Testing a product or concept that has become near and dear to your heart can be daunting. The “who’s, what’s, where’s, when’s, and why’s” come into play as you craft the transformation of a sticky-note idea to an effectual solution. You can start answering these open-ended questions by analyzing the array of market research methodologies and subsequently selecting the right approach for you. In-depth interviews and focus groups as well as ethnographies, shop-alongs, and online panels are a few popular tactics that we will examine and differentiate between to help communicate when each method best applies.
Also referred to as IDIs, in-depth interviews are one-on-one interviews between a moderator and a single participant designed to be very focused and detail-driven. Given the direct engagement, IDIs are known to uncover unique and authentic observations. This qualitative research methodology is best to use in the following situations:
You seek extremely insightful responses. Individual interactions prevent the influence of peer-pressure and interruptions from other subjects and can foster a brief yet trustful interpersonal relationship between the moderator and participant. The researcher is clued into the subject’s tone, rhetoric, and body language and can therefore extract more comprehensive takeaways.
Your research topic is sensitive, and you want to include the participants' emotions and opinions in your study. The interpersonal element of an IDI allows for a sense of subjectivity.
Your interviewer knows what’s up...if he/she knows a good deal of information about the product/concept/brand and can present questions empathetically, you should expect valuable data. On the other hand, if the interviewer doesn’t have a lot of experience or is not super competent in some regard, an IDI might not be the most effective tool.
You have time on your hands; IDIs tend to be time-consuming.
You can spend a couple bucks. Due to the longer vetting process to find unbiased participants, IDIs can be on the costly side.
You need your research to be conducted from different physical spaces. IDIs can take place in-person or through a mobile device or live video.
You want to ask a lot of questions to get the most thorough answers. One-on-one engagements allow for unscripted interactions, so interviewers can come up with new questions during the session and pose follow-ups to previous responses in order to collect more information.
Compared to IDIs, a focus group is a group interview where there is both a moderator and a group of recruited participants. Focus groups can be used to inspire new concepts, test current ads or products, or learn more about how consumers are using a product. They can be conducted in person at a special facility (a viewing room with one way glass, etc) or remotely using web cams, smartphones and software. While a focus group is a qualitative research method, the insights can be used to identify areas for improvement that can be addressed through quantitative research. This methodology is right for you if you align with the following situations:
You need to spark some innovation. As mentioned above, focus groups are an effective way to harness peoples’ creative energy working together as a team and facilitate a brainstorming session.
You aim to understand the users’ perceptions of your product, brand, company, etc. The group interview atmosphere allows you to draw real-time reactions from consumers.
You want to monitor how people interact/banter on behalf of what is being tested. This would not be achievable through some other methods like IDIs or online surveys, for example.
You wish to test your materials with a select targeted population. You have the freedom to choose who will participate in your focus group, so you can test your ideas on the market you are trying to reach.
Focus groups can be an extremely effective tool. However, be aware that it may not be the best methodology for you if don’t want people to be influenced by others’ reactions. In a small space with only several respondents, peer pressure can undermine individuals’ authentic perceptions. On a similar wavelength, it is crucial to consider how the insights drawn from focus groups are not universal; it is easy to form generalizations from a sample population.
Also a qualitative data collection method, ethnographies are typically immersive and take place in the natural environment of the product or concept so that researchers can observe and/or interact with the participants and products. For instance, an ethnographic study might not be useful if the product at hand is a baby toy; an adult would not provide relevant or applicable insights if he/she were to interact with the product given that it is geared towards an incredibly different demographic. However, if a study dealt with goods in a grocery store or the services of a bank or gas station, the adult researcher could spend time in these spaces, become immersed with the shopping experience/use the products, and observe consumers to learn of their viewpoints. You should conduct an ethnographic study if the following applies to you:
You want to gain a deep understanding of the domain, audience, and context of the product/concept so you can build around the users, incorporate human-centered design, and make improvements/changes accordingly.
You are in the early stages of research. Ethnographies can provide you with important data that can shift the trajectory of your product. By conducting this methodology early on, you can make alterations from the get-go.
You want to uncover unexpected results that the designer himself/herself might not have considered.
Shop-along studies occur when the researcher follows a consumer through a physical space asking questions as they go along. Another version of a shop-along is called a Mobile Mission in which the researcher also follows the consumer. However, the interaction is not limited to walking and shopping; there are a variety of activities that could take place while conducting the test. These methodologies can be either qualitative or quantitative depending on the number of subjects and are a form of an IDI. Shop-alongs are the best method to use if:
You want to collect real-time data and understand the participant's purchase journey as well as the psychology behind their decision-making process.
You are working with a product that can be browsed. Shop-alongs work best in retail settings or grocery stores, for instance, as the consumers are not running in and out but taking their time, making decisions throughout.
You aim to interact with subjects on a personal level at the same time in the same place.
A sample of people, often volunteers, complete online surveys through the online panel research methodology. As this tactic has the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people, online panels can produce a large amount of data and have a serious impact on how a company makes improvements or changes to their brand, concept, product, etc. However, if you choose to conduct an online panel, be wary of the fact that panel members may not represent the larger population of users as they are just a sample. Use online panels if:
You want quick results.
You don’t want to spend an excess amount of money on market research. Online panels tend to be fairly cost effective.
You need information on product opinions as well as demographics. You can ask a myriad of questions relating to the user and his/her information to gain insight into your consumers’ lives or lifestyles.
You want to gather everyday insight using the masses/ordinary people as participants rather than a select few chosen individuals.
As you now decide which tactic to apply, consider their respective advantages and disadvantages and how you might be able to apply one of the above approaches to answer the who's, what's, where's, when's, and why's of your test. How will you learn the in’s and out’s of your product or concept? Which research methodology is the perfect one for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts.