Lynnette S. Van Dyke, Principal, Founding Partner
Lynne leads KS&R's Qualitative Center of Excellence, and specializes in brand imagery, creative ideation and motivational research applied to marketing. She is a nationally recognized Master Moderator, and has conducted more than 3,500 focus groups and interviewed more than 40,000 people in groups and individually. Lynne holds an MA and BA from Ohio University, and certification in education. She has extensive training in group dynamics and projective methods. Lynne is known for applying creative research techniques to identify and deliver the “big ideas” for brand development and strategic planning.
Beyond boundaries with B2B respondents
By Lynne Van Dyke - April 2, 2013 - firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the cornerstones of success in qualitative research is to create an accepting environment in which respondents feel comfortable enough to share their innermost thoughts and feelings. This can be particularly challenging with B2B respondents, who often find it difficult to go beyond their professional boundaries. Team building activities can go a long way in creating that environment. Unexpected, offbeat, and playful exercises help respondents to get acquainted and relax, and create an atmosphere of shared interests and values.
Additionally, team building activities can shake up respondents' perceptions and beliefs; energize low energy groups; and help uncover breakthrough ideas and opportunities.
There are generally four types of team building activities: communication; problem solving / decision making; planning / adaptability; and building trust. With literally thousands of these activities out there, online and in print, it is important that you choose the right one for your session:
- Make certain that activity can be conducted in the time and space available.
- Analyze the activity for potential trouble spots – respondent misunderstanding, complaints, showing off – and decide ahead of time how you will deal with each issue.
- Build flexibility into the process. Respondents learn at different rates and play differently; emotional needs and willingness to take risks can vary dramatically.
One of my "go to" problem-solving team building activities for B2B respondents is based off the wordless picture book Zoom, by Istvan Banyai. Zoom features 30 sequential "pictures within pictures". Its narrative moves from a rooster to ship to a city street to a desert island and finally, outer space. Because Zoom has been published in 18 countries, this activity is especially well suited to global qualitative research studies. It is also very effective in illustrating to businesspersons how their perspectives can impact and change realities.
Here are the directions:
- Separate the pages of the book into one page sheets. Laminate each page, or place it in a clear plastic sleeve.
- Hand out one picture to each respondent (be sure to use a contiguous sequence).
- Allow respondents a few minutes to study their pictures; make sure that they keep their pictures hidden from others.
- The goal is for the group to sequence the pictures in the correct order through discussion (usually 5-7 minutes).
- When the group believes they have all the pictures in the correct order, the pictures are turned around for everyone to see.
And, a final note on team building: Several members of KS&R's Qualitative Center of Excellence recently engaged in a team building activity by creating "Focus Peeps", our entry into an Easter "Peep Art" contest (see below).
Now that’s an engaging focus group!
7 Tips for UX Testing You Can't Afford to Ignore
By Lynne Van Dyke - March 7, 2013 - email@example.com
I was so bummed when my toaster broke last week! (My favorite snack is toasted whole wheat bread generously topped with cinnamon and sugar - and yes, I realize that sugar negates the health benefits of whole wheat, but I don't care.)
So I headed out to shop for a replacement, thinking that this would be a quick and easy purchase.
KitchenAid KMT4115CU ($89.99) stopped me in my tracks. The tagline on the package boasted, "Toasting made easy." What? Had I misjudged the complexity of toasting? Perhaps my old toaster wasn't broken after all... Maybe the functions are just too ambiguous or complicated and, as a result, I am unable to operate it correctly.
Achieving the optimum UX (User Experience) means more than just "easy to use". The multi-faceted characteristics of UX can be summed up in the "5 E's": efficient, effective, engaging, error tolerant, and easy to learn. Ultimately, it requires a delicate balance of innovation and intuitive. With household appliances, for example, we look for products that anticipate our needs, make our lives better, and accomplish the task in a way that makes sense and is involving or interesting.
