Posted By Cheryl Halpern,
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Online Chat Focus Groups: A First-Timer’s Perspective
First-time experiences are both exhilarating and intimidating. COVID-19 has presented us with the opportunity to add to our toolboxes, either because we recognize the seismic shift to online methodologies, or we simply have more time on our hands.
After attending a QRCA webinar about online chat focus groups, I volunteered to conduct a mock session with other professionals who were interested in seeing the platform in action.
Online chat is similar to in-person focus groups in that targeted respondents are recruited to participate in a moderated discussion at a specific point in time for a set duration (typically 60 – 90 minutes), but different in that engagement is entirely text based.
Online chats typically involve eight to 20 respondents. The moderator can use a whiteboard to display visuals, and backroom observers can communicate with each other directly and with the moderator through an administrator. The administrator also takes care of technical issues and helps prod participants, if needed.
Objectives and Target Audience
For this mock chat, my objectives were to let interested researchers experience the platform firsthand and to provide a fun break in these challenging times. I came up with a list of questions to help us explore “The Lighter Side of Quarantine.”
All who had expressed an interest in the webinar chat room were invited to attend and could opt to be either a participant or an observer. Participants were given screen names based on the adjective they said best described their current emotional state and what they had eaten most recently. Anxious Turkey, Optimistic Beans and Weary Apple were among the favorites.
I was advised to allow five minutes for every three questions and planned the guide accordingly, with timed sections and detailed questions under each section.
Once loaded, the discussion guide appears in sequential blocks on the lower righthand side of the moderator’s screen. Six to eight of these blocks can be seen at one time, and all can be seen by scrolling up and down.
Screen shots to be used on the whiteboard are labeled and appear in a different scroll on the upper righthand side of the moderator’s screen.
The platform I used had a practice room that I could enter whenever I wanted. It was pre-programmed with fourteen participants submitting random responses at what has been determined to be the typical pace, which is essentially a bell curve over about 90 seconds after a new question is introduced.
As with any group discussion, the moderator’s task is to guide the discussion, introduce materials, and probe to elicit deeper insight. With synchronous chat discussions, that translates into three distinct but coordinated tasks:
- Sending questions, either from the pre-loaded discussion guide or by typing freehand.
- Sending visual stimuli to the whiteboard.
- Reading the scrolling discussion and immediately probing responses as needed.
During practice, I learned that I had the flexibility to send pre-loaded questions in any order or skip them altogether if desired.
I logged in about fifteen minutes before the session started and watched as fourteen participants and thirteen observers entered.
At the appointed time, I sent instructions to the group chat one sentence at a time, pacing myself by reading the words aloud – just as participants are reading them for the first time.
I submitted my first screen shot and question and the frantic fun began! After just a few seconds, answers started popping up, each identified by the screen names that had been assigned.
While I am accustomed to multi‐tasking in live focus groups, I found it rather challenging to type probes while the chat continued to scroll on the screen during the live discussion. Also, because comments were coming in quickly, any probe on a specific comment requires including the screen name of the individual being addressed. While the participant screen names I derived for this exercise were fun, I realized quickly that shorter user names would have been expedient.
Another interesting aspect of the chat platform is that responses to one question may keep coming in after a new question has been presented. Each respondent is reading, processing, typing and submitting at a different pace. This has implications for both analysis of the transcript and construction of the discussion guide. The resulting output is not a threaded transcript, but a chronological record.
We had a Zoom meeting immediately following the chat so that anyone who was interested could participate in a debrief. Virtually all felt the pace was incredibly fast and wished they had more time to read and process each of the responses individually. Nevertheless, the observers agreed that that although the content was generated quickly, it was surprisingly rich and abundant.
From my experience moderating an online chat discussion for the first time, I would offer the following tips for others who want to utilize this tool:
- Engage participants from the outset. Without face-to-face interaction, it is especially important to make the respondents feel welcomed and eager to participate.
- Familiarize yourself with all toggles/options available. I did not realize that I could have done more to optimize the respondents’ screens.
- Use the whiteboard judiciously. Juggling the whiteboard and the discussion guide at the same time probably complicates things unnecessarily for a novice.
- Review your discussion guide with an understanding that responses from one question may spill over into the next on the transcript and arrange questions accordingly.
