Qualitative Research

Qualitative Research
• Not measurements, but WORDS!
– Instead of asking how many times someone purchased an
item, you ask "WHY...?"
– Typically the samples are small, and not "random"
• To find out what’s on the person’s mind
General approaches
• Group interviews
– Structured or unstructured
– Focus groups
• Individual interviews
– Nonstructured
– Structured
• Projective Techniques
Most frequent uses
 Understanding basic issues
– why do people buy/use our product?
 Pretesting ideas or products
– do people want a product that cleans their refrigerator?
 Message testing
– How do people like this ad?
 To capture the basic feel of a problem prior to
conducting a more analytical study
 To aid interpreting results of quantitative research
Good for examining feelings and motivations
Longer, more flexible relationship with the
respondent, results in more depth and greater richness
Provides insights
Can’t extrapolate to the whole population
Volume of data
Complexity of analysis
Time-consuming clerical efforts
Focus Groups
A loosely structured interview conducted by a trained
moderator among a small number of informants.
Popularity of Focus Group
Percentage of
Companies Using
Frequently Use
Sometimes Use
Never Use
Why are Focus Groups Held?
Because of group dynamics
Focus Group Characteristics
• 8 - 12 members (usually paid)
• homogeneous in terms of demographics and
socioeconomic factors but heterogeneous views
• experience related to product or issue being discussed
• 1 1/2 –2 hour session
• 1-way mirror/client may sit behind
• qualified moderator
• conversation may be video and/or audiotaped OR notes
may be taken
Tiered viewing room with
wrap-around mirror offers
multi-perspective viewing.
Room is equipped with outlets
so laptops can be used during
Strategically placed audio and
video taping offer unobstructed
Attached Conference Room
offers closed circuit television
viewing for additional 12-14
focus group1
focus group
Common Applications of Focus
• Understanding Consumers
– perceptions, opinions, and behavior concerning
products and services
• Product Planning
– generating ideas about new products
• Advertising
– Develop creative concepts and copy material
• Richness of data
• Versatility
• Ability to study special respondents
– Children
– Professionals (doctors, lawyers)
• Direct involvement of managers (vividness)
• Easily understandable
• Flexibility in covering topics
• May uncover unanticipated ideas that are important
• Can define constructs of importance
• Gives “flesh” and connectedness to real consumers/people
• Can show them designs, have them try out prototypes
• group synergy (group dynamics)
• Lack of generalizability (small sample size)
• High selection bias
• Might be misused
– focus group is not a replacement for quantitative
• Subject to Interpretation - subjective
• Cost-per-respondent is high (compared to survey)
– Results dependent on skill of moderator in running the
group and analysis
• may be the response in the moment – which may change
over time
• strong personalities are a hazard
• Some groups hard to assemble (e.g. professionals)
• “professional respondents”
Process of Conducting
Focus Group Research
• Planning
– Translate research purpose into a set of relevant questions
that achieve objectives
– Prepare discussion guide
• Recruiting
– Heterogeneity vs Homogeneity
• Moderation
– Critical moderating skills
• Analysis and interpretation of the results
– should capture the range of impressions and observations
in each topic, and interprets them in the light of possible
hypotheses for further testing.
Skills Required for Moderator
• Observation
• Interpersonal
• Communication
• Interpretive
Guiding the discussion
know your objectives
don’t try to do too much – 2-4 major topics
have an outline of how you want to proceed
be ready to be flexible if need be – or to rein
in the discussion
• Stick to the time limit
• Use 2 people if possible – one to guide, one
to take notes
Moderator’s role
encourage discussion
encourage them to talk with one another not you
bring in people who aren’t speaking
Reduce influence of people who dominate
Bring out a variety of viewpoints
keep discussion on topic without stifling
allow silence
avoid premature closure
Salad dressing focus group
Introducing the process
Introduce purpose, sponsorship if applicable
Lay out guidelines, e.g. time
Be clear on the topic(s) of discussion
Make introductions
Specify that you are interested in thoughts
not decisions
Observing and Recording
• videotaping
• audiotaping
• note-taker
– someone other than moderator
• One-way mirrors
• Take notes at the end of each focus group
session to identify important themes which
may structure future groups’ questions
• Don’t ignore the lone wolf -- exceptions
• Fast
• Synthesis of important issues
• Key quotations useful but NOT a transcription
– Though use a transcription to create report if at all possible
• Transcripts, stories, etc. must be coded for over-arching
themes (e.g. accuracy, value-congruence, effectiveness)
• Analysts look for connections between themes as well
(e.g. effective ads resulted in expressions of pride in the
• Fuzzy numerical qualifications may be added, such as
“many,” “few,” “most,” “widely,” “typically,”
• Suggest opportunities and limitations
“The qualitative findings give reason for optimism about
market interest in the new product concept…We
therefore recommend that the concept be further
developed and formal executions be tested.”
