

Moreover, only 14% of research firms in the study tend to have technology adoption as a core value.  Assignments to learn a new tool or technology are seen as a burden in larger organizations, and a majority of research firms (86%) tend to be constrained.market research tools

Technophilic and Breaking Free!

According to Dr. MacElroy, we are moving from “crunched numbers to crunchy words and crunchy videos.” Our current research is based on feelings and emotions, and remote participation, and we can take advantage of that in the tools that we currently have.

Are technophilic companies going to be better off than those that don’t move forward?

Sources at TDMR say “YES!”   When it comes to technology, some clients may shrug, and some may be scared of change, but for those who move forward, only time and our ROI will truly tell our stories.

Tags: Market Research, market research tools, Online qualitative research

Moderators and Clients on Mars

Posted on Thu, May 5, 2011

By Walt Dickie, Executive Vice President

The long strange trip from the facility to MROCs

I’ve been enjoying Robert Markley’s, Dying Planet, a terrific history of the narrative links uniting the Mars of science fiction writers and the Mars of scientists. And suddenly – as I was reading something that Michael Malin, the director of the Mars Orbital Camera (MOC) team for the Mars Global Surveyor mission, wrote about his difficulties, as a trained a geologist, in doing “geology” on Mars through the medium of images photographed from orbit – I found myself squarely back in the world of marketing research thinking about focus group moderators and clients dealing with online qualitative platforms.MROCs

Geologists think with their senses. They learn a landscape by experiencing it. Malin writes, “For field geologists, the study of an environment depends on hiking around, breaking open rocks, and seeing and touching the ground.” I know this is right; I’ve read a fair amount of writing by geologists over the years. They live to experience what Malin calls the “size, shape, texture, color, pattern, relief” of the rocks. I’ve read more than one geologist talking about licking rock dust left behind after a blow of a hammer. But the reality of what they were talking about just never really hit me before.

Thinking about Malin straining to “do geology” through the fantastic abstraction of a blurry photograph where each pixel represented 1.4 meters of what might have been real, rough rock, hefted and caressed, made me suddenly feel the plight of clients and focus group moderators making the journey from the facility to the world of online qualitative.

Moderators experience the “size, shape, texture, color, pattern, (and) relief” of their data just like geologists, and clients have always shared that experience from behind the mirror. They remember what was said – what was meant – and make connections by remembering the face and manner of the respondent who sat in the third chair to left in the facility in Pittsburgh. Without that experience, and that memory, what she said is all just dry words on a page. Or, text on a computer screen – a “response” to a “probe” in an online discussion. It has “content,” but no taste.

This seems to be one of the biggest challenges for online qualitative right now: to provide that feeling of experiencing the reality of people through the medium of text, pictures, and videos taken out of the physical, touchable context of face-to-face interaction and reduced to an abstract display of “qualitative data.”

But there’s a happy ending to the story of Malin, his MOC team, and geologists as a group. And I think there will be a similar happy ending for marketing research.

Two things have happened for the geologists. First, geology-by-remote-sensing has matured into its own specialty. As the subject matter changed from rocks to pictures of rocks, new analytic methods developed, and both newer and older generations of geologists became comfortable and skilled with them. Malin’s team proved, with their remote pictures of Martian rocks, that there had been active geological processes at work altering the Martian surface in the recent past, something that astronomers had been arguing about for a century. And planetary geology is a hot field at the moment.

The other thing that happened was that re-capturing the field geologist’s perspective on the surface of a remote planet became increasingly possible. The MOC team was working with blurry pixilated images, but they were much, much sharper than the images from earlier missions. And the newer stuff is better still. Although no human geologist has ever experienced the heft of a Martian rock, the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, gave millions a geologist’s eye view the planet’s surface. It’s telling that the NASA press release for the earlier Pathfinder mission described the Sojourner rover as a “twelve-inch tall geologist.”  

I think that similar advances will happen in marketing research. A methodology for “remote sensing” of qualitative information will mature and both clients and analysts will become increasingly familiar with it and increasingly appreciative of the vistas it opens. And we’ll also get better at capturing the feeling of immediacy in the ways we capture information online and the way we present it.

Just as Mars was simply too good for guys like Malin to pass up simply because it lacked the experiential immediacy of field geology, online qualitative is just too exciting, and the data is just too fascinating to pass up because we’re momentarily feeling the loss of the lady in the third chair to left in the facility in Pittsburgh.

Tags: MROCs, qualitative research, Online qualitative research