Unusual research techniques can increase the effectiveness of a project

Even those researchers who know and use a vast array of research techniques know that expanding their range of solutions is the key to increasing effectiveness. They tirelessly seek answers to such questions as the following. How to increase the study’s effectiveness? How to diversify the study? How to expand the knowledge they get from interviews? And how to help respondents open up about their deepest thoughts and opinions. 

In this article we present some proven unusual research techniques that will help in qualitative market research and marketing research, both in the consumer segment and in the B2B segment.

Unusual research techniques in qualitative research

In many studies, a superficial opinion on products, services or processes is simply not enough. We want to reach deeper, understand the emotions, motivations for actions and decisions, and the context. We need to find out about the respondent’s connections with their surroundings. Sometimes however, it turns out that just by asking questions from a guided interview we’re not getting the full answer we were hoping for. We have a feeling that we’re just barely scratching the surface.

There are ways to encourage the respondent to tell us more and share deeper thoughts – tell us things that might be relevant to the project’s goals. Below you’ll find a few unusual research techniques.

Storytelling and narrative techniques

Sometimes, it is worth to give respondents a little more freedom and just let them talk. Techniques that encourage telling a story (the purchase of a product or service, experiences with using a service, the story of their illness, cooperation with a contractor, etc.), allow to learn that person’s perspective, without imposing your own priorities and points of view.

  • How do we do it?
  • First, allow the respondent to tell their story as he or she remembers it. This will show you what was worth including in the story, and therefore what the respondent deems important. Next, we ask the respondent to tell the story again, but this time we can ask questions about the details we’re most interested in. The key thing here is for the respondent to tell their own story, and not just answer the moderator’s questions.

Visual and verbal stimuli

Respondents sometimes have trouble articulating their opinions and feelings. They don’t want to leave questions unanswered, but instead of giving their own opinion, they resort to stock answers. Sometimes it’s also difficult to articulate the small nuanced differences between products, services or brands. This is where visual and verbal stimuli come in.

  • How do we do it?
  • A stimulus can be a word, symbol or image. There are many tested and ready to use tools you can work with: sets of photos, pictures, or adjectives that the respondent can choose from and that represent what the person is trying to convey. You can also create your own set of stimuli for a particular study. The key thing here is that the information the respondent gives us must be accompanied by a detailed explanation for their choice. Only then will it be possible to correctly interpret the findings.

Archetypes and metaphors

The method of analysis that uses archetypes comes from anthropology and cultural studies, but it feels equally at home in marketing. It is used, for instance, in the analysis of brands. Archetypes can be treated as a universal representation of social roles and used in qualitative research as an incentive to talk about the role of the respondent.

  • How do we do it?
  • Archetypes can be useful for instance in the case of respondents from the B2B segment, who often find it difficult to go beyond the comfort zone of their formal role when talking to a moderator. Thanks to the use of archetypes and metaphors, they start talking about their roles (manager, doctor, etc.) by referring to their feelings and actual experiences, and not just their professional functions and tasks. The respondent can interpret their role from the perspective of the archetype (warrior, caregiver, etc.). Just like in the case of the previous technique, it’s important for the respondent to provide an explanation, and examples that illustrate his or her choice.

Modifying known techniques

Although the qualitative techniques that have been used for many years hold a strong position in the world of marketing research (for example the brand party projective technique), it’s not a bad idea to look for alternatives. Known research techniques can be modified to meet the particular demands of your study.

  • How do we do it?
  • Take the time to think if a given technique fits the study’s topic and the researched group. What will spark the respondents’ imagination better: a brand party, a brand planet, or comparing brands to countries or cuisine? Want to sort brands? Great! But this time, try giving respondents balls or blocks with brand names on them, or colourful forms, where they can attach stickers with logos on them. Try making even the simplest task new and enjoyable. During focus groups, encourage respondents to perform a task while standing, or to trade places. This gives them new energy for the next tasks.

What you need to consider when using unusual research techniques?

Using unusual research techniques, you should always keep in mind the purpose of the study and what type of information you want to obtain through their use. This awareness should be shared by a moderator who performs the qualitative interviews.
The moderator should always be watchful and flexible in terms of whether the applied research techniques work or not. It is a good idea to prepare several versions of each technique and always be ready to modify them in the course of the study.

How do you know that the research technique isn’t working?

  • Respondents don’t understand what is expected of them – Improving the instructions might be enough, or maybe a completely new technique needs to be used.
  • We get trivial, stereotypical answers – The technique isn’t working, because the goal was to get deeper. We need to find another way.
  • We get superficial answers, respondents are not engaging – Maybe this technique isn’t suited for this group.
  • Respondents give a lot of information, but on a different topic – Probably our intentions have been misinterpreted. Before we switch to a different technique though, make sure that the gathered information can’t be used as important context.

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