UX testing is an essential component of bringing a new product to market. It provides critical feedback on how real users interact with the product to uncover any problems or barriers before it's too late to do anything about it. It is also invaluable in identifying areas of improvement.
Many techniques have been developed for UX testing. In a study KS&R conducted on prototype consumer electronics for a major global manufacturer, we employed observational and task-based research, using a simple framework consisting of two main components:
- product and solution measures -- the interface features of the product as design variables
- environmental measures, including the end user; product; activity; and environment as context variables
How can you get the most out of your UX testing? Here are some important guidelines:
- Set aside a few minutes at the outset of the session for warm up. Discuss respondent needs, wants and expectations for the product, including what the UX would be like. And give respondents a few minutes to familiarize themselves with the product before beginning the tasks. This will go a long way to relieving any respondent anxiety --- and reassure them that they are not the ones being tested.
- Develop a set of structured tasks that are essential to the product's success. What must a user be able to do? Make sure that the tasks are realistic and reflect the ways in which users will actually use the product.
- Explore respondents' expectations about how difficult they expect each task to be. The Usability Magnitude Estimation (UME) is a measure that assesses respondents' expectations of the ease / difficulty of a task. Respondents rate how difficult a task is likely to be before they try to do it, and then provide a second rating after trying to complete the task. As a result of these ratings, each task is ultimately assigned to one of the following categories:
Be sure to "deep dive" and pay particular attention to tasks that were expected to be easy, but were difficult to complete; these will be a priority for the product design team.
- Tasks that were expected to be easy, but were actually difficult
- Tasks that were expected to be difficult, but were actually easy
- Tasks that were expected to be easy and were actually easy
- Tasks that were expected to be difficult and were difficult
- Make the tasks part of scenarios rather than direct instructions. Respondents perform much more naturally when confronted with situations they can readily connect with. "Imagine that you have unexpected dinner guests and need to quickly defrost a roast in the oven" is much better than "Find the defrost button and set the timer for 20 minutes."
- Assign respondents only one task at a time. If there is a complex task that respondents need to undertake, break it up into smaller, individual tasks. Overloading respondents can confuse them, or muddle their approach to the task.
- Verbally walk respondents through each task to be completed. Ask them to repeat back to you what they understand the task to be. Then provide them with a written overview of the task details as a reference. Be careful with how you describe the task – you don't want to inadvertently lead respondents. And be sure to politely decline any requests for explanations or assistance.
- Make the most of the opportunities to ask questions! Solicit respondents' feedback while they perform each task ("think aloud") as well as after completing all tasks (debriefing retrospectively). Reacting to the experience as it happens results in fresh, rich insights in a way no other method can deliver. And the debriefing gives respondents an opportunity to react to the overall experience, including offering recommendations on how the experience could have been improved.
Don't be a stranger; email me with your thoughts and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Battleship! and the Competitive Arena
By Lynne Van Dyke - January 11, 2013 - email@example.com
I love the game Battleship! Originally a pencil-and-paper game created during World War I, it was published by Milton Bradley in 1931 as "Broadsides, the Game of Naval Strategy", and as a board game in 1967. It inspired the 2012 science fiction movie "Battleship" (which "sank" at the box office). Battleship has also been released in multiple video games, and appears as applications on numerous social networking services.
One of the reasons I enjoy Battleship is because it is so straightforward: a classic two-person game (Melody and Matt in this faceoff) played on a simple 10 x 10 grid, where players "hide" ships of various lengths. Players use the grid to formulate the search, then announce a square to fire at. If a ship occupies the space, then it takes a hit. When all of the squares of the ship have been hit, the ship is sunk. When all of a player's ships are sunk, the game ends and other player wins.
The website Datagenetics.com offers a mathematical analysis of the game in 17+ pages. Here are my tips on how to win at Battleship: don't put your ships adjacent to one another; random is good (resist the urge to repeat winning patterns); and place a ship along the edge of the board (a small vessel lurking there is tough to track down).
