Nov 3, 2007

Boring is Normal….

A couple of weeks ago, in response to a call from a friend who asked me how I am doing…my reply was ‘I am just so bored’. That would have been a normal response had I been doing nothing for days preceding that conversation though in fact things were quite the contrary. My hands were more than full with work…work that I most often enjoy doing…except at that time it did not seem terribly interesting. Her response…

Do you think we are all a little too bored…too often these days? Whenever I talk to any of my friends, boredom somehow crops up in every conversation

We spoke at length about boredom that day…

When I was in my teens 7 up had a TVC on air featuring Fido Dido (with his spiked hair and triangular head ) stood for all that was ‘cool’ when he proclaimed…’normal is boring’…a value that kids identified with those days. Not that the teens today would find normal any less boring - though the converse of this statement has become so true of their lives too.

Is ‘being bored’ reflective of times we live in. There was relatively less restlessness and more contentment amongst people of an older generation. Are we as a generation constantly craving excitement, thrill, adventure or all the rush that comes up with new experiences? My feeling is the more we expose ourselves to exciting stimuli …the shorter is the span of excitement…the quicker the onset of boredom.

So, if ‘engaging in a new activity’ kept me interested for a few months in the past…today it may keep my interest sustained for a few weeks. Perhaps it stems from too much stimuli we are exposed to….a feeling of wanting to do too much…in too little time. My friend labeled it the ‘super human syndrome’ – and talked about how even professionally – we are not content with focusing on one narrow area of work…the more we read about related / peripheral areas the greater is the restlessness to learn and excel at those. One fights to reach the top…and when one has, instead of thinking about & enjoying that feeling of achievement, we fix our attention to the next peak…and the next peak…

If this is a latent feeling amongst people today…then brands / products that keep reinventing themselves will continue to remain exciting.

Rashmi Bansal (editor of JAM – a popular youth magazine in India) cites Mobile phones as an example of a category that has done just that

The mobile phone, has no problem invading ‘other’ territory and annexing it. Going by conventional wisdom, phone companies should have stopped at improving voice clarity and enhancing looks. But they never thought of themselves as merely a phone. Instead of waiting for someone to express the desire for a service called SMS or a camera embedded into a phone, someone just went ahead and invented it. Part of the reason the mobile maintains its cool is the scorching pace the industry has set in terms of innovation….The term ‘mobile’ happens to be associated with a technological device, but ‘mobility’ lies at the core of what it means to be young.

Nov 2, 2007

On bathrooms and babycare rooms...Bathroom blogfest 2007


I'm a little late in joining the ladies in the loo this year. The bathroom blog fest which Susan and Stephanie initiated last year, has been on this week. Its about a group of women bloggers around the world writing about how customer experiences can be improved around restrooms.

Last year, since there was not too much i could recall about positive restroom experiences in India, I had written about the restrooms at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay and how those were one of the very few restrooms i had visited where one would not feel like pinching one's nose and running out at the earliest. We have come a long way from those days. For starters as a woman I can actually 'think' of finding a decent restroom in a public place - Malls have made life easier on that front. Airports are being revamped and so are the loos. Its a not unusual anymore to come across restrooms that are not only clean, but also adequate in their
supplies.

Of all the restrooms I've visited in the recent past - there has been one that stands out as the best I have seen here. I found it at a mall in Bombay that has is known for its design that matches international standards. What stood out there was - the wash basin designed for kids. Though this is becoming common in restrooms abroad - it is not something one would spot easily here and certainly reflective of the fact that people have started paying more attention to designing restrooms !

The other thing i came across at this mall - was a bright cheerful place -called the baby care room ! Most places have a small section of the women's restroom dedicated for this purpose though I have often wondered how uncomfortable it would be for women who sit in a busy restroom and attend to their babies. Besides comfortable seating, a baby changing table - this room had toys that older kids could play with and the cushions on the couch were adorable. This space felt like something that was in between what we have seen and know of a typical baby changing areas and the kids play area that one often finds at supermarkets.

On a related note...(though not specific to the Indian context) - I came across a news letter that talked about emerging consumer typologies....one of which they labeled 'denim dads' and described this creature as

The modern stay-at-home dad is admired for seeking work-life balance. He spends a good chunk of his day online, gleaning parenting tips off Slowlane.com and posting his own. He shares musical tastes with his kids, and appreciates the changing tables in the men’s room at Home Depot.

Now...how many businesses would even think of having a baby changing area in the men's room...you tell me.

For more visit the bathroomblogfest blog

customer experience, bathroom blogfest, ladiesrooms

Sep 20, 2007

Lets Face it - is facebook the new buzzword in research circles?

In the past couple of months I have encountered facebook –quite literally - wherever I have turned my face! I have seen it land up in my inbox as invites from friends, pop up in conversations with colleagues, featured on blog posts and finally yesterday I was sent an article on - what sites like face book and myspace mean for research?

In the midst of all this I caught on to the facebook bandwagon just to see what it was all about!

From the little time that I have spent on facebook here is what I’ve observed…

What are people there for?

Small conversations that may not be of any consequence. Things like Wassup with you? Saw ur pics…really liked them or Am off to SL…see you guys in a week.


Grant McCracken has a good post on this – How social networks work . He refers to these as ‘phatic conversations’

This is communication with little hard, informational content, but lots of emotional and social content. Phatic communications doesn't get much said, but it has social effects so powerful, it gets lots done

It seems like a place for dipping in and out rather than immersing oneself deeply. Immersing would involve investment of a lot more energy and time. Perhaps email / IM would be a relatively more immersive style of communication.

My conjecture is – that’s what keeps the regularity of such conversations going and these networks thriving. Dropping in a one-liner on someone’s facebook wall is far less taxing than sitting down to write an email which would warrant some thought, structure and purpose.

So what does it mean for research?

Research has traditionally warranted an immersive approach to conversations. Lengthy & purposeful.

Online research and the use of discussion boards brought some change to this format. That was all about recruiting a panel and having short, non immersive, regular conversations with a set of people. Those were still purposeful conversations


What then is the difference between using a social networking site for research as opposed to using a discussion forum? The way I see it is that participants who are part of a discussion board have been brought there / have come on their own volition - for a specific purpose vis-à-vis people on social networking sites who are already hanging around there.

The difference is also that people at social networking sites are hanging around there and primarily engaging in Phatic conversations – the everyday emotional fillers. The kind of conversations marketers / researchers are likely to have on such platforms would not be quite like that. Even if they are limited to the small non immersive format – they are still going to be purposeful and rational – and therefore not likely to fulfill the need that people are there for.


The closest example I could think of was lunch time conversations that I would have with my female colleagues about inane things, interjected by our boss who’d spoil the party by constantly talking something work related. Even if it was something as small as just throwing up a question – it would be met out with disgusting looks – since that was not the right time and place to talk about such affairs.

