Can using new techniques to gauge customer opinion prove successful?
Recently market researchers have reached an impasse. Market research has traditionally been divided into two distinct areas: qualitative and quantitative. Companies have used it to gauge the effectiveness of their advertising or the popularity of their new products. But now most FMCG firms know the basic market statistics about their brand and that of their competitors.
Quantitative research has benefited to some extent from the increase of databases through direct marketing and the internet. These have served to boost its ability to collect consumer data.
But in qualitative research, agencies and companies are anxious to find better ways to understand the consumer's thought processes and motivation. This has led to a wealth of new research approaches, including techniques borrowed from anthropology, ethnography, sociology and psychology.
Most new techniques have their basis in either observational research or discussion groups. Advocates of the former believe the consumer only tells you half the story. They stress the importance of watching their behaviour, hence the use of anthropology and ethnography techniques.
Discussion group-based research aims to discover consumers' motivation for their behaviour through techniques derived from those used in sociological and psychological studies.
Importance of interpretation
"It's about getting into the heads of key thinkers," says Bill Pegram, spokesman for The Market Research Society and managing director of Pegram Walters. He cites a study of student drinking habits and lifestyles for Allied Domecq. "Data collectors were recruited from universities. These in turn recruited around 30 of their peers for the discussion groups.
"Not only were collectors handpicked as articulate and interested in how things work, they were well regarded by their peer group and could elicit detailed information. When groups were asked to bring in items of special significance, as well as the obvious, such as driving licences and contraceptives, some brought in parents' divorce papers and even a dog. The collectors then interpreted the data, which was presented to the client using actors," he says.
The items of significance brought in by the groups allowed researchers to gain honest insight into the individuals. What people chose to bring in spoke volumes about their views and lifestyle.
Jane Gwilliam, global co-ordinator for Research International Qualitatif and spokeswoman for the Association for Qualitative Research, believes traditional techniques are not always appropriate when targeting research groups. "The demarcation between socio-economic groups is blurring. Life-stage rather than age or income is the factor. A woman in her 50s with teenage children could be placed in a younger group than her friends with older children."
BDH\TBWA also uses different recruitment techniques according to the brief. "In the past we've treated consumers as individuals, but there are many things influencing a lot of household buys, so research is conducted with family units rather than groups," says director of effectiveness, Nicole Ten Thij. "Methodology is driven by whom and what you want to research, and whether that is best achieved in a group or at home," she adds.
For a recent study for a DIY store, BDH\TBWA interviewed people as they decorated at home to understand when the decision to buy certain products was made. "It showed when to interject the message at the right time," says Ten Thij.
A separate study for a food brand interested in launching a product looked at brand positioning using creative stimuli. According to Ten Thij, the use of carefully selected stimuli can overcome the problem of consumers' semi-literacy in marketing. "Make them relax. Rather than being defensive they will work with you. …