A simple grid is also employed in the qualitative research game world; it serves as the core of the projective technique known as "Four Square". Four Square enables respondents to put their perceptions / ideas into context in a way that's tangible and dynamic. It is a very effective tool when the goal is to explore the interplay between two key product / brand attributes -- for example, how a specific brand of craft beer is viewed relative to the competition in terms of taste and price.
Here's how to "play":
- Each respondent receives a sheet of paper preprinted with a simple grid, with one horizontal and one vertical axis (great / terrible taste, and inexpensive / expensive).
- Have respondents place each brand of beer on their grids according to where they belong on each of the two dimensions. Be sure to emphasize that each dimension is important.
- Once they have completed their individual grids, ask respondents to transfer the results to a large grid with the same axes (pre-printed on an easel sheet) for everyone to see, using colored dots to represent the different brands of beer.
- Debrief: Ask respondents to explain about their placements; specifically probe to understand how the target brand was placed and how its placement relates to that of the competition.
Here are my tips on how to "win" with Four Square: Give respondents very clear directions; it will save time and make them feel comfortable because they know what is expected of them. And since Four Square is more complex than the one dimensional "Line Up" projective technique (see my January 2012 blog), it is a good idea to provide respondents with an out-of-category example before they begin.
By Lynne Van Dyke - October 29, 2012 - firstname.lastname@example.org
I am not sure that I like "ask me anything" websites. I am not sure that I dislike them, either.
I have seen these websites accomplish wonderful things - like helping a cancer patient replace his laptop, stolen from his home while he was in the hospital. I have also seen them mercilessly make fun of an overweight teenager posing in her prom dress.
A number of "ask me anything" (AMA) websites have cropped up in the last couple of years. The idea is incredibly simple: you invite people to ask you any question they want; decide which ones you want to answer; and delete the ones you don't. The result is a stream of questions and answers – essentially an IDI (In-Depth Interview) where you are both the moderator and respondent.
One of the most interesting AMA websites is www.reddit.com, where community members vote the submission "up" or "down", which is used to rank the post and determine its position on the website's pages. Redditors can also "friend" one another which provides quick access to posting and comments of their friend list.
Many celebrities have taken to Reddit's AMA live chat , including Jimmy Kimmel, Zach Braff, and Stephen Colbert. When President Obama ("Hi, I'm Barack Obama, President of the United States") took questions from the Reddit community on August 29 of this year, the website crashed due to high traffic.
I recently decided to jump on the Reddit bandwagon ("I am a market researcher, ask me anything!"). And while Reddit has one of the toughest crowds on the net, I got some great questions. Here's a few:
Do you have any tips for conducting market research with kids?
Keep in mind that children are quite literal; don't expect them to evaluate concepts or ad copy -- they do much better with prototypes and models. And since children can't think abstractly, don't ask them about their behavior. Instead, focus on drawing out their memories and discuss them.
True or false – you can't successfully use projective techniques with physicians.
False! Yes, doctors are trained to make logical, rational decisions based on data and reality, but they welcome the opportunity to use their "right brain" and be creative. I've seen doctors who were at first resistant to the idea of "wear another hat" get very animated and involved with drawing ads, thought balloons ("two views"), and mindmaps. Keep in mind that just like with consumers and other B2B respondents, it's important to be prepared with a number of techniques so in case one doesn't work, you can try another one.
Can you recommend an ice breaker for extended sessions, like workshops of a day or more?
Find the matching puzzle piece: Purchase a jigsaw puzzle or create one of your own (it's a plus if the puzzle is somehow related to your topic). Mail out pieces to participants in advance of the session, or put them in a bowl in the meeting room. Ask participants to take a piece at random and then try to put the puzzle together. This activity is a lot of fun and promotes a great deal of interaction.
Is there a creative exercise to help respondents communicate complex feelings?