What could be the way of tapping into social networking sites?

To start with it would require being sensitive to why people are on that channel. Use it to create that initial contact – open up a channel of communication….perhaps even understanding the way a target group thinks. I would be weary of using the platform literally to conduct research

Your thoughts?

Sep 19, 2007

The pitfalls of active engagement amongst researchers

For any qual researcher, having spent a few years in the profession, traveling becomes a very routine, mechanical exercise. So has been the case with me too. Getting in and out of airports has happened without much thought and the time available while flying has been spent going through the research material, if not catching up on the newspaper or sleep. Though a couple of days back, my experience was not quite like the usual.

My fatigue levels were so high thanks to bad work schedule, that it took me less than a minute to fall asleep from the time I boarded the flight. After 15 mins or so of deep sleep, I woke up, looked around and suddenly started feeling uneasy. I could not understand the feeling. I tried distracting myself by listening to my iPod, looking out of the window but nothing worked ! The dominant thought going through my mind was 'i need to get out of here'. The fact that it was not possible made it worse. Changing seats did not help either. I knew i was feeling claustrophobic!

I could attribute this feeling to an extremely cramped seat on a full aircraft. But more importantly I had spent the last couple of weeks researching in flight experiences amongst recent travelers. I had heard their apprehensions and fears around air travel over and over again and I think somewhere it struck a raw nerve.

In the past, I have read about counsellors / therapists developing negative reactions based on exposure to the client's unpleasant experiences. It is the result of active listening and a certain level of engagement and connection that the counsellor has with his client. The term used to describe this phenomenon is called 'vicarious traumatization'. It is usually characterized by a sudden/abrupt onset of symptoms in the therapist.

Though the probability of something similar happening amongst market research professionals is quite low, since we by and large deal with situations that are non-threatening or traumatic, the possibility is not altogether ruled out. A couple of years back I had spent an extensive amount of time interviewing people suffering from heart problems. Though that research did not conjure up any negative reactions in me, I remember one of the clients mention that she felt extremely disturbed hearing those accounts.

If you heard / experienced something like this happen to you or another researcher, I would like to hear from you. In the meanwhile I am hoping that by the time I need to take my next flight I get back into my robotic routine.

Aug 1, 2007

On why researchers do not appreciate 'the bigger picture'


Last month, I wrote to a few people I know who are research buyers / consumers about what they expect from qualitative research and researchers. The one thing that I read repeatedly through many of those responses was that :

Researchers ought to have an understanding of the BIGGER PICTURE....an appreciation of what is the research being done for...how will it impact the client's business, what are they trying to achieve through the research, have an understanding of the dynamics that prevail in the industry that your client's operate in!

Flip the side of the coin and you find that client briefs (at least in India) tend to be skeletal at best and researchers lament about not being given the business backdrop against which the research is being planned...about not being given enough time or opportunity to discuss why the research is being done...or how the information gathered through research would be used...what sort of a decision would it help the client take ?

As a researcher I have felt frustrated at being told only half the story and sometimes not even that, though when I stepped back and thought about this issue, it seemed a little ironical - how, both the client and the researcher expect the same thing from each other - and yet many a time - there remains a large gap in communication and in the understanding of the BIGGER PICTURE.

At about the same time I was thinking about this, I happened to read Dr Sheila Keegan's article -
Emerging to a brave new world.

Problem Definition - outside of the research process
Amongst other things, on page 3 she talks about one of the possible reasons for this gap -
That 'problem-definition' has not always been considered part of the research process. She goes on to say...

"From a researcher perspective, this area is fraught. Historically the client defines ‘the problem’. But, from a process consultant perspective, the client ‘often does not know what she is looking for and indeed should not really be expected to know’ (Schein, 1999). A change of expectations and working relationships between clients and researchers is needed before problem definition is widely accepted as a valid research area."

Vendor v/s Stakeholder
The other reality to this issue is that historically research agencies (unlike advertising agencies who have has always enjoyed the status of a stakeholder to a brand) have been looked at as mere vendors. With brand managers often been given new portfolios every few years and advertising agencies not always retaining their accounts, sometimes the research agency de facto becomes the reservoir of knowledge on a brand, yet suffers from the perception of being considered an 'outsider'

Implicit expectation from the researcher

My last hypothesis on this issue is that maybe...just maybe client's implicitly 'expect the researcher to have and active understanding of their business and therefore expect the researcher to ASK the questions that would clarify the business objectives relevant for research. The onus is then on the researcher to seek or clarify the research brief.

Whatever be the reason, there is no debate on the fact that it is imperative to the efficacy of research that the business context be understood - if as a researcher you are not handed down that knowledge on a platter, may be you just got to try harder.

Thanks to Christine, Neil, Poor_Planner, Naveen & Saurabh for contributing their thoughts on the subject !

Jul 23, 2007

Flavor of the season – treating research tools as buzzwords

Creeping back into the routine of reading blogs, I chanced upon Mack’s post on - Walking the Social Media utility/hype line in which he talks about the ‘hot toy (tool) of the week’ in the social media space.

Much of what he says about new tools in the social media sphere is so true of qual research as well.

Still, if you listen to some in the blogosphere, it seems that the shine has worn off blogging. Blogs are quickly becoming yesterday's news, as some run off to play with shinier toys with names like 'Facebook', 'Pownce' and 'Spock'. That's because we geeks love to hype stuff (and bloggers know that if they are hyping the hot new toy, they'll get more traffic).

At one time it was (& perhaps still is) fashionable to talk about the death of focus groups in research circles and the shift from ‘conversation led’ research to ‘observation-led’ research. Ethnography dominated the scene for a while as the flavor of the season, and before we knew it the next big thing to happen in the world of Qual was online research. For a while there were talks about doing online focus group sessions in live chat-rooms, but before we could digest that fully we started talking about Blogs, wikis & setting up research panels on Second Life.

So where in lies the problem? The problem is not with keeping an open mind to methodological experiments. The problem is when research agencies especially small – new outfits start looking at these methodologies as their differentiating tools. Then the method over-rides any other consideration while planning a research and there is a blanket adoption for a pet method. Also since method becomes a differentiating factor, there is tendency to safeguard one’s method by putting it into a ‘black-box’ of sorts and presenting it to the world in the form of obscure, jargon-laden decks of power-point slides. Talking to another researcher-blogger, about this issue – we wondered how this was so not in keeping with the spirit of research – which is to throw light on issues and not obfuscate them under the guise of esoteric methodologies.

