How Taking Part in Qualitative Market Research Makes You See The World Differently

If you have ever taken part in a market research focus group or group discussion, it’s possible that you might have come out of the process unclear as to exactly what was achieved. When we talk to people about their experience of research participation, they nearly always report having had a fun and interesting time -but sometimes they wonder exactly what the people commissioning the research can have learned from their contributions, and how exactly they earned their cash incentive payment (typically £30 to £50 at current UK rates)

Of course sometimes the exercises used in research are very direct and obvious: If the research facilitator asks the group to compare two images and discuss what they like about each of them, which is most effective, which they prefer and why… as a research participant you will surely listen to the question and consider it, then try to respond to it as honestly and fully as possible.

That is fine, when this kind of considered response is required. But sometimes researchers need to go deeper. We relate to the brands around us in a wide range of ways, some of them consciously (‘I love Brand X, but Brand Y has gone down hill lately’), but other relationships are much more subtle. You might have sentimental feelings for brands from your childhood, or unconscious connections and memories suggested by a logo or piece of packaging. An advert or theme tune might really grate on you for reasons you have never thought about, and probably don’t really care about… but the people marketing that brand do care, and that is why they are paying for these focus groups!

So the researcher might ask you to do some things that seem a little bizarre at face value. We have seen participants asked to close their eyes and imagine what a brand of detergent would be like if it were a country – what kind of climate it might have, what governance, what the national dish might be. Sometimes people have said afterwards that they felt they gave a silly answer, because they had no idea what they were supposed to say… but that ‘top of head’ response can often tell the market researchers a great deal about the impressions their products are making, especially when they compare the responses from a range of different research participants.

Other researchers might get you to draw a picture of how an event made you feel, or imagine two different makes of car were people you met at a party – and then think about how they might introduce themselves and what they’d be wearing, and so on.

It’s all about getting you to think about the familiar in new and different ways, and it’s fascinating to observe or be a part of. We all make hundreds of tiny decisions every day, to buy that kind of shampoo or visit that website over there… each of our individual decisions might seem inconsequential, but when we’re talking about brands used all over the world these decisions scale up staggeringly. Market Researchers seeking to understand and learn from this behaviour have evolved intriguing tools to explore how our minds make these decisions, and being part of this is great fun.