Draw a symbol, then and now. I was impressed with this powerful technique in a project we did with owners of dogs with Lyme Disease. We asked them to draw a symbol illustrating their feelings when their dog was initially diagnosed, and a second symbol capturing the "now" that they are managing the Lyme Disease. The "thens" included a tiny figure lost in a forest, a jail cell, and other grim images. The "nows" featured sunshine, flowers, and a waterfall. The exercise provided rich insights into how respondents were managing their dog's Lyme Disease, as well as the drivers and barriers to trying a new product.
Have you taken any memorable photos while traveling on business?
Make a Splash with Mind Mapping
By Lynne Van Dyke - June 27, 2012 - email@example.com
This spring my husband and I were faced with the decision of whether we would replace our aging inground swimming pool with a new one, or simply turn it into lawn.
Today is Day 36 of construction on the pool, and our backyard looks like a war zone. The noise reverberates throughout the neighborhood. My dogs and cats are traumatized. And no end in sight.
"Remind me why we decided to do this," my husband groaned this morning. I quickly hid the issue of SmartMoney Magazine that says an inground pool won't add any real value when it comes to selling your home. Instead, I turned to the projective technique of "mind mapping".
Mind mapping is a method of exploring past experiences by capturing free associations on paper. Because it is a unrestricted, graphical, and non-linear exercise, a mind map allows for greater creativity and deeper insights than simple free association.
Mind mapping traces its roots back to the 3rd century BC with the Greek philosopher Porphyry of Tyre, who used mind mapping to make his ideas easier for others to understand. Leonardo da Vinci popularized mind mapping for note taking.
In qualitative marketing research, mind mapping is a highly effective technique to use when the objective is to gain an initial look at a topic or brand through the respondent's eyes.
You will first need to teach respondents how to do a mind map, using a sample that has been prepared in advance. As illustrated in my "swimming pool mind map", the example should show how associations can branch off in a variety of ways; how thoughts and feelings can be portrayed – positive and negative – through the use of symbols, drawings, and text.
Give respondents approximately 3 minutes of individual work time to create their mind maps. Tell them to work quickly, and take each connection as far as they can. During the debrief, ask for volunteers to share their mind maps with the group. Probe to understand thoughts, feelings, images and deeper associations.
We're handling the construction chaos much better now that we've recalled the reasons why we wanted a swimming pool in the first place. Jumping (eventually) into our brand new pool will be exciting, fun, and energizing. Just like mind mapping!
The Art of Customer Visits
By Lynne Van Dyke - February 22, 2012 - firstname.lastname@example.org
My cousin Susan will celebrate a Big Birthday in the next few weeks. The kind they make black mylar balloons for and people send snarky gifts like Geritol. I am throwing her a blow-out party, and relatives from across the country have accepted my invitation to stay the weekend.
Some people have a wonderful relationship with their relatives that is practically effortless. Susan and I share that kind of connection -- closer in some ways than sisters. (I am always on the left in our photos.)
Others have a more laissez-faire approach. They exchange a few phone calls and greeting cards throughout the year, just enough to maintain good relations. Either way, the relative visit is a subtle art that takes skill and practice to master. And lots of pre-planning to ensure that it is a success for all involved.
The same holds true for customer visits.
On-site customer visits and observations are a unique and powerful tool for gathering customer input and building relationships. No other marketing research technique provides quite the same direct, immediate feedback involving the full complexity of customer needs, wants and problems.
Here are a few "best practices" and tips for success:
- Get consensus from internal stakeholders on the specific objectives of the visit. You will likely be faced with a long list of information wants and needs, and many competing objectives. Set priorities to ensure that you get the data you need to effectively drive decision making.
- Assemble a small team (2-3 members) to conduct the visit, one serving as lead interviewer and the others as note takers / observers. Time and space constraints make larger teams unwieldy. Be sure the lead interviewer is skilled in non-directive interviewing (to avoid biasing responses or leading the respondent) and active listening (continuously analyzing the discussion for the larger meaning and implications).