“The results of the study suggest that ad version #3 is
most promising because it elicited more enthusiastic
responses and because it appears to describe situations
under which consumers actually expect to use the
Example of limitations section:
“The reader is cautioned that the findings reported here
are qualitative, not quantitative in nature. The study
was designed to explore how respondents feel and
behave rather than to determine how many think or act
in specific ways. Therefore, the findings cannot serve as
a basis for statistical generalizations, but should instead
be viewed as working hypotheses, subject to quantitative
“Respondents constitute a small nonrandom sample of
relevant consumers and are therefore not statistically
representative of the universe from which they have
been drawn.”
Key Issues
• Focus groups are small numbers, not
random, not statistically valid
• Focus groups are a lot of work
• can get insights from focus groups that can’t
get in other ways
• Beware of power relations
Use of Focus Groups
Buick division of General Motors used focus groups to help
develop the Regal. Buick held 20 focus groups across the
country to determine what features customers wanted in a car.
The focus groups told GM they wanted a stylish car, legitimate
back seat, at least 20 miles per gallon, and 0 to 60 miles per hour
acceleration in 11 seconds or less.
Based on the results, Buick engineers created clay
models of the car and mock-ups of the interior.
These were shown to other focus groups. The
respondents did not like the oversized bumpers and
the severe slope of the hood, but liked the four-disc
brakes and independent suspension.
Focus groups also helped refine the advertising campaign for the
Regal. Participants were asked which competing cars most
resembled Buick in image and features. The answer was Oldsmobile,
a sister GM division. In an effort to differentiate the two, Buick was
repositioned above Oldsmobile by focusing on comfort and luxury
features. The vehicle was also due to be renamed the Buick Lacrosse
in the U.S. and Canada. Younger members of focus groups in Quebec
told GM that "lacrosse" was slang for self-gratification
The tag line for the Regal, “official car of the Supercharged
family,” was based on focus group findings.
“The Perfect Addition To Any Household”
“Regal encompasses Buick's renowned comfort, quality and performance
capabilities in a sleek, mid-size sedan. With plenty of interior space and loads of
power for the open road, Regal is perfectly equipped to meet the demands of
families on the go.”
In 2005 Buick replaced the Century and Regal by consolidating them into the Buick Allure (
(LaCrosse in the USA)
Online Focus Groups
• Chat Room Style
– good for capturing top-of-mind reactions to
concepts, graphics, audio/video clips, web sites, etc.
• Bulletin Style
– good for eliciting more in-depth comments on
complex issues, as well as for allowing participation
by individuals who would be difficult to gather in
“real time”.
Advantages of Online vs traditional Focus Groups
• Software controls for faster responders
• Ability to show websites to participants
• Clients “lurk” in “chat room”; can send questions to
• Transcripts produced automatically
• Individual responses can be tracked
• Many people are more open when NOT face to face
• Friendlier, more humorous online
• Distant participants
• Convenient for participants
• less costly than face-to-face groups
No body language (often part of analysis)
Harder to read emotions
Sampling issues (who is more likely to participate?)