The other problem is that when follow these flash trends, we start treating research tools as ‘buzzwords’ – and we implicitly give these tools very little time to prove their worth in research. While they are in vogue, they are used indiscriminately and once they are out (possibly because of a few sub-optimal attempts at their use), nobody likes to talk about them. Very little is done to understand the right context for their use, or develop those into more robust approaches.

Mack’s concludes his post with the thought…

…..Believe the utility, not the hype. Jumping from one 'next big thing' to the next, simply leaves you with tired legs. Any new site/service/medium that offers real value will outlive the initial buzz.

And I second that!

Jun 13, 2007

'2.0' phenomenon in the real world



I'm sure this video is going to be doing the rounds of blogs for a few more days before we forget it. It was interesting to see the adaptation of the Web 2.0 concept in the real world. Going beyond the humor...many of those situations are workable

User comments on products...we see this happening in book stores where people who have read certain books, leave behind their comments for others to see.

Refreshing names for product variants...specially for low involvement products - 'quality time', 'tickling', 'better audio' - definitely catches more attention for ear buds than labelling those by size / softness

'Most popular' lists for a category ...reminds me of conversations i have overheard at the supermarket - people standing in the same aisle...looking at the same product category consult each other with suggestions on which brand to buy. Putting up a list of the fastest moving product variants / brands - could aid undecided shoppers zero-in on their purchase.

Predictive shopping...if you are buying Olive oil and pasta sauce - then you surely may be in need of dried pasta or oregano. Reminder tags placed where these products are stocked or pop up messages at the self service check outs is not too distant a possibility

RSS feeds from producers :)...this is already underway in a small way. I get a newsletter from 'Innocent' that tells me (amongst other things) - the new product variants that are on offer or are being planned.

Consumers who spend a great deal of time online and are already familiar with these concepts - would welcome seeing them in a 'real world' environment. For others - many of these ideas if implemented would mean an important step taken by a retailer to cut down the time and energy wasted on decision making in a cluttered environment.

I am going to mull on this for while...meanwhile if you have any thoughts on more adaptations of the 2.0 concept in the real world ...drop in a line.

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May 25, 2007

Us v/s Him - Treatment of Outliers in Qualitative Research


Are qualitative researchers - an inclusive lot - when it comes to the treatment of 'Outliers' or Do we banish the stray thought that we hear in research - as a maverick of sorts....'non representative' of the audience at large?

I read this post on Helen's blog some days ago, that set me thinking. Is there a subconscious bias prevalent within the discipline of qual research - a bias that favors the majority such that we lay greater emphasis on the thoughts expressed by 'many' vis-a-vis those expressed by a 'few'?

There are two reasons I could think of - about why this could happen

1. An external bias (from the client)

Even though in the recent past people have begun to appreciate the kind of information that qualitative research brings to the fore - it is still, often judged by the same yardstick as is used in case of quant research. How many times have we heard clients challenge findings by asking questions like...can you tell me how many people felt that way and the researcher diffidently admitting...well, there were just a few. To which one would hear...well then lets not give it too much importance and move on...Why does this emphasis on numbers infiltrate qualitative studies as well? Is that the only metric by which the worth of something can be judged ? What makes people so easily believe that the view point expressed by 'one' or a 'few' is a not a thought worth pursuing ?

I suppose repeated exposure to this way of thinking could lead researchers to start questioning their own beliefs such that the next time one is faced with a stray thought like that - rather than sounding shaky in front of a client, the researcher may nip it in the bud.

2. The other is the researcher's own bias

For long qual researchers have relied on the technique of 'story telling' to analyse and present findings. This helps the researcher see inter-connections in the data set such that she can look at the data holistically and understand the consumer's mind set i.e. where the consumer is coming from. It is also an effective way of communicating findings to the client - to narrate the findings in a sequence that ultimately builds up to the climax i.e. the insight !

But how does one treat a piece of data that does not fit in with one's beautifully crafted story? For a long time I would keep aside that piece of data, treat it as an exception - that is what I had initially learnt - filter it out - if it does not fit in with your story. It is much later I learnt that...If it does not fit in with your story....there must be a bloody good reason for it....so look at the data again...tap it gently from either side, sleep over it and you will eventually find out WHY!

I do not believe that every stray thought that one hears would definitely hide something significant under its skin. However, don't discard it or belittle it before giving it the attention it deserves. As Helen rightly puts it...

"An inconvenient little wobble in a research context, could mean something more significant in real life. I think we have a duty to report them. Carefully."

P.S - If you are used to thinking 'the more the merrier' - think again - more does not have to mean more number of people with single thought, it could also mean a few people with more number of thoughts

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May 24, 2007

Does a supermarket have to be super sized?

In my last post on Retail in a transcultural environment I had talked about the ‘work arounds’ that consumers adopt to adapt to a foreign environment and I was to follow it up with a post that talked about these work arounds from the marketer’s / retailers perspective as retail grocery chains enter the Indian market

It’s been a long wait though I am glad I did, since having moved to India I have been able to compare my notes about what I saw of supermarkets in the UK with those that I see in India.

The biggest difference I noticed between grocery retail formats in UK v/s India is that unlike in the UK – there isn’t much of a difference….between the traditional grocery stores (the mom and pop variety) and the modern grocery formats (supermarkets as we know them). Let me explain…

Size & SKUs – super markets in the west are humongous (10 times or more) as compared to the tiny neighborhood grocery vendors. Naturally the number and variety of products stocked also increase proportionately. In India most supermarkets would be twice or at the most thrice as large as the mom-n-pop stores (leaving aside a few exceptions like Hypercity). I notice that the number of brands / product variants stocked does not differ significantly between stores of the two formats. This is partly related to the next point i.e. Location

Location – In the UK the corner stores have a locational advantage. One can literally run across the street and pick up emergency supplies (though that’s all they have) rather than having to drive down a few miles to reach a super market. In India it would not be uncommon to see traditional stores and supermarkets cheek by jowl with each other since the culture of driving down a few miles just to buy grocery has still not set in. Indians are habituated to having grocery stores in close proximity to their place of residence and that places constraints on the size and scale of operation a supermarket can potentially have.

Prices – In the UK a trip to the corner store would require you to shell out more pounds for your can of milk, where as in India prices do not vary too much by store format.

Opening Hours – In the UK the corner stores (run mostly by Indians / Pakistanis / Sri-lankans) stay open till late evening where as the supermarkets shut relatively earlier depending on where those are located. Most shops including the supermarkets on the ‘high street’ (chief shopping area) would shut by 6 p.m. – a grim reality that I’d rather not remind myself about. In India most shops stay open till 10 p.m. and since traditional and modern grocery stores operate in the same commercial zone their closing hours do not differ

Service – here I cannot comment too much about how different the levels of service are between the corner stores v/s supermarkets in the UK. I found a consistent professional attitude throughout. In India though, the traditional stores win hands down. To give you an idea let me cite my experience – I stay in a multi-lingual community. If I have to call the traditional store to place an order - I just have to specify my house number and he will greet me in the language I speak. They deliver within a span of 20 mins even if it is something that costs 20 bucks. If he does not have the product in his stock he would rather get it from the next store – than risk losing a customer. These stores often offer credit to known customers – if one is short of money the grocer’s typical response is… neither are you running away anywhere nor am I…pay me tomorrow !