- Coordinate with the sales force. Briefing the sales force on why the visits are being conducted and how the data will be used will go a long way to ensuring a smooth customer recruit.
- Develop a discussion guide to serve as a "road map" of the interview. The sequence of questions should flow logically, with a mix of high level and in-depth discussion. Be sure that the topics are also relevant and interesting to the customer. Pre-test the discussion guide with a few customers to ensure the appropriate language and length.
- Record the visit. Video / audio recording is invaluable to reporting. Always ask permission; some companies forbid recording devices of any kind-- often the cultural norm outside the US. (No worries, you've got a note taker!)
- Debrief after the visit. Take advantage of the excitement and energy of the customer visit to immediately begin sharing ideas and impressions. These can fade or can get lost over time. It is also a great opportunity to incorporate new questions and abandon those that aren't working.
Customer interaction is at its best when it is face-to-face, in their environment. Just like with relatives.
How do you stack up against the competition?
By Lynne Van Dyke - January 4, 2012 - email@example.com
I am totally smitten with coffee table books. Luckily, I received several new ones for Christmas. (My favorite is Pilgrimage, by Annie Leibovitz, a collection of photographs of places associated with people who mean something to her – a big departure from the Gap ads and celebrity photos she is known for.) For me, there's no better gift than a book, and no better gift book than a coffee table book. The Sierra Club is usually credited with inventing the coffee table book in 1960, with the publication of Ansel Adam's, This is the American Earth. The guiding principle for that book was "a page size big enough to carry a given image's dynamic".
I love looking at oversized, high quality, powerful images on beautiful, expensive paper. You can't get that experience with a Kindle or a Nook. These books sit on my coffee table precisely because they are designed to be picked up by anyone looking for a quick, easy read … and to inspire discussion.
The Perceptual Mapping techniques KS&R employs in qualitative research have a lot in common with coffee table books. They both:
- Provide a hands-on activity for a participant that is fun, engaging, and energizing.
- Provide stimulus for discussion and debate.
- Display data (real time and in reporting) in a way so that the viewer instantly sees the power of the information.
- Are easily grasped by multi cultural audiences.
Of course, qualitative Perceptual Mapping techniques are not meant to substitute for quantitative perceptual mapping, but rather to offer a starting point for discussion about how a product, service, or brand relates to the competition. They are also highly effective in identifying which attributes are important; and any unoccupied "white space" where distinctive positioning and a meaningful value proposition can be developed.
We use a variety of qualitative perceptual mapping techniques, depending on the research objectives, but in each technique the moderator identifies the relevant attributes and participants sort items accordingly.
In a global study KS&R conducted to understand how several prototype mobile devices would be perceived amidst their competitors, participants engaged in Perceptual Mapping using a one-dimensional continuum, or a "Line Up" exercise:
- The opposite ends of the focus group table were labeled "most likely to purchase" and "least likely to purchase".
- Prototype mobile devices and competitor devices were placed in the center of the table.
- Participants were instructed to work together, talking aloud, to sort ("line up") the devices on the continuum.
- Participants then discussed the "map" they created, and why the devices were so placed, including strengths/drivers and weaknesses/barriers.
Qualitative Perceptual Mapping is flat-out cool, and opens your mind to new possibilities for uncovering and presenting information and insights in dynamic ways. Just like a coffee table book.
Looking for Breakthrough Ideas?
By Lynne Van Dyke - June 22, 2011 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone who lives with a cat knows the extraordinary lengths it will go to achieve its desired goal. Mr. X (a stray who wandered on to our front porch last year; my husband refused to allow me to name him to lessen the odds that the cat would join our household) excels at creative problem solving. He has been known to try multiple strategies in order to get at his catnip stash in the kitchen drawer. While many of Mr. X's more elaborate and innovative attempts are thwarted by his lack of opposable thumbs, somehow he always seems to come up with an approach that works.