Difficult to probe
Sometimes asynchronous (I.e. over several days)
The Internet approach to focus group relies on an individual's
ability to type effectively to participate fully
Can’t show "external stimuli" to groups in order to obtain their
Hard for skilled moderator to utilize the group dynamics to
explore an issue
Comments likely to be short
problem of lag in responses
Lack of interaction, synergy
Easy for participants to NOT participate
Depth Interviews
What is an In-depth Interview?
A conversation on a given topic between a
respondent and an interviewer
• Used to obtain detailed insights and personal thoughts
Flexible and unstructured, but usually with an interview guide
Purpose: to probe informants’ motivations, feelings, beliefs
Lasts about an hour
Interviewer creates relaxed, open environment
Wording of questions and order are determined by flow of
• Interview transcripts are analyzed for themes and connections
between themes
In-depth Interviews Technique:
• Laddering
– questioning progresses from product characteristics to
user characteristics
• An example
“Why do you like wide bodies? (in airplane seats)”
“They’re more comfortable”
“Why is that important?”
“I can accomplish more”
“Why is that important?”
“I will feel good about myself”
– Tendency to have a freer exchange
– Can probe potentially complex motivations and behavior
– Easier to attach a particular response to a respondent
– Qualified interviewers are expensive
– Length and expense of interview often leads to small
– Subjectivity and “fuzziness”
Focus Groups Vs. In-depth
• Advantages of focus groups
– relatively lower cost per person
– stimulating effect from group interaction
– vividness to managers
• Advantages of in-depth interview
– more information from each respondent
– flexible with the use of physical stimuli
Wikis as research tool
Projective Techniques
Projective Techniques
Projective techniques are unstructured and indirect
forms of questioning which encourage the
respondents to project their underlying motivations,
beliefs, attitudes or feelings regarding the issues of
Depth Interview methods or surveys can’t get reliable
answers to questions like:
•How does this soda can make you feel about yourself?
•Which color graphic on the can would make you feel like a
sexier person when you bought it?
projective techniques
Main Types of Projective Techniques
• Word Association
– asks the respondents to give the first word or phase that
comes to mind after the researcher presents a word or
• Completion Test
– asks the respondents to complete sentences, dialogs, or
stories, etc.
• Picture Drawing and Interpretation
• Third Person Techniques
• Role Playing
Example: Word Association
Results of a Word Association Test with Alternative
Brand Names for a New Fruit-Flavored Sparkling
Water Drink
Possible Brand Name
Tropical Fruit
Orange Sparkle
Paradise Passion
Associated Words
Green, tart, jungle
Juice, sweet, island
Light, bubbly, cool
Fruity, thick, heavy
Example: Completion Test
Investigate teenagers’ attitudes to tea
Someone who drinks hot tea is ______________
Tea is good to drink when __________________
Making hot tea is _________________________
My friend thinks tea is _____________________
sentence completion
Sentence Completion Example: Department
Store Patronage Project
1. A person who shops at Sears is
2. A person who receives a gift certificate good for
Zeller’s would be
3. The Bay is most liked by
4. When I think of shopping in a department store, I
Story Completion Example: Department Store
Patronage Project
“A man was shopping for a business suit in his favorite
department store. After spending 45 minutes and trying
several suits, he finally picked one he liked. As he was
proceeding to the checkout counter, he was approached
by the salesman, who said, “Sir, at this time we have
higher quality suits which are on sale for the same price.
Would you like to see them?”
“What is the customer’s response? Why?
Another Projective Technique:
– Shopping Lists -- Ask respondents about the
type of person who would buy a particular
group of products
Instructions to Subjects:
“Read the shopping list below. Try to project
yourself into the situation as far as possible
until you can more or less characterize the
woman who bought the groceries. Then write a
brief description of her personality and
character. Whenever possible indicate what
factors influenced your judgment.”
• May elicit responses that subjects would be unwilling
or unable to give if they knew the purpose of the
study. non-threatening
• Helpful when underlying motivations, beliefs and
attitudes are operating at a subconscious level.
• Require highly trained interviewers and
interpreters of results
• Serious risk of misinterpreting.
• Subjectivity
• Is the psychological material uncovered related to
the topic or to the person?