Most of these traditional stores are family run businesses due to which the people employed have a greater interest in offering good service since it helps their business grow. The supermarket staff in stark contrast can project quite an indifferent attitude – at the end of the day it’s just a job for them and that too not a high paying one

Layout – is the most interesting element of this retail space. The mom and pop stores are breaking down their traditional structures and morphing into mini supermarkets – allowing the consumer to ‘walk in’ and browse through their wares which was earlier not possible partly due to the store layout and partly to blame were the ubiquitous but annoying sachets hanging from nowhere blocking one’s visibility. In their new avatars the traditional grocery stores are not only adding suffixes like ‘supermarket’ and ‘super-shopé’ to their names but also creating a cleaner, more organized layout. In place of dingy store interiors and bags of grains mercilessly dumped at the store entrance one encounters neatly partitioned shelves with a well thought out organization of products such that you will no longer find your mosquito repellent next to your pulses.

While the smaller stores are imitating store and shelf layouts from super market, the latter are taking lessons from these small guys on how to woo the elusive consumer back. Spinach – a super market in Mumbai employed some of the local vegetable vendors to stand inside the store and ‘cajole and connect with’ the consumer for whom the sterile and indifferent store ambiance was an alien concept. After all these consumers (mostly women) are used to shopping at vegetable markets, where conversations are exchanged with vendors along with money and goods.

Poor_Planner talks about one more potential 'work around' - supermarket chains co-opting with the local vegetable vendor

It’s interesting to see how retail establishments from these two worlds are converging – borrowing elements that work and shunning away those that don’t. The small – medium size ‘supermarket’ ensconced in residential pockets with service standards to match that of the traditional grocery – sounds to me - more like the future than - what we know and have seen of super markets in the west



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May 10, 2007

Is your music personal or social?

A few days back I was at the doctor’s clinic with 2 others - a guy and a girl. While the 2 girls had no problem chatting away for the 2 hours preceding the doctor's arrival, the guy was bored with no newsprint in sight. Out of courtesy we occasionally chatted with him. On one such occasion girl 2 told guy 1 - you should have carried your iPod. I peeped into my bag to see if i had mine...I did...I shut my bag. A pause later I asked him hesitantly - I have mine...you could have it if you like. He paused and said...no that is alright! I was relieved.

Between the moments of my asking and his refusing, I was hoping he'd say NO. I don't know why - but it felt like I would be exposing a personal part of my life by handing over my iPod to him, though when i think about it logically, it only has my music files on it. It’s not without reason they decided to call it 'I'- Pod

Contrasting this with the Zune trying to create a 'social' - around the concept of listening to music I wonder how many people would be willing to share their music (via wifi) with strangers?
Even assuming one would come across another Zune owner in the vicinity - would it not be difficult to judge what his taste in music would be, to be able to decide which song to beam across to him? Would one not feel silly about sending in the 'wrong' kind of music?

Or was it not supposed to be a 'social' of strangers in the first place. Was it supposed to be friends introducing each other to music and thereby 'discovering' new tracks? Then why call it a ‘social’? The imagery that a social conjures up is of a large gathering of college kids, not really an intimate meeting of close friends.

It’s difficult to judge whether what's gone wrong with the Zune marketing is just a wrong choice of words or a larger issue of not getting the behavioral aspect around music listening right. But something surely is amiss and what’s more - even 6 months after launch people are talking about the same issues that users encountered when the product was just launched. But then again Microsoft was never known for being responsive to consumers.

On doing a blog search on Zune – I felt like I had walked into a soap opera – even if you tune into it after 6 months – you don’t hear anything new. The only thing different I read was the news about iPod launching their wifi enabled devices in the course of the year. It would be interesting to watch how they market this feature - if they decide to make a noise about it at all that is.

P.S – I did a random image search on the iPod to see what comes up. It’s interesting to view the range of situations in which iPod users interact with their devices – None of it seems like a social!



, ,

Another metaphor for research...Doors!



There are things known and there are things unknown,
and in between are the doors

Jim Morrison


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Apr 25, 2007

Food for thought...

It’s been a year since I started blogging about Qual Research. The reasons I started writing about Qual Research were a) to grow in my own thinking and b) since I found very little being written about it.

My vision for this blog has been, to develop it into a comprehensive source of information on commercial qualitative research. Over the past few months I have realized that there are many related areas / disciplines that impact a researcher's thinking and contribute to her skill set & knowledge and a blog about qual research is incomplete without discussions on such related disciplines.

I would posting such thoughts here - half baked to begin with - in the hope that I learn something from the discussions they create.

Hope you enjoy these interesting bite sized portions!

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Today's FFT - Does communication differ on planet mars v/s venus ?

Susan writes about the gender genie - a gender-writing analyser that can read your blog content or any piece of writing for that matter and predict - your gender. I put in my blog content there and the genie decided I have a masculine style of writing. Maybe true.

Men and women do tend to write differently and even relate to / interpret communication differently. Susan's post touches up on the 'thinking' v/s 'feeling' preferences in men v/s women.
I wondered after reading her post - when communication is designed to target a specific audience - are these differences kept in mind consciously / intuitively by communication experts ? Would copy / creatives developed by a man appeal to the sensibilities of a woman as well as if those were designed by a woman herself?

For instance - I had a discussion with someone a while ago about the way marketing has been designed for lingerie brands. I had a hunch that there were two distinctive ways in which lingerie was being marketed - 1 seemed like an overtly masculine perspective reflected in the product line (loud colours, fish net stockings) and the store ambiance (raunchy looking models) - the brand that comes to mind is Ann Summers. The other seemed to take a feminine approach - pastel colours, where the mannequins looked elegant rather than overtly sexy - the kind that one would see at M&S.

Do you also see that as a gender difference in the way the two brands have been positioned ?






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Qual Research and the Art Metaphor - Part 2

First things first - To those of you who are still hanging around here in some hope of seeing a post – my apologies for disappearing!

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In my 1st post on the subject, I used the Art metaphor to show how the skills required by commercial qual researchers become subconscious after a certain level of proficiency is reached and perhaps that is the reason why knowledge in this field is mostly acquired by observation and through word of mouth rather than through any formally documented way. Perhaps that is also the reason why it is often misconstrued to be unscientific in nature.