No matter what business you are in, in order to succeed and compete in the global marketplace today, nothing is more important than problem solving and idea generation. They are core to the design of new products, as well as effective marketing strategies and advertising copy.
It's all very well to acknowledge that companies have a critical need for new ideas – and to convert those ideas into solutions / innovation. But where will these ideas come from?
Some of the most effective idea generation techniques used in qualitative research have evolved from brainstorming, popularized in the 1950's by Alex Osborn in his book, Applied Imagination. Like most things, these techniques have their strengths and weaknesses. The key is knowing how to employ them effectively. Here are some guidelines:
- First and foremost, recognize that creative thinkers don't spring up overnight. It is critical to recruit participants who are energetic, enthusiastic, smart, and have an open view of life. Creative thoughts will not flourish among those with a closed approach to life or restricted vision.
- In contrast to traditional brainstorming methods that springboard off of Laddering and use consumer needs / wants and product benefits as inputs, consider focusing on consumers' problems. Find out what frustrates participants, what drives them crazy, and determine:
- How annoying is the problem?
- How frequently does the problem occur?
- Are there solutions available to address the problem? If yes, how effective?
- Recruit heavy or frequent users of the product / service. These are the consumers who are most likely to be concerned about, and capable of, communicating the problems, drawbacks, and barriers.
- "Set the stage" by creating an environment that is fun, permissive, and non- threatening. Ground rules include withholding judgment / criticism and embracing the unexpected, and the unusual. No idea is too "out there" or insignificant. Einstein said, "If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."
- Try a group passing method or "Round Robin" to help participants make the most of their creativity. Here's how it works: Each participant writes down one idea, using the technique of Sentence Completion ("I wish…" or "It would be great if it could...") to address the problem, then passes it to the person on their left, who adds ideas. This continues until each participant gets his/her original idea back. This technique has the added benefit of ensuring that all participate, eliminating participant "loafing".
It's exciting when creativity happens! Don't be afraid to try idea generation through qualitative research.
All the best,
Game On: Personification in Action
By Lynne Van Dyke - April 3, 2011 - email@example.com
My son Adam is a triathlete. If you are not familiar with the triathlon,
it is a multi-sport event involving the completion of three continuous and
sequential endurance events –swimming, cycling, and running. It requires
that the competitor be lean, fast, and athletic. It also requires a very expensive
piece of equipment, a triathlon time trial bike. Last year, as a gift for
Adam's acceptance into a PhD program in Neuroscience, we sprang for a Jamis
Xenith T1, aka, "This is what fast feels like". He loves it.
On a recent trip to Northern California, my husband and I were leisurely
strolling the shops on the main street in Sonoma. There, in the window of
Sonoma Valley Cyclery, I spotted a Jamis brand triathlon competition jersey,
size medium. Wow. Perfect.
Inside, I informed the salesclerk that I would like to purchase the shirt.
He said I would need to speak with the store owner, and paged him to the
The owner ("Bob"), clearly a triathlete himself, asked how he could help
us. I repeated my intention to purchase the shirt. Bob looked at me hard,
and said, "I don't know. That is a one-of-a-kind shirt. You'll need to prove
to me that you deserve it. I'll give you a few minutes to think about it." For
a moment, I thought he was joking. But Bob just stood there, waiting. My
husband, standing behind Bob, silently mouthed, "Let it go."
I decided to turn to personification for help, and allow the jersey "to
speak for itself" to convince Bob to relinquish it. Personification is a
form of metaphor employed in qualitative research that is very effective
in helping participants to talk about complex issues related to a product
or a brand. Participants are asked to imagine that the product has come alive
as a representative person... being careful not to confuse this with profiling
a user of the product.
If the product's characteristics and traits were embodied in a person,
what kind of person would this be?
