Research methodologies have evolved tremendously since my first days in package design. Focus groups were pretty much the only game in town back then, and the only revolutionary ideas were group location and discussion flow. Now, we have great options for qualitative, quantitative, and even hybrid qual-quant methods, all designed to get into the consumer’s head.
There are pros and cons to every type of research. For deep-dive insights into attitudes and behaviors, personally, I’m still a big fan of traditional focus groups and one-on-one interviews, particularly in the beginning stages of brand exploration. Brand managers know the data behind their consumers, but the needs, desires and concerns of the consumers change over time. Digging into these insights become much more meaningful through qualitative research.
Economic trends, life stage changes, and “keeping up with the Joneses” can change behaviors and attitudes, creating important shifts in purchase behavior. Or, more importantly, can encourage an attitude, but not a behavior. For several years, natural, organic and better for you have been key trends that the media, consumers and brands have been talking about with great interest. Brands like GreenWorks helped to redefine how companies could play in the “green” space, and based on what consumers were saying attitudinally in segmentation studies, it should have easily been a game changer. Consumers were saying they wanted products that helped them live greener lives, and that they were buying organic or naturally-based products about 50% of the time.
When we actually talked to consumers face to face though, and had a chance to probe their real behaviors, the reality was vastly different. We surveyed consumers who, attitudinally through quantitative questioning, indicated that they were “hybrid” greens, looking for natural solutions to their everyday needs. When we talked to these consumers, though, unsurprising they were much more concerned about efficaciousness than how natural a product was. Many went so far as to say that they trusted their usual brands, and the risk of trying a natural product, and potentially being disappointed, was too great. Most of the people we talked to weren’t hybrids, they were light green and they were unlikely to change from that point of view. But we would have never known that if we had not gone to talk to them face to face.
Quant research has a place. But so does qual. There are few cut and dried answers about when to use which. Having the right discussion about learning objectives and use for research will help agencies and clients figure out what’s right for each situation.