I use the metaphor once again today to bring up the question of 'Reliability'

When the topic of qual research is being discussion it is not uncommon to hear that - if two qual researchers are asked study a subject and report findings, you'd could hear two or more differing views. This can be confounding and often leads to people questioning the 'reliability' (repeatability / consistency) of research.

Going back to the metaphor - if 3 people were asked to paint the same subject - let’s say the Statue of Liberty, would we see identical results by all 3 artists? In all likelihood we would NOT! Could we then assume that one or the other has painted the picture wrong? The answer to that is again a NO.

The artist picks up a slice of the reality that is in front of him and reproduces it on canvas with the intention of expressing what he saw. One focuses on the face - trying to capture the emotions that the monument symbolizes, the other focuses on the context & captures the backdrop against which the monument stands, the 3rd captures the technical prowess behind the monument.

The purpose of qual research is to understand the meaning that consumers attribute to their experiences around brands / products and that meaning is very much a part of the consumer's subjective reality. There is no one definite way of looking at a brand /product; we look at things through the filter of our own experiences & past associations. And one of the objectives of qual research is to explore the many possible ways in which consumers perceive and create reality rather than limiting the canvas to the dominant and commonly held perceptions.

In fact if a consumer is asked to narrate a memory around an experience on two occasions - the recollections would most likely be different since memory is not static, it is dynamically created by bringing together associations based on the stimulus or trigger. When researchers report things differently - they are attempting to recreate the reality they have seen / heard.

Planning / Designing Research

As a researcher I have often been told "we would like to do 4 groups amongst these respondents in these 2 cities". While planning research - we often go by past research done on a subject as a benchmark...use similar methods, geographies, talk to the same people. Research proposals and discussion guides are pulled out from earlier studies and minimally tweaked to suit new ones. The result is anybody’s guess - we hear the same sort of responses which were heard a while ago with little incremental value added by the new research. This can be partly attributed to the assumption we make while planning i.e. since we are studying the same subject matter using the same research design would not be out of line and partly to lazy thinking.

Planning is one of the most important steps in a research project which sadly gets overshadowed due to the lack of time.

Even if the subject of the painting is the same – the vision that an artist has of the painting will determine what he decides to capture on his canvas and the tools / colors he uses to translate that vision.

Likewise the objective of research will determine the research design. For instance – lets take a research that needs to be designed for a brand of tea – if the purpose of the research is to understand the consumer & her mindset to design communication – it would be best to talk to her individually. If one needs to understand her context / interaction with the product – talking to her could be supplemented by observations. If the purpose is to understand the significance of the product in a culture and how that has changed over time – a consumer interaction may not be the ideal way forward. A semiotic study may have to be undertaken.

The idea is to look at each piece of research with the fresh perspective - to adopt a ‘solution - neutral approach’ – narrow down on the slice of the subject area to be studied and then arrive at the design that will best capture the information you want. And not the other way around.

Leigh Ausband, author of the paper Qualitative Research and Quilting uses a very simple example to emphasis the importance of planning….

I look at some quilts where I rushed, where I used a fabric I had on hand instead of waiting until I could get to the fabric store to purchase just the right piece…those quilts could have had a better outcome; they could have been richer in color or had more texture. However, I rushed and got less-than-satisfactory results. That is a lesson to be remembered. I will keep on working at gaining access, remembering that this project will be better and richer if I can get more participants, and get the right participants, the participants that can contribute the most to the project

Improper / inadequate planning
=
Compromising on the inputs that go into the creation of anything

(in case of research - research method, research instrument & participants)
=
A less than perfect output



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Mar 8, 2007

Why we blog?

That's the latest meme doing the rounds. Even before Laurence tagged me - I was surreptitiously following this thread since it offers insights on what movtivates people about blogs in particular and social media in general. I have not been able to spend as much time on it as I would have liked to but will share what i read and felt. But first - to do justice to the meme - let me put down my reasons.

There was just one prime reason I started blogging and that was

  • Driven by the craving for intellectual stimulation - since in the real world I seldom encountered people wanting to exchanges thoughts and ideas - especially on subjects that interests me. Blogs fill this gap since people who are interested in 'what' i write about naturally gravitate towards my blog like I do towards theirs.

What keeps me going are ofcourse different things

  • The desire to learn about - the evolving social medium and the more time I spend on blogs and other social media sites, the more I understand the way they function. Much more than what I would have ever accomplished as an outsider.

If there was one thing I had to say to any corporate entity wanting to make a presence on this medium - I'd say - get your hands dirty - do the thing that we individuals do. Approach social media sites as an individual first and a corporate entity only later - and you'll begin to appreciate the medium and its workings far more quicky

  • My other reason is - I use this blog first as a motivation to keep analysing what i think and read & then as a place to dump all those thoughts - so that I can clear the space in my mind for some more thoughts

Now for what I gathered from reading other posts in this thread.
Motivations were clustered around the following themes

Create - differentiate, stand out, self expression, learn new ideas, realise unfulfilled dreams
Connect - build relationships, create a space where people can find me, know what is happening in people's life
Recognition -expert in own area, instant reactions, assertion of self-worth, get noticed & at the highest level the feeling of having one's thoughts immortalised
Reward - through relationships, through barter of services, create weath out of virtually nothing but knowledge, neutrality of the net - if my nextdoor kid can make money so can I

Clearly it is an individual's 'personal space' - where he is the centre of the little universe he has created. Personal also in another sense - since people use it to connect as much with themselves as with the outside world.

Corporates wanting to enter this space created by inviduals, need to respect that. Here the consumer / individual is and feels like a hero - and brands that do not recognise that have been faced with and will continue to face backlash - and a highly viral and visible one at that !

Tagging - a few blogsI have been reading off late : Comfortable Disorientation, Indian Ad Rant,
Tissue Issues & The Viral Garden - take it up if you are upto it

And before I go, posting will be highly infrequent in the next 2 - 3 weeks !




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Feb 26, 2007

What do Art and Qualitative Research have in common?

Understanding Qualitative Research through Metaphors...
This paper, on using Quilting as a Metaphor to clarify the research process, caught my fancy since I had written a brief piece on the differences between qualitative and quantitative research inspired by another research paper that used the 'quilting' metaphor to explore the differences between these two disciplines. These papers have not only made for interesting reading but also helped me clarify some of my own thoughts about research through these metaphors.

In my early days as a researcher, I struggled to understand the rules of the game.

  • How does one define what an adequate sample size is – whether 4 groups or 8 interviews are enough to represent the reality we are trying to capture?
  • What exactly is meant by analyzing the data – other than placing data in a structure and looking for patterns – what does one actually do?
  • How do you define a good interview – was it with the chatty woman who couldn't stop talking and kept us amused OR the guy who was curt but spoke enough to help me answer all the questions I had?