- To facilitate deep dives on key topics, plan multiple, closely related questions and allow respondents 90 seconds to read and respond to each.
- Include time allocations and screen shot reminders in your programmed discussion guide so that all the cues you’ll need are in one place.
- Partner with a trusted administrator, whether that is a colleague or someone from the platform’s staff. They can run interference in the “backroom” so that you can focus on the respondents.
- Practice! Even a skilled moderator needs to take the time to learn the nuances of a new tool.
About the Author: Cheryl Halpern
Cheryl has 25+ years of executive level marketing professional experience and is the current President of Halpern Research; formerly VP with Dallas Marketing Group and VP of Global Product Marketing with Mary Kay, Inc.
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Posted By Brooke Bower,
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Annual Conference Reporter on the Scene: FG BnB!
Presenters: Abby Leafe, New Leafe Research and Laurie Tema-Lyn, Practical Imagination Enterprises
At the 2020 QRCA Annual Conference, presenters Abby Leafe and Laurie Tema-Lyn asked all of us “What happens when you bring the sharing economy to the world of research?” Turns out, a lot of exciting things! Throughout the session, Abby and Laurie creatively (and practically!) presented how we can use alternative venues for conducting qualitative research such as AirBnB and Peerspace and how to ensure that a project is a success once the right space is identified.
The engaging session provided real world instances of this method. Both Abby and Laurie utilized their own experiences using unique spaces to conduct qualitative research throughout, including an instance where an LA mansion proved to be the ideal setting for three days of focus groups and client innovation sessions for a start-up client on a budget, leading to development of a pipeline of new product ideas, some of which are now in the marketplace. As they pointed out, not everything is sunshine and roses when utilizing these spaces. Both Abby and Laurie highlighted some hard-earned learnings about how to avoid problems and ensure our sanity when working in a new space that may not be set up for our research.
Non-traditional locations can be great for the right project. The project should have a very specific reason for choosing a non-traditional venue and all logistics associated with the venue need to be explored and planned for. The general elements to consider include:
- How to get there: for clients, respondents, and the researchers.
- Comfort: what is needed to make the research comfortable and is there enough privacy for the structure of the research.
- Technology needed: can be the biggest factor to consider.
- Budget: sometimes non-traditional locations can be a cost saver, but researchers must think through everything you need to bring that might be in a traditional facility, i.e. multiple types of creamer, buying easels/office supplies, bringing in snacks and meals, staffing the location to have a facility manager.
- The intangibles: the ambiance fit for the project, your gut feeling.
If all of these are considered and it is a fit for the project, the right place can help stimulate creativity and engage the mind in different activities, communicating to clients and respondents it is not business as usual!
A key tip from both Abby and Laurie was to thoroughly prepare the clients and respondents for the venue. Overcommunicate about it. Write a letter to the respondents introducing yourself as the moderator, telling them about the purpose of the research and why it is being held in the non-traditional location, and how to get there with special parking instructions.
The fun, non-traditional location can strengthen the depth of your connection with your client as it takes you out of the standard business setting (i.e. debriefing in a luxury LA mansion by the pool after the respondents have left!). This presentation really broadened my mind and encouraged me to think more creatively when I am looking for research venues!
The topic of this presentation was creative and provided fresh ideas to re-energize research projects!
QRCA Reporter on the Scene: Brooke Bower, Independent Research Consultant
QRCA Annual Conference
QRCA Reporter on the Scene
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Posted By Meena Aier,
Thursday, April 2, 2020
Annual Conference Reporter on the Scene: The Humanity of Board Games: Getting to those Nooks & Crannies that Technology Cannot Reach
Presenter: Oana Popa Rengle, Anamnesis
Summary of Conference Session
In this engaging session at the 2020 QRCA Annual Conference, Oana Popa Rengle carefully built a framework around how board games can be used to generate (and not just communicate) insights.
Oana identified four main ways in which board games very naturally create an environment that can be conducive to unearthing real insights:
- Intimacy and connections – we tend to play board games with friends and family, so there can typically be a circle of trust around board game players.
- They encourage bluffing, deceit, creativity, etc. which are all elements that can be leveraged as strong tools to generate insight.
- There is a certain element of physicality about board games. In this highly digitized world, board games can bring back a fresh approach – players must either roll the dice or move pieces while playing board games. It could implicitly grant them more freedom in expressing themselves, which could result in richer insights.
