Qualitative research is like singing – anyone can attempt but few do it well. Both an art and a science, qualitative research conducted by trained and experienced moderators is a powerful market analysis tool. Utilized incorrectly, however, it can lead to erroneous conclusions- resulting in bad business decisions. At Geo Strategy Partners, we utilize trained and experienced moderators and select the appropriate qualitative methodology for the task.
Qualitative research should be iterative and exploratory to be effective. When executed correctly it allows you to go on an expedition to uncover new insights, rather than simply measure things you already know. It allows respondents to tell you what they know, what they need, and what's important without the restrictions of survey structure. Qualitative research addresses the “why,” captures unarticulated insights, provides a contextual frame of reference, identifies opportunities not previously contemplated, and delivers insight into messaging that drives decision-making.
B2B/industrial focus groups require a specialized skill set. Successful recruitment of senior executives, technical experts, or field specialists is a challenge in itself. Add to the fact that you are typically moderating a group of individuals that are subject matter experts, a moderator must not only be a skilled interviewer, he/she must be fully versed on the industry, product application, and technology to be effective. At Geo Strategy Partners, we routinely conduct focus groups with respondents as diverse as oil field workers, pipeline welders, architects, insurance professionals, facility managers, utility linemen, electrical service contractors, IT professionals, chemical workers, medical professionals, and a variety of other specialized respondents.
In-depth interviews/ IDIs
Depending on the research objectives, in-depth interviews (IDIs) can be a powerful qualitative technique when interviewing executives or subject matter experts. IDIs allow the researcher to go deep in a one-on-one format with a knowledgeable respondent without the distractions of group dynamics. IDIs can be conducted face-to-face or by phone, making them an efficient and flexible qualitative research technique.
As in focus groups, it is important in business-to-business or industrial research that only the most experienced moderators be utilized to conduct interviews with these executives, professionals, or subject matter experts. The temptation to tightly script interviews should be avoided. Moderators should be able to work from a topic outline in a non-linear fashion, not hesitating to follow the respondent into uncharted territory, and skilled enough to bring the conversation back on point at the appropriate time.
Ethnography and site visits
Site visits and ethnographic research can be powerful tools to support new product development or strategic messaging. At the most basic level, site visits allow one to observe how products are used in practice and in context of the environment. In more advanced ethnography, you have the opportunity to capture all of the tangible ways respondents use and interact with a product. Rich insights about corporate culture and communication norms are captured and analyzed. While talented ethnographic researchers can collect volumes of actionable insights from a single ethnographic visit, even the most basic site visit provides an opportunity to engage in rich dialog with respondents.
In some cases we may recommend visits or observation without interviews at an industrial site or remote location. Many times, these observations are not routine or easily coordinated. Researchers must be able to understand and interpret what they are observing. Geo Strategy Partners has been there, done that- from oil rigs and refineries to coal and nuclear plants, from automotive and aerospace assembly plants to ride-alongs with utility linemen.
Online bulletin boards
Online bulletin boards can be effective in certain situations. The asynchronous nature makes it possible for business professionals or technicians to access bulletin boards at their leisure. Also, they can extend over a longer period of time, allowing for respondents to try a product, keep a journal, etc. The effect of a dominant personality that sometimes happens in a face-to-face focus group can be minimized in a bulletin board. The moderator can control level and frequency of involvement.
Online focus groups
Online focus groups can take on various forms from virtual focus groups to web-enabled to true online focus groups. Online focus groups are useful for demonstrating a web-based technology like software or online training. Chatting tools allow for an efficient exchange of information outside of dialogue. And because they are location agnostic, online groups can be used when respondents from manufacturing facilities are spread across a broad geography that would prohibit a face-to-face methodology.
The need to understand how users might respond to a new website, or functionality in a given technology product, dictates usability testing, which provides timely, detailed and objective feedback that informs improvements that translate to a better user experience. Customers/prospects come to a focus group facility and are observed independently while using a new website or product. Usability testing may involve giving participants a set of tasks (find and order a product, navigate to a given section, etc.), recording that experience, and following up with comparisons to alternative sites or products- seeking the optimal experience for the user. Geo Strategy Partners can customize usability research to a wide range of client needs.. All of our study designs and methods depend on client objectives, priorities, and budget.