The subconscious forces at work

Market Research textbooks for some reason do not carry more than a chapter on qual research. In the absence of formally documented knowledge (and here i am talking only about commercial qual, not academic) we gain it primarily on the job - by observing senior researchers or occasionally through informal conversations about the dos and donts. I suppose this happens because as a researcher gains proficiency in her craft - her skills in dealing with the complexity of this discipline improve subconsciously.

For instance, before starting to sketch, an artist if asked, can tell you what he is planning to sketch (let's say a leaf), what kind it would be, which colours he would use, his vision of it (a maple leaf symbolising the onset of autumn) etc. However, he would find it difficult to articulate exactly how much pressure he has to apply on his brush for the required amount of paint to stay on the canvas, at what angle he holds & tilts the brush head to get the accuracy of his stroke or how much of the leaf surface area should have the colour green/amber to reflect the changing seasons - since these aspects are part of his subconscious framework.

Likewise a researcher can be told about things like - possible information areas she needs to unearth in a discussion, the tools she has at her disposal... where, how and when she needs to execute those to be able to answer the burning question the marketer has. However for many other aspects it is difficult to lay down rules covering all probable outcomes. For instance what is the right level of comfort for the researcher to ask the respondent about that intensely emotional experience? How should one differentiate between a respondent who is stubbornly silent and one who is quiet, shy & will open up with prodding; between a person who is silent because she simply does not understand the question or or someone who has understood it & is uncomfortable answering it? The decision about whether a 20 minute discussion has covered enough ground on the respondent's habit or will she reveal her all important quirk in the next 5 mins? Much of what a researcher does or how she reacts in such situations is subconscious - often referred to as a 'matter of judgement'

Debunking the myth of being unscientific
Often qualitative research is perceived to be a discipline that is unscientific, lacking a rigid set of rules/structure or sometimes even esoteric. I suppose this perception emanates from the fact that as a discipline it is relatively more flexible, open and encourages deviations and creativity.

I remember how I learnt painting - I would always start of with a blank paper divided into smaller squares. Then in each square i would carefully replicate the required pattern and fill in the colours. Overtime I gained proficiency, I could replicate something without having to sketch it first or follow a grid. I could tweak the colours a bit. People who have mastered this skill create original works of art. If one has to observe such a person, especially in case of abstract work, the artist does not even have a reference for his painting. He starts with a canvas, his paints, brushes and a vision of what he wants to achieve and goes about creating that by putting colour to the canvas in a seemingly free form. Does that mean he does not follow any rules or worse still the discipline of painting because it allows creativity is unscientific and not governed by any principles at all? If that were true anyone / everyone would be able to paint effortlessly! These rules exist - its just that for regular artists the rules of how to balance colours, or create a symmetry between elements of the painting & the overall composition have become subconscious over time.

Likewise for researchers who have achieved a certain level of proficiency, the discipline offers an environment open/flexible enough for them to exercise their creativity in designing/ executing research, analysing & interpreting findings and experimenting with newer ways of representing these findings. Creative liberties are permissible, though grounds rules are followed. If i need to unearth an emotional trigger around a product i may chose to talk to a respondent at a time or a family or a bunch of strangers together depending on my need - though just for the sake of creativity or following a methodology in vogue i will NOT randomly decide to do ethnographic observations instead, since what I can achieve by conversation I cannot in this case understand by mere observation.

Whether it is art or research - the rules may not be always be obvious or apparent to an onlooker - but that does not mean the rules don't exist!

More to come - using the art metaphor to understand 'reliability in research' and what to consider while planning a research project.

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Feb 20, 2007

Adapting Projective Techniques in Research - Part 2

Taking off from where we left

Going beyond personification and sentence completions....
We were asked to design a study that involved understanding the brand equity of an auto-mobile brand. The 1st challenge was that - the brand in question was not one of the leaders in the category and therefore its salience and involvement with consumers was relatively low. The 2nd challenge was that part of the target audience comprised teen age girls - whose involvement with the brand was even more tenuous.

Using Logos as catalysts for generating brand associations
Instead of using the standard set of projective techniques we decided to experiment with some new ones. While we were designing that research - there was a logo quiz doing the rounds in our office. Most of us found that quiz addictive since irrespective of one's involvement or actual usage of a brand - logos are ubiquitous symbols that we are exposed to day in and day out. One may not spend too much time trying to read meaning into a logo design and how that is reflective of a brand but one does form associations around these logos - associations that are sometimes subliminal. So we decided to take that online logo quiz into the real world of our research.

- We used it specifically with the older males
- The exercising involved guessing the brand name from the logo. This got people pretty involved in the game - it was challenging and fun though we used this just to warm them up to the idea
- Post the guessing game we zeroed in on the 3 - 4 brands that mattered to us and got them to reel out associations they had about those brands based on their logos.
- From the data we captured - it was evident that did not merely talk about the brand based on its logo - rather the logos acted as stimuli that triggered / unearthed thoughts that they had about these brands. Things they saw in the logo sparked off thoughts about their experiences around these brands that they would then narrate to us.

Taking cues from Popular culture

Movies and music from movies have for long been quite a vibrant part of the pop culture in India. Each week a dozen new movies or more are released and viewed. People discuss movie actors, their lives, their costumes, the songs...so much so that even some of the national news channels in India now have regular coverage on this. There is a film song for every situation or so it is said and it is not unusual for people to recall them and break into a spontaneous session of song and laughter. So we decided to include a game of songs in our research

- Designed for the teen age girls - this tool worked well - since such games are common in college The girls had to work in small groups and come up with the songs they thought characterised the brands
- The groups helped in ideating. The songs - since those were part of a larger context of a film carried some residual meaning and association with them - which helped the girls articulate what they felt about the brands which were being spoken of
- We rounded up the exercise by asking them their reasons for choosing specific songs and getting reactions from other groups on songs chosen by a group.

Were these experiments an efficient way of gathering information?
Did these exercises help us get information we were seeking - Yes and in hindsight I can say that it was in a manner that was intuitive keeping in mind the audience and therefore they seemed to talk about these brands with relative ease. To that extent we achieved 'validity' in research. When we compared the set of brand associations across groups that we derived from these two and some more exercises we used in that research - we found consistency amongst them and to that extent the goal of 'internal reliability' was achieved as well. Would this have been possible using standard techniques? I don't know - since we never had a matched sample where we used the standard projectives - though I can say that we did not lose anything as a result of trying to experiment with newer ones and it only turned out to be easy and fun for the respondents

The question of adaptation
Projective techniques have basically been adopted in research from another discipline. Research was never the home ground for these tools. Also in their adaptation and use, we have not over time formulated norms against which findings are benchmarked or analysed. Analysis and inferences mainly happens by way of triangulation (comparing findings from multiple techniques), juxtaposing the data from these tools against what is said in the general group discussion and by understanding from the consumers themselves the motives for their responses. If I assume my understanding of using projectives in research is not too far from the mark then - the question in my mind is - why do the few that we originally inherited from psychology continue to dominate research even today? Based on some ground rules would it not be possible to design newer techniques that are specifically suited to market research and / or the target audience being researched?