The key to using personification effectively is to have participants describe
a single individual, specifically and comprehensively, identifying his/her:
- Physical characteristics (gender, age, body size/shape)
- Lifestyle and choices this person would make (style of clothes,
occupation/employment; home life, type of car; how spends spare
- Personality characteristics (outgoing/friendly, confident, shy)
- Voice characteristics (style, tone, level of formality (formal,
- Attitude – how this person feels about life; what he/she is proud
of; personal motto in life; does he/she have a nickname?
We walked out of the store with the shirt. I maintain that the personification
was so compelling, Bob had no choice but to acquiesce. My husband will at
least concede that Bob was speechless. We both agree that the jersey looks
All the best,
Cognitive Interviewing and the High School Reunion
By Lynne Van Dyke - February 8, 2011 - firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently went to my high school reunion.
I had received a letter telling me that the Class of 1970-something Gateway Senior High School, Monroeville, Pa, was holding a class reunion and that I would be crazy to miss it. I threw the letter away, certain that I wouldn't attend.
Then my friend, Kathy Mohan (that is Kathy smiling on KS&R's homepage), started emailing me, nagging me to go. "Aren't you even just a little curious?", she prodded. In high school, Kathy was pretty and popular, liked by all. She was the cheerleader who dated the handsome star of the football team, Mark Campbell, the year Gateway won the state championship. (High school football was, and is, a very big deal in western Pennsylvania.) I was all about the debate team, student government, and the school newspaper. We became great friends. Kathy and I had also gone off to the same college, Ohio University. I started getting nostalgic...
I finally decided to go...figuring that by recalling my high school experiences, maybe I would come away with some new insight - an "aha!" about high school and who I am now.
I know first-hand how effective recalling past experiences can be in uncovering "moments of truth!" I spend a lot of time conducting Cognitive Interviewing, an event reconstruction technique, that helps participants get past their conscious memory in order to access the forgotten, fleeting, seemingly trivial – but often crucial - details. One of the most effective tools for this type of interviewing is "Visualization":
- Participants are asked to close their eyes. As an "eyes closed exercise", Visualization also has the added benefit of building trust among participants to get them talking to one another, and more open to sharing intimate, personal thoughts.
- They are instructed to "think aloud" as they walk through the specific experience, step by step. Recall probes help participants to recreate the experience as fully as possible, including what they are doing / thinking / feeling at that moment; what is easy / hard / and the best / worst aspects – and to tease out hidden meanings.
- Providing stimuli such as old photos is a very effective way to help trigger participants' memories.
As for the reunion, I had such a wonderful time "visualizing", I'm not sure exactly how many insights I came up with! But sincere thanks to Kathy and Mark (still happily married) for helping me recall exactly how Gateway was so good for me. And how the friendships and learnings from my time there really do continue to impact what I do today.
See you guys at the next reunion!
All the best,
Blogging as a Research Tool
By Lynne Van Dyke - December 1, 2010 - email@example.com
I love my pharmacist. Craig Roland is a veteran pharmacist, a friendly guy who is truly committed to his patients and the community. When he moved from a small, independent drug store to the Kinney Drug pharmacy chain store half a mile down the road, most of the town residents moved with him.
I spent a lot of time talking with Craig this summer about the pros and cons of various allergy medications. I really don't have the time or patience to call my doctor every time I have a question about itchy, watery eyes. My doctor always seems so hurried, I can practically feel the meter running. Craig is never hurried. His friendly, genuine manner, combined with decades of experience, makes me feel comfortable enough to ask him about my dad's blood pressure medication, or the best treatment for a bee sting.
I am not alone in my high regard for my pharmacist. Pharmacists are consistently ranked among the most respected professionals (politicians and car salespersons are the least). In the US there is a pharmacy within approximately 2 miles of every household. And with drive- thru and 24-hour service now commonplace, consumers are increasingly viewing pharmacists as the front line in health care.
