Archive for February, 2009

The Gestapo qualitative research moderator

Posted in Qualitative research moderation with tags , , on February 20, 2009 by Cristi Popa

Here’s something I’ve stumbled on. It’s a year old, so probably many of you have seen it already. I find the presentation very interesting and honest. I think it tries to talk of some subjects more or less avoided by people in the research industry. Here you can find the author.

One point he makes in this presentation is that research is, more often than none, a dull and unpleasant process for respondents. Of course there are many reasons for this, but to me this idea brought back the Gestapo moderator’s image (kind of a Soup Nazi from Seinfeld).

It is very easy to recognize this type of moderator: most of the time the Gestapo moderator is very serious and focused. He knows exactly why he’s there and these good for nothing respondents would better behave. Cause he’s on the job.

There’s nothing more important to him than absolute control. He knows the guide by heart and in his whole career he never forgot a question. Not even once; unlike his no good colleagues who sometimes think they are having a chat with their mates and not doing market research. RESEARCH. But he knows his job. And he always gets the info the client wants. The info the client wants and the guide can get, that is. Because the guide is like a contract. The client approved it and he cannot expect anything more or less than that.

Anyhow, he likes his job. Sometimes he wishes it were a more precise job, but in the end a job is what you make of it. And this is RESEARCH. It’s kind of like science. He’s a kind of scientist with his faithful guide at hand, trying his best to squeeze the information out of his lab subjects. Sometimes he catches one of these pests lying. In those moments he whishes they were just guinea pigs. How he would zap them. But, unfortunately, they’re people.

“You’ve just told me you consume chocolate twice a week and now you’re telling me you are on a diet? Well, which one is it? You either are on a diet, or you do consume chocolate.”

In a way, she loves these moments. Now she can prove to the clients that she can challenge the respondents. She only whishes she had an interrogation lamp. How she would get the truth out!
“So, which one is it? When did you lie?” “Well… it’s a new diet, in which you are allowed to eat chocolate twice a week”.

“Eat – they don’t even know how to speak right. I asked her what she consumes. The chapter is called consumption habits and not eating time. Savages. But that’s ok. I only have 26 minutes left and I’m out of here. Anyhow, they already want to go home. They’re bored. Well, what did they think this was? Oktober fest? Maybe they were expecting champaign and stripers. Now way, this is RESEARCH. Almost a kind of science. And those bastard clients… probably half of them left and the other half is sleeping or updating their Facebook profiles. What were they expecting? A show? Stand-up comedy maybe? Well, not tonight, cause in here we do RESEARCH. If not a lamp I have to get me one of those leather whips at least.”

This is the Gestapo moderator. But rest assured. This is not an illness that’s spreading from moderator to moderator. It’s just how some people are taught to think about qualitative research.

This happens when you believe that just having a conversation with someone on whatever topic is to degrading to call work. And that you were meant for science. The bad news is that, besides traumatizing even a professional respondent, this type of moderators doesn’t actually get the information the client needs. People get bored, scared, intimidated, so they give you whatever plausible answer they can come up with. They just want the thing over, so they can get away.

So: be yourself, laugh, swear, scratch your nose if you feel like it, but do not make your respondents feel uncomfortable in any way. And the information will flow. All you have to do is to show them the route. In many cases a conversation guide goes a longer way than 10 books on qualitative research.

Going deeper underground in qualitative research

Posted in qualitative research theory with tags , , on February 11, 2009 by Cristi Popa


Exercise: what do these three pictures all have in common? They all are about going deeper underground. Most qualitative research agencies use the depth metaphor when showcasing a new tool, method etc. It goes something like this: “The important stuff is underneath. And if you get there you’ll find the real reasons/ the truth/ the insights/ the million dollar idea. By using this we can go deeper than anyone…where no man has gone before”.

The good news is that I have a submarine. So I can go deeper than anyone :)) – only kidding.

The bad news is that all these claims are based on the assumption of a clear, objective, irrefutable truth. That if we dig deep enough, give enough time etc. we can find out the real reasons for which John buys brand X. But what if there is no actual objective truth out there but rather a series of truths with equal intrinsic value, the only difference among them being their utility at some point or their ability to generate consensus among the relevant people? (Rorty)

What if the old onion metaphor would better reflect our endeavours in marketing research? Would then qualitative research agencies claim they can produce more tears when cutting the onion? Or that their onion is sweeter?

How Customers Think. Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market – Gerald Zaltman

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 10, 2009 by Cristi Popa

Some time back, Brian Baumal draw my attention towards this book by Gerald Zaltman. I never got to thank him so here it is: thank you Brian.

I remember that when I first read the book, it really got my hopes high. I was really enthusiastic for more than 200 pages. Then it just let me down.

A couple of weeks back I had the surprise of finding the same book, translated into Romanian (Cum gandesc consumatorii – Aspecte esentiale pentru studiile de piata, Polirom, 2007). I didn’t quite remembered why it let me down the first time I read it. So, I bought it, hoping that now, years later, after gathering more experience in research, I could properly understand it. So I read it again and of course remembered what disappointed me about this book.

Don’t get me wrong. The book makes for a good reading and it does get you thinking. Only for this reason and you should try it.

What bothers me most is that it just doesn’t keep its promise. The book starts taking a look at some of the newest (the book is published in 2003) advancements in neurology, psychology etc. and comes to a theory of what mind is, how thoughts are created, the role of emotion in this process etc. (nothing revolutionary here. More like a collection of already accepted facts about mind). Then it goes on saying that traditional qualitative research (mainly focus groups) does not stand a chance in uncovering the real motivations of the customers. So far, so good. But the whole time you’re reading you get this feeling that the author has a solution for all this. So you wait and wait and get your hopes high. You swallow the lack of structure, the vagueness of his examples and wait for his solution. And then the solution comes: metaphor elicitation – in other words an in depth interview in which the respondent is asked to bring with him a picture that best illustrates his feeling toward a brand, social problem etc.

In this point I thought: “but we already do this”. We also make collages, mind maps, diaries, ladders etc. And they’ve been around for years. I’m not saying that this is a bad method. But is this the promised salvation? The only way through which you will uncover the truth, the alpha and omega of qualitative research? Not really. It’s like in this episode of South Park when God comes to earth in a big, blinding light, with angel’s music on the background but he takes the shape of a drooling hypo-cat thing – the picture at the beginning (www.southparkstudios.com/episodes/103688 min. 19:00).
south park