- There is a level of ownership that comes with board games. Players can bend (or even break!) rules, they can create their own “house rules”.
Board games gives us a potentially novel way to give respondents control over the research process. They can tell their stories in their own ways, which can be quite powerful. Drawing on these four characteristics, researchers can transform a traditional focus group session into an engaging board game.
Key Session Takeaways
This was a session rich in content and lessons, and as such, there were many takeaways. Here are some of the critical ones:
- Oana was advocating for game-based research, and not gamification. This means that for board games to work, researchers need to have a mental model of the subject of inquiry – or at the very least, a mental model of how human motivation works. This mental model then needs to lend itself to a game-based format. Researchers will need to have a strong narrative underpinning the game and may find themselves needing to rethink their approach to posing questions and getting answers.
- Any board game needs to be competitive. This means participants "earn" points and they need to go through conditions that require them to "spend" their points to advance to the next stage. This creates a powerful "pain of payment" moment and forces them to make real choices about what they really need, and what they can live without – a tactic that can certainly be helpful when trying to determine what features are important in a product.
- Researchers can also take this opportunity to have their clients play against the players, especially in cases where in order to proceed to the next stage, or earn resources, players are required to highlight things that frustrate them about client products. This can create a powerful moment of empathy, where clients can firsthand experience the voice of their customer and see what it feels like to be a consumer of their products.
- There can potentially be limitations – a focus group format can provide opportunities for the moderator to dig deep into a participant observation/opinion, until it turns into insight. In a board game, a participant might make an interesting (or a highly promising) observation, but the chance to dive deeper into that observation may be very limited. One potential way around this limitation may be to create a "bonus" card or a bonus choice, where participants are able to earn additional resources for elaborating further on that observation.
- Board games are a great opportunity to bring fun. Laughter can break the ice, and in building a shared, trusting environment, can create a pathway to insight.
I really enjoyed Oana’s unique presentation, so much so that I couldn’t limit my “aha-moment” to just one.
- Oana’s simple yet deeply powerful understanding of the insight generation process made this session one of the best at this year’s QRCA conference. This quote in particular, will always be something I come back to – "Insight isn't always buried in depths. Sometimes, it is just at the surface, waiting for someone to find that connection."
- It was absolutely ingenious the way in which Oana brought in an element of play into the presentation itself – using red and green glowsticks to make the audience indicate their preferences. It brought laugher, a certain level of excitement, and was a live demonstration of how that element of play made a 50+ strong audience communicate their real preference (i.e, they would much rather hear Oana talk about board games than engage in an activity – which goes against most presenters’ initial hypotheses about engaging audiences).
This session really had me thinking through how a board game format can potentially be used to test messages. It truly was an incredible session that took the exact opposite route of digitization – and instead focused on something so fundamentally human – play!
QRCA Reporter on the Scene: Meena Aier, Crestview Strategy
QRCA Annual Conference
Reporter on the Scene
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Posted By Isabel Aneyba,
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Updated: Monday, June 24, 2019
Let’s Work Together: The Consumer Co-Creation Camp
While focus groups have long been a part of the innovation process, many clients have voiced their frustration about the limitations of traditional focus groups. To respond to this and other client needs, we created a methodology called Consumer Co-creation Camp. It is designed to expedite the research process while making it fun and provide a more direct connection between the client and consumers.
We had a client that decided it was time for his company to start an innovative process. This is how he requested the research: “I do not want boring focus groups, I want a fun process like a reality show, where we are looking to discover new things. I do not want to listen to top-of-mind responses, I want a deeper understanding. We want to achieve a year’s worth of research in one comprehensive study: understand the target, create product/brand concepts and evaluate those concepts”
To address this client’s broad request, we facilitated three groups simultaneously in three days to create products and brands with consumers. This process involved multiple stakeholders: the client team, the advertising agency and the consumers. We called this engaging process: The Consumer Co-creation Camp.
At the end of the fieldwork, the client stated: “We clearly know what we need to know to make this product a success in the marketplace”. How did this project provide such clarity and confidence to the client team and agency? In my view, it was the co-creation of compelling consumer-ready ideas. Three successive stages lead them to:
We wanted the participants to get to know one another first, so we asked Millennial participants to introduce themselves using a collage they created prior to the Camp. This set the stage that this process was about the Millennials and about being together. They felt appreciated while they found new friends and were free to use their own colloquial language.
