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Permission to Beat to Your own Drum: use qual to let your customers share your brand's superpower

February 23, 2021


Permission to Beat to Your own Drum: use qual to let your customers share your brand's superpower

How Has COVID Changed Customer Research?

We’ve been (largely) staying at home for almost a year now. We’re still adapting to our new realities, and our feelings about it are still evolving. There’s a huge mix of thought about this. What’s become normal, what will stick around after this is “all said and done,” what are we eager to “get back to” and what will we leave behind forever? Some people love Zoom meetings; other people are so over it.

And even individually, we can go back and forth. We might love the idea of not going into the office every day, of ditching our commute. But we’re also realizing working from home isn’t always a bed of roses. And, even if we don’t exactly love the office, there are some things we miss. There are things Zoom can’t replace—like catching up with your workplace BFF by the water cooler.

In short, we’re all sort of wondering where and when this ends, and what things will look like. There’s cautious optimism in some corners, and there’s despair in others. This affects how we approach everything, from our budgets to product launches to communications.

The evolving situation has created a lot of pressure for us to “keep up” with our customers too. How do we keep up with consumer sentiment if people are swinging between fear this won’t ever end and hope there’s light at the end of the tunnel? How do we navigate a world where there are so many different opinions and feelings?

We’ve put a lot of effort into research, which is really the only way to handle an environment that’s shifting so fast. Yet the pandemic has also changed how we do research. Not just in that we’re doing more of it or trying to do it faster or that we’re using online surveys instead of paper ones. We’re actually switching methodologies.

Moving from Quant to Qual

In the past, it seemed that most organizations prefered quantitative research. You get a big dataset, crunch the numbers, and discover 75 percent of respondents hate your logo. So, you change it! You also learn that 65 percent of respondents love your customer service, so you keep doing what you’re doing.

Quant usually appeals because it gives us “big picture” trends. It also tends to be easier—to some degree—to work with. Easier to sell through Senior Management. Qualitative research is time-consuming and some methodologies are more difficult to see the insight inside the data. Groups can mean less independent information. IDI’s provide depth but take more time.

Yet, in the pandemic environment, qual, with the right methodology can provide fresh and raw insights to how your customers are feeling and what new aspects or benefits your brand or organization are or could be providing.  Quant functions on large datasets, but has the shortcoming of not answering why. Qual gives us that deeper look, insight into what’s actually motivating our customers.

Take the idea that 75 percent of our customers hate our logo. All right, we know the majority of people don’t like our logo. But … what don’t they like about it? Why do they hate it so much? What would they rather see instead? And why do 25 percent of people like our logo? And if we changed the logo would they reconsider buying our product anyway? 

Quant has a hard time answering these kinds of questions. The right type of Qual gives us that deeper look. When we know why our best customers don’t like our logo, what it is communicating and causing a barrier in purchase consideration for all other types of buyers…then we have the insight to know what to change and why we should be changing it. Your best customers are “vested” in you always getting it right. 

Why Qual Works in the Pandemic Environment

So, there’s actually nothing new about qualitative research methods. We’ve known about focus groups and one-on-one (IDI) interviews and whatnot for a long time. We’ve just always given precedent to quant, because it’s faster, easier, cheaper, no hard sell to senior management on decisions etc.

So, here are a few reasons why qual may be more effective for your business right now: 

1.      We have more access to our customers. Most are working from home or flex schedule that allows for a phone or a Zoom call or online. 

2.      Chatting authentically takes no effort for respondents. A dialogue creates engagement vs. an intense survey where you are providing conscious vs. subconscious answers. 

3.      Speed of understanding and predicting change. 

·      Quant is measuring the here and now based on the questions asked: raw numbers about how many customers are staying home, wearing masks, or shopping online. However, the media is changing the story every day to try and achieve compliance in behaviour. Fear is being leveraged in the media and each day a new angle is told to keep people watching, reading and complying. Attitudes are changing quickly and becoming more divisive. The story keeps changing and the why keeps changing….masks are suggested, recommended…they work, they don’t work….you need one, you need three layers, you need to double up… it seems the science around them advanced and continues to evolve.

4.      Answer the why. Why are they buying you despite covid? Why are they buying perhaps more or less of you? What benefits subconsciously are our brands delivering? How can we take that raw, unique and ownable insight and tell more people? Allow the “why” to transcend what is happening around us. 

So, qual in this rapidly changing environment has a little bit more staying power. It provides insight into the “why” of consumer behaviour. That’s a little bit more stable than the “what” or the “how”—which tends to be what quant looks at.

And, qual always get overlooked for sample size. However, data collection done properly can provide hours and hours of raw independent learning. How exciting would it be to understand the superpower of your brand vs. a summary of data points that you present once or need to ask more questions to understand?

We Need to Understand Our Customers

The desire to get to why is the biggest factor to drive confident decision making. That makes sense. Consumer behaviour changed suddenly, shockingly, and it’s not going back to the way it was before.

So, we may want to know why people are choosing our brands in this climate, or why they will stick with having their groceries delivered or online shopping. We want to know why they’re not going to go back to the gym even when it’s safe. We may want to know not only when they think they’ll travel, but the factors that encourage them the discourage them from travelling too.

Simply knowing what percent of people plan to travel again isn’t enough here. We need to get to the “why” of behaviours—and the right qualitative research helps us get there. From there, we can discover what future travel trends might look like, or what people want to see to feel safe when they do decide to travel again. That can help us get ahead of the curve and really deliver on what our customers need from us.

It’s quite likely that we’ll see qualitative stick around in some shape or form, even after the pandemic. Right now, we’re learning that if we let our customers lead the conversation, we can learn all kinds of things and make better predictions about where the market is headed.

And it all starts with the why!


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