To help a large regional drug store chain better understand customers' evolving experience needs and wants with regard to the pharmacist as a health care provider, KS&R conducted qualitative research that included consumer-generated blogs.
Built on the social network model, KS&R's innovative tool uses a secure, dedicated environment. It's very effective in revealing what matters most to consumers; what they really think; and how they really talk about an experience, product, or service.
The strengths of respondent blogging are many, including its ability to:
- Connect and engage consumers in the online environment that many prefer.
This is particularly valuable when the issue is highly personal, evokes strong
emotions, and/or is complex and you want to give respondents extra "think
- Reveal the language of the target market to help you understand the vocabulary consumers use, as well as their emotional tone.
- Conduct polling to get quick feedback on key issues.
- Probe deeply and over a longer timeline to help respondents get in touch with and articulate feelings they can't readily express.
- Obtain feedback on a wide variety of stimuli / multimedia content.
- Allow consumers to upload photos. You can learn a lot from respondent photos. These photos can also be used in projective activities to force additional connections and reactions.
The findings from the research led the client to redesign the retail environment to facilitate patient consultation; launch a new customer loyalty program; rebrand educational materials; and implement strategies to optimize wait times.
If you haven't considered consumer – generated blogging for your next qualitative research project, I suggest that you should.
All the best,
When Words Fail, Well-Chosen Stimuli can Deliver
By Lynne Van Dyke - November 2, 2010 - firstname.lastname@example.org
I just spent a week in London watching consumers plunge their hands into warm mashed potatoes, cuddle a plush teddy bear, and try on fur-lined gloves.
These stimuli played a critical role in a recent qualitative research project KS&R conducted to support a personal care product manufacturer in developing a new product. They are looking to bring to market a new concept that will deliver an "ultra luxurious" experience, but aren't sure how consumers will interpret it or connect to it.
Many products in the health and beauty aids category have at their core the idea of "a hip friend". The tricky part is to come up with the emotional nuances of that relationship in order to create a compelling and meaningful connection with consumers (i.e., "sassy young sister" or "trusted big sister"). It makes a real difference in the success or failure of a new product.
And that is what qualitative research excels at -- making distinctions about attributes and characteristics. Consumers can decide for themselves what "ultra luxurious" should stand for / look like, and how this compares to other products in the category.
In order to speed the product development process, and ensure it moves in the right direction, we decided to involve consumers in the earliest stage rather than asking an agency to develop specific design / packaging concepts. And to break the rationalist mindset, we asked respondents to actually feel and experience "ultra luxury" using a wide variety of stimuli.
A "mood board" is another type of stimuli employed in this research. Not to be confused with collages, a mood board is a large board (physical or virtual) covered with a collection of images intended to evoke a certain feeling, lifestyle, or ambiance. Mood boards are designed solely to create an emotional impact /environment – in this case, "ultra luxurious". They are popular with graphic / web designers, and interior/fashion designers who use them to communicate a "theme" to clients.
In market research they are a highly effective tool for exploring consumers' perceptions of a product or brand, and have been referred to as "rapid emotional prototyping".
Try incorporating these types of stimuli into your next qualitative project. They can produce striking, intuitive insights that cannot be generated any other way.
All the best,
By Lynne Van Dyke - August 3, 2010 - email@example.com
When I was in Tokyo last week on a client engagement involving packaging research, I decided to brave the sweltering heat and take a walk through the Oriental Bazaar.
As I was rummaging through stalls looking for a souvenir to bring back home for my nephew, I watched as a young Japanese mother held up a T-shirt featuring the "Jurassic Park" logo for her young son.
Then I looked a little closer, and saw that "Park" had been inadvertently translated as "Bank". The woman, unaware of the error, happily paid for her purchase and departed.
A sobering moment for those of us who conduct cross cultural marketing research.
Companies seeking to ensure that their products and services compete effectively increasingly need to develop business strategies that anticipate and respond to international markets. As a result, market research industry figures show an increase in global market research revenