Qualitative research is such an important way to engage consumers. Warnings of its death are certainly premature, and I suspect that much of this has to do with our desires for the latest shiny object. Those with a preference for quantitative methods sometimes wonder how talking to a few dozen people can really mean anything when compared to a large sample consisting of a representative sample from every corner of the country.
Qualitative researchers are also in search of the newest, most innovative techniques, whether through technology or social science, and these can be very valuable tools. Sometimes though we can forget that despite all of the ways in which to elicit information, we are still dealing with people, all of whom need to feel that there is genuine respect for whom they are, empathy for them as people, and a genuine desire to hear what they have to say. I tell all young moderators that they need to establish this rapport with respondents before they begin to employ all of the various techniques available to them.
Often we say it is difficult to connect with various age groups because the moderator is too young or too old, or too different from the respondents and that they just couldn’t relate to the moderator. But perhaps it is that the moderator failed to relate to them – failed to talk to them like people instead of as a “target”, tried to be cool rather than genuine, patronizing rather than understanding. And this would not have been intentional, but it would go a long way to explaining why the group did not “perform” as everyone had hoped. And no amount of zippy techniques or artifice is likely to overcome this – but when mutual empathy has been achieved, the techniques usually work wonderfully.
My hope is that moderators everywhere remember that we are dealing with people who have unique lives despite our need or desire to agglomerate them into a demographic or lifestage or segment. That of course does not mean that we have to pussyfoot around in a group. In fact, a respectful challenge to rote answers or a willingness to engage and discuss with strength can have a salutary benefit if done correctly. Equally, in a one on one interview, a little bit of “soft spokenness” can go a long way to build trust and empathy, and trust and empathy means you can get a lot deeper and more meaningful answers. The goal in any interview or group conducted at Research Strategy Group is to build empathy and trust. If those two things can be established and sustained throughout the sessions, we are that much closer to achieving our clients’ objectives.