During this process, our clients moved from feeling “I want to hear this and that” to “These people are interesting”” to “This is going to be big”. There was a perception shift because it was the first-time clients had a chance to see how these Millennials saw themselves.
Millennials created new concepts after testing the product. Collages helped participants to articulate their feelings because many times participants do not know how to describe their feelings and emotions. Collages were a springboard to show their feelings and it was a great equalizer, giving them all the opportunity to adapt the product and the brand to themselves. Our clients witnessed how the brand concepts matched Millennials’ needs and personal styles.
This stage motivated the clients the most. The Millennials presented their ideas directly to them, in the same room. The client team and Millennial teams had a vigorous conversation. There was ‘one voice in the room’. Consumers and clients worked in tandem focused on the unifying goal, with no barriers, mirrors or attitudes. After the final presentation, all the clients knew what the final output of the research was!
At the end of the process, three key outcomes would significantly impact product management, the brand vision, and consumer engagement.
Product Management. The global R&D and Marketing team became aligned and felt empowered to make necessary product and packaging changes.
Brand Vision. The client and ad agency gained a deeper understanding of Millennials, their needs, and shared this with the entire corporation. This understanding inspired them to create a new brand vision.
Engagement. The marketing teams learned how Millennials made friends, and this insight helped them to better engage with this target – utilizing a relevant marketing platform.
Even after the camp, the participants’ ideas were referred to constantly by the clients and the agency. Their vivid experiences allowed for crisper memories. The co-creation experience anchored the clients’ understanding on this target audience through a human connection. It was clear how the Co-Creation Camp streamlined the research process, and in the end, saved the client money and time while enhancing their understanding.
Do you believe your corporate clients would value working together with the consumers in a fun, engaging process that yields high quality insights and speedier outcomes?
If so, how can you streamline your next research project to generate compelling consumer -ready ideas? Consumer Co-creation Camp is a great alternative. When empowered and enabled by the research process our experience has shown that Millennials and Clients are happy to embrace the challenge of creating new products and services.
Isabel Aneyba is president and chief insight generator of COMARKA, an Austin, Texas research firm. COMARKA empowers marketers to develop meaningful product and brand ideas with their customers through dialogue. www.comarka.com
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Posted By Jay Zaltzman,
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2019
I know it’s tempting, when a client — whether it be a company or an internal client — says they want four focus groups in Chicago, to answer “coming right up!” But it’s important to remember that, as qualitative researchers, our job isn’t only to conduct discussions or interviews, but rather to design research that will be most effective in answering our clients’ research questions.
We need to remind those clients about the value we can bring to the table. Remember, they may be considering “John in Marketing — he’s good with people, let’s have him ask the questions in the focus group.” But “John in Marketing” doesn’t necessarily know about designing research methodology. And he doesn’t realize that there’s more to a discussion guide than just “asking the questions.”
So, when clients ask if I can do four focus groups in Chicago, I say I can; but then I ask them to give me the background to the project. What are their objectives? How will the results be used? Do they have a budget? Why were they thinking of four focus groups in Chicago, specifically?
In my proposal, I’ll provide a cost for the four focus groups they requested, but based on what I learned, I might also suggest some alternatives. Let’s say it turns out they wanted the four groups in Chicago because that’s local, and they don’t have the budget for executives to travel to view groups. I might suggest two mini-groups in Chicago and four online mini-groups via webcam. Or depending on the topic, perhaps to two groups in Chicago and some online journaling nationwide. And of course, I’ll explain the reasoning behind those suggestions. Even if the clients say “thanks, but we’ll stick with the four groups in Chicago,” they will be impressed by the thinking... and you’ll be more likely to be hired than the competitor who had not included those kinds of options!
And don’t forget to offer to help the clients digest the research results. I try to always include the option of running a workshop with the stakeholders after the research is completed, to discuss the findings and how they might be utilized. It’s fulfilling to see the impact of the research, and it provides more value to your clients... and that’s the name of the game!
By: Jay Zaltzman
Jay Zaltzman believes that qualitative researchers can offer true value to clients by combining empathy with creative methodology and analytical rigor. Jay has been president of Bureau West Market Research/Voice of the Customer for the past twenty years. He is an active member and past president of the QRCA.
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