Projective Techniques,Projective Techniques and qualitative research,qualitative research,

Feb 15, 2007

Adapting projective techniques in research - Part 1


Projective Techniques - Why do we use those in Research

Originally used by psychologists to understand the subconscious aspects of one's personality - projective techniques involve getting people to respond to ambiguous stimuli with the assumption that it 'projecting' their inner thoughts and feelings on to the stimulus would be less threatening / intimidating than speaking about those directly

These techniques have found their way into market research a) As way of tapping into the consumer subconscious and b) an alternative and often easier way (v/s direct questioning) to get consumers to express themselves. In the 1st application these tools allow 'projection' of repressed subconscious thoughts and in the 2nd case they are meant to facilitate / enable the articulation of thought (may / may not be subconscious) otherwise difficult to express .

What to consider while designing research involving Projective Techniques

The use of projective / enabling techniques in research can be fun or NOT depending on which ones are used, how many are used in a given research session and how those are incorporated and executed. I have sat through some research sessions which only involved executing one technique after another - for 3 hours. Like anything else stretched beyond the limit, it left me with a bunch of tired and sometimes even angry respondents waiting to charge out of the research facility. There is a another particularly disastrous interview that comes to mind - with an oldish man who was quizzed about computer peripherals. I had to first ask him to personify the product and then the brands (yes not one but 3) in the category. The man could not conceive computer parts / brands as human beings to save his life. I could only empathise with him ! (In my defence I did not design those studies :)

Which One to use - These techniques becomes counter-productive if we do not keep into mind the audience we are talking to, while designing the research. An older audience may not respond well to the idea of imagining products / brands as human beings - a concept that a younger audience may relate very easily to. Similarly I have often found housewives who have been out-of-touch with 'writing' find it very difficult and sometimes even embarrassing to fill out their responses in writing. Talking comes more naturally to them as we know only too well :) The output of activities such as completing thought bubbles, sentence completion, or even simple self completion questionnaires end up as half completed sentences amidst a paragraph full of scratched out words.

How many to use - When used intermittently with discussions they sometimes act as energizers besides fulfilling their primary purpose. But when someone decides to do a marathon run with executing 10 techniques in a row - then its a case of greed and foolishness.

How to execute - The 3rd factor to watch out for is how is one actually going to execute the tool. In everyday life people do not go around filling out thought blurbs, playing word games or imagining their toothpaste as a human being. Although these techniques are meant to 'facilitate expression' we often forget that switching from our normal mode to doing what these techniques expect can pose a barrier to expression in itself. It helps therefore if people are not expected to respond to a cold question, if the researcher leads by example, if the activity is made to be a little bit of fun rather than an exercise that expects the person on the other end to perform.

I have learnt that part of the ease of expression happens because of the mood / frame of mind people are put in and if they are able to relate to the activity they are asked to do, intuitively.

As much as I've been part of disastrous research , there have also been some studies which have been sensitively designed with some interesting adaptations to the use of projectives - which was the reason why I started writing this post today. I'll save those anecdotes for part 2



Projective Techniques,Projective Techniques and qualitative research,qualitative research,

Jan 31, 2007

Lost in the supermarket - a transcultural perspective on retailing

We live in times when individuals and organizations seamlessly move across borders.

We also live in times when choice is aplenty - bordering on excessive and sometimes needless

The interplay of these two trends creates a complex marketing environment.

When we move we carry a bit of our culture and habits with us. We try to fit - a new reality into an existing mould, while at the same time grappling with a deluge of products / brands.

Christine and Katia initiated a discussion with a view to understand how a transcultural reality - affects consumers and marketers. What consumers do and what marketers can do. I joined in.

What emerged as a result is a collection of posts on the subject:

A Transcultural Perspective On The Retail Experience - By Katia Adams
Musings on Choice, Culture and the Retail Experience - By Christine Whittemore
Too much NOISE! - By Laurence Borel
Lost in the Supermarket - By Reshma Anand

Enjoy !

Jan 25, 2007

Mining blogs: pertinent chat

The article originally appeared in AQR's In Brief Jan 2007 issue.

________________________________________________________________

Listening, conversing and communicating, three aspects of qualitative research, were examined by speakers from AQR at this year’s QRCA conference***. If our work involves listening to consumer reality, interpreting it and communicating it to the marketer ­ is there an emerging part of this reality that we as researchers are not tuned into?

Historically, communication between marketers and consumers has been a closed end loop. On the one hand, marketers have sent out messages to consumers. On the other, they’ve sought feedback from them through traditional research. This modus operandi was effective until the ‘Internet juggernaut’ appeared.

Now, consumers can not only speak their mind but also broadcast their opinions. The deluge of marketing messages ­ combined with low consumer trust ­ has led to people relying on one another’s opinions to make sense of the muddle, prompting conversations between them. These chats are to be found on blogs/consumer sites and have so far escaped the information loop.

- Not being privy to these conversations is to remain oblivious to a vital part of the consumer’s world. But that is not the only reason to tap into blogs.
- Opinions on blogs are unsolicited and, therefore, likely to result from experience or strong beliefs. Anonymity only adds to the authenticity.
- Blogs are updated frequently, almost as soon as bloggers have something to say, making them an immensely valuable medium for tracking trends, buzzwords and initial reactions to a launch.
- Blog conversations leave behind a trail of links, useful for understanding how information flows and how opinions are shaped and influenced.
- Blogs help in exploratory research to understand consumer language, develop working hypotheses and fine tune information needs.
-Tracking blogs over time can help acquire a deeper understanding of a target segment since a blogger shares his opinions on many issues and that gives ‘context’ to the information gathered.

Blog mining as a technique is evolving so there is no definitive approach to be prescribed. Here, however, are a few pointers for those embarking on research involving blogs:

- Shortlist a sample of bloggers based on their authority on your subject using blog search engines like Google Blog Search and Technorati.
- Define the time frame: while looking for post-launch reactions allow for a lag of 5-7 days for consumers to explore product features/form opinions.
- Bloggers don’t always post unique opinions. Some just link to one another. Allow for a buffer in your sample for data duplication.
- Blogs are living evolving thoughts. Sometimes issues that are simple to start with acquire dimensions as readers comment. Remember to follow the thread and budget for a bit of time since some trails can lead you on a long trek.

Consumers are opening up a bit more of their world to us. It’s time we took notice.

