The Pluses and Minuses of “Knowing Enough to be Dangerous”

One of the great benefits of doing qualitative research is being able to develop a rapport with respondents, which in turn affords a greater window into their emotional connection (or lack thereof) with a topic, concept, or experience through non verbal cues like body language and eye contact. This is often difficult to accomplish in any virtual exercise or through survey research alone. Of course, one also needs to be mindful of certain inherent levels of discomfort that a face to face respondent may feel, particularly when conducting one-on-one interviews. We typically begin each interview with some ice-breakers that often revolve around identifying certain elements of commonality. When working in our areas of vertical expertise such as sports, golf, and hospitality finding that common ground can often be easy to do. However, there’s a double edged sword whereby we do not want to intimidate the respondent by seeming like we know too much about the topic. That’s why we concurrently use the initial moments of the interview to diffuse our expertise, and tell the respondent that their answers are the correct answers and the only ones that count. The point is often made that, while we may think that we know what they are about to say (and that’s often the case), we’re going to ask what seems to be some silly questions or seek some points of clarification, because it is through that forced probing that we typically elicit the most vivid and emotional responses, that can often provide exceptional client value in framing potential marketing communications hot buttons, or product development needs. Frankly, it’s a necessity, as one needs to eliminate any moderator bias.

Of course having that vertical expertise and anticipation of what the respondent is about to say, also comes with its advantages. Because we have done so much research within our categories of focus, there are plenty of advantages to tying together one respondent’s comment with other contextual references from prior interviews or even other studies. In fact, some recent travel related work, provided us with a multitude of explanations that coupled with some feedback from a previous related study, helped us to understand how different consumers perceive similar experiences in different ways based on how they are coming into the situation. For example, being able to elicit reaction from a guest visiting a resort property for the first time could be nicely juxtaposed against the perspective of the researcher, who takes for granted a lot of things that they have grown accustomed to. Optimally applied, this provides rich insights across the breadth of particular reactions and perceptions that can then be applied and properly distributed across a more representative sample. It is important to then frame actionable recommendations, and understand where they fit into the overall breadth of a client’s target customer profile.

More simply said, it strikes us that there are three critical success factors at play here. First, there’s the need to put the respondent at ease, while creating rapport based on common experience. Next, there’s the dual initial task of not letting the moderator’s category knowledge bias or otherwise influence the respondents’ feedback. Finally, there’s the ability of the researcher to tie back that appropriate context and leverage it against what the respondents are saying. Indeed qualitative research is a great illustration of where art and science collide. Contact us today to put such an approach to work for you.