Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Simply stated, qualitative research is used to understand what is in a consumer’s mind: feelings, thoughts, intentions and motivations. Qualitative research is normally conducted with a smaller sample size than quantitative research and is therefore only partially representative of a population. This type of research cannot be projected to the population as a whole, but is used to provide general indications. Qualitative research methods include interviews and focus group discussions.
Unlike qualitative research, quantitative research is conducted with a larger sample size and produces quantifiable results. These results can be statistically projectable to a larger population. The most common types of quantitative research methodology used are surveys (telephone, mail, Internet).
Online focus groups are a good alternative to traditional focus groups under certain situations. Most importantly, online focus groups are economical when a group discussion is desired and the participants are geographically dispersed. Also, they are desirable when dealing with participants who are very busy and difficult to recruit (e.g. physicians, attorneys, high ranking executives/decision makers), since they do not require travel time and can be conducted directly from a participant’s office or home computer.
Online focus groups should be considered where the concept/service/product being evaluated is related to the Internet or related high-tech industries (e.g. web site design, concept testing of new technologies) and where the target market is experienced using the Internet. An on-line environment provides some anonymity for participants that can encourage even shy participants to be open and share their honest opinions. Lastly, online focus groups should be considered only when the client and research staff are confident that the research being conducted will not be seriously compromised because participants’ reactions and non-verbal cues cannot be seen.
Having a good relationship with a research supplier is important to the success of any research project. Selecting the right research supplier is tricky, but can be made easier when you know what to look for:
- Knowledge and Understanding. They are knowledgeable about the entire research process and they understand your needs. They are able to provide you with options if budget or time constraints, company politics or other situations do not allow for conducting the research under ideal conditions.
- Communication. You can easily communicate with them. The supplier is open to answering any ideas or questions you have. They are able to respond to you with specific, not vague, answers.
- Quality of Proposal. The proposal the supplier submits should discuss the research problem, study objectives, methodology (including sample design), tasks to be performed by the researcher as well as the client, a list of deliverables (e.g. written report, audio/video tapes, transcriptions) and estimates for cost and time line. The cost estimate should detail all costs to conduct the project.
- Experience and Credibility. The supplier has worked in the market research field a number of years and is experienced conducting various types of research (e.g., customer satisfaction, competitive positioning research, package design) using a wide variety of methodologies. In order to help you assess their credibility, the supplier should be able to give you a list of references including names, companies and phone numbers that you can contact. Ask them about professional association memberships. Most credible research suppliers will belong to at least one marketing or marketing research related associations.
- Comfort. Although this is listed last, this is one of the most important factors to look for when working with a research supplier. You should have a “good feeling” about the supplier and feel comfortable with them. They should not intimidate you.
Clients are always interested in cutting their research costs. In many cases, however, this is not easily done without compromising the quality of the research being conducted. Careful thought must be taken before cutting tasks or hours to meet a project’s or department’s budget. We would suggest that a client consider the following ways to lower their research costs:
- Reduce the total number of questions in a survey. Exclude the “nice to know” questions that aren’t absolutely necessary.
- Cut the number of open-ended questions in a survey. Open-ended questions require more interviewing, coding and data processing time than closed ended questions. Look into changing open-ended questions into closed ended questions, whenever possible.
- Cut the number of geographic locations the research is being conducted. When you want data gathered from across the U.S. and are not bound to a certain city or area, consider a more limited sample (e.g., one West Coast, one Mid-West and one East Coast city). Often, geographic differences are not as significant as clients may think.
- Combine research for related concepts/services/products into one research project. Instead of conducting separate surveys and focus groups for separate, but related products, consider combining them together in one survey or one focus group.
The first step in determining what questions to ask begins with a definition of the issues, problems or situation. By doing this, you can clarify your goals which will allow you to better target the research. Talk with others internally to determine their needs and expectations of the research.
The second step involves a “brain dump” of all the questions you would like to have answered. Don’t worry about question wording, your researcher is responsible for that. Ask yourself: “What information do I need to gather in order to solve this problem?” This will help you to formulate a list of questions and to eliminate superfluous questions that are “nice to know” and questions that you could answer by checking sources inside and outside your company (e.g. talking with customer service personnel, key customers).
Lastly, ask yourself, “What will I do with the results?” Questions (closed-ended) may be needed to provide numbers or percentages that can be compared against a department goal, industry standard, or a previous benchmark. Other questions (open-ended) may be needed to provide insight into why customers feel and behave the way they do. Survey topics can include questions that deal with: attitudes and behavior, needs, perceptions and demographics.
Many of our clients have become very knowledgeable about market research after working on several projects with us. These clients know that the success of a market research project often depends on how smoothly the research process goes.
- Establish the research objectives within your company or department first before approaching a research firm. Often after the research project is underway, other departments or personnel become involved and clients begin to rethink objectives. Clients then make significant changes to the research project which ends up costing them time and money.
- Provide complete background information, including the objectives of the research, to your researcher before they begin preparing a proposal. This includes discussing any budget and timing constraints.
- Establish a good working relationship with your research company. Hopping from one research firm to another based on the lowest price does not always guarantee quality research. Working with a few firms that you know, trust and can easily communicate with, helps assure that your project will receive the attention it deserves.
- Ask your researcher about alternative ways to conduct the research and ways to reduce your costs. Your researcher will likely have a number of ideas and suggestions that will work in your situation without compromising the quality of the research.
- Let the research firm know immediately about things you would like done differently. Our firm, as well as other research firms, wants to hear from clients. Providing this feedback early on allows the research firm to take immediate steps to correct the situation before it turns into a major problem.
The three questions listed below are direct and indirect ways to measure customer satisfaction and should be included in any survey intended to measure satisfaction.
- Ask customers about their overall satisfaction with the product/service being evaluated.
- Ask customers about their likelihood to recommend the product/service being evaluated to a friend or someone they know.
- Ask customers if they are likely to return (use the product/service again).
Everyone wants to get the most out of the money they spend. Here are our suggestions:
- Hire a research supplier that you feel comfortable working with.
- Spend the time up front to determine your research goals. Work with your research supplier to identify and refine these goals. Be sure to include department heads within your company as well as your internal staff in discussions about the goals.
- Work closely with your researcher. Carefully review the screener, questionnaire, focus group discussion guide, etc., before the research is conducted to be sure that all desired topics are covered and in the depth desired.
- Attend the pretest or focus group. The pre-test provides an opportunity for any last minute changes that may be needed to ensure that the respondents understand the questions being asked and that the information obtained meets the study’s objectives. Along the same note, attending focus groups allows you gain better insight into participants’ feelings, thoughts, intentions and motivations, especially when participants’ non-verbal behavior can be viewed. Additionally, attending the groups enables you to become more immersed in the process and gives you the ability to send in notes to the moderator.
- Carefully review the research supplier’s report. Make sure that the report is comprehensive, and easy to read and understand. A full report should contain: a discussion of the research methodology used, the objectives of the research, a summary of the key findings, recommendations, the cross-tabulated database and the materials developed for the project (e.g. screener, questionnaire, moderator’s guide). The recommendations should be supported by the research findings and should provide workable solutions to the specific problems being investigated.