______________________________________________________________

*** The webcast and many others can be heard on the QRCA website.
The AQR library has an excellent collection of articles on qualitative research


Blog Mining,Blogs and qualitative research,online qualitative research,

Jan 21, 2007

iPod v/s Zune - wear the music v/s where's the music

No, those are not the official taglines to the Zune or the iPod campaign though for me, those lines summed up where the two brands stood and what they created for consumers - at a given point in time. The contrast could not be better timed.

The Zune and iPod shuffle were launched approximately 10 days from each other. The 'generation gap' between the products was apparent yet comparing the brands was a foregone conclusion.

While the iPod comes out...
The iPod has long enjoyed an iconic status. The white ear phones have over time became ubiquitous. A tell-tale sign of the popularity of the device and the brand. I read about kids (less fortunate than the ones who could afford an iPod) who'd paint their black ear phones white, to feel like a part of the cult of the cool. Then there was someone who just bought a pair of white earphones from eBay without ever owning an iPod. Its not difficult to guess why. It is no longer a device sported by music aficionados. It has acquired the status of a fashion accessory that people feel they must have. The conspicuous presence only fuels its popularity and sales further.

The iPod shuffle takes the whole idea of the iPod being a fashion accessory to the next level. While earlier generation iPods stayed ensconced within pockets and let the ear phones do the talking, the new generation shuffle is smugly perched outside.



The Zune goes in...
Contrast this with the close to 5 ounce Zune know for its bulk amongst other things. Its no surprise that the Zune would have stay content indoors (inside bags and pockets) for a while.
Visibility signals popularity and to that extent Zune takes a beating on account of its bulk. However the story does not end there. It only just begins. Since related to the issue of visibility is a feature that is touted as the product's raisons d'être - the wifi capability which makes the 'social' happen so to say. Now the problem is that though Zune did welcome people to the social, it expected consumers to create a social by themselves. Early adopters have been looking high and low for fellow Zuners to experience music transfer through wifi , though only very few have been lucky. Why? A combination of factors - visibility being one of them.

Its not difficult to imagine, that if people are on the go, it is highly likely that that even if they were carrying their Zunes with them the device in its current avataar is not conducive to being sported outside. I suppose the ear phones are not distinguishable either. With the lack of visibility the probability of tracing a zune user to wifi with becomes slim. Overlay this situation with the fact that keeping the wifi turned on all the time is a tremendous drain on battery - and what have you. Far fewer Zunes that are wifi enabled and a bunch of early adopters not getting enough chances to test the single most differentiating feature of the product. The subliminal message that consumers get as a result is that the product has not really take off in the market since they can't find people with it.

Notwithstanding the contrasts, what is common to both these brands is how - in both cases visibility has become a surrogate measure for popularity which in turn will influence sales - only consolidating the positions further.


iPod Shuffle,iPod v/s Zune,Zune,

Jan 12, 2007

Using Hypnosis in Qualitative Research

Hypnosis has come a long way from being perceived as a manipulative tool. It finds mention in the world of psychiatry, medicine and forensic sciences. However, snooping on the consumer’s subconscious - just to sell tea or soap is thought to be unusual and unethical by most of us.

Hypnosis – a window to the consumer’s subconscious

Marketers have long felt the need to go beyond the consumer’s conscious and rational thoughts. The application of projective techniques in research has partially fulfilled that need. Albeit indirectly, these techniques allow us access to the consumer’s subconscious. Instead of articulating their experiences directly, consumers project their feelings on to other people / objects thereby circumvent some of their rational defenses. This indirect approach still leaves a gap in understanding which a segment of marketers, is attempting to bridge by directly accessing the consumer’s subconscious - through hypnosis.

Hypnosis involves creating ‘an artificially induced state in which the layer of the conscious controlling apparatus in the individual is cleared away, which opens up the subconscious world of the person’. Imagine a see-saw - with the two planks representing the two streams of consciousness. When the conscious stream is lying low, the subconscious stream comes to the fore.

Contrary to what people believe, hypnosis is a natural and safe experience that we often encounter without awareness. For instance, a person walking on the road, listening to his iPod may not be aware of the time / distance he has covered, yet he would be conscious of road safety, traffic rules and his destination. The difference between that and the hypnotic trance is – that the former is a natural trance, whereas the latter is induced deliberately - by deep relaxation and focusing that dilutes the attention of the conscious mind.

How does hypnosis add value to consumer research?

A woman in her early 40s recalls her first memory around a brand of tea. Tea is the first thing she learnt to make and on this occasion is serving it to her guests. The sense of pride she felt 30 years ago is visible on her face as she relives the experience. Praise for her effort translates into a trust and connection she makes with this brand. Such narrations bring a whole new dimension to responses otherwise expressed in research as ‘I cannot change the brand of tea that I have used for the past 20 years since I’m used to it’. Probe further and the conversation takes a familiar turn where taste, strength and flavour dominate the discussion! Through hypnosis, it is possible for consumers to be age-regressed in time, to recall their first encounters with brands and the associated emotions which help marketers get cues on the drivers for brand loyalty.

Since the conscious mind is dormant, while in hypnosis consumers are less inhibited and talk about personal experiences such as shaving, bathing, and oral care without embarrassment or hesitation. This does not mean they will unknowingly reveal details they don’t intend to. Even while in hypnosis one cannot be forced to say or do anything that goes against their morals or sensibilities.

In a conscious state an individual recalls an incident, whereas in hypnosis he relives the moment. Consumers have reported experiencing the same emotions they had once felt. I felt I was actually there is what one would hear after such an interview. This feeling of ‘being there’ also means that the amount of detail recalled or sensory perceptions felt during such interviews is unmatched. This is particularly useful while researching activities such as grocery shopping, brushing teeth, washing clothes which are low on involvement and monotonous or categories such as food or shampoos where sensorial cues matter and are otherwise difficult to verbalize.

Besides bringing new dimensions to the content gathered, hypnosis aids the research process. Since the focus is driven inwards, a person under hypnosis is not distracted by external stimuli and not consciously aware of the time elapsed. Thus the quality of responses does not deteriorate with lengthy conversations. Moreover, it helps consumers understand their own thought process better and therefore can be an enriching experience for the consumer as well.

A few caveats

Hypnosis is a powerful tool in the hands of a researcher and the need for training cannot be overemphasized. Abreaction i.e. the involuntary release of a repressed negative emotion is a possibility that the hypnotist ought to handle discreetly. Also a person under hypnosis is highly suggestible and this implies that the hypnotist use the tool ethically - only to understand the consumer’s thoughts and not plant suggestions in his mind for commercial gain.

Featured in - ManagementNext, Jan 2007

Hypnosis,Hypnosis and Qualitative Research,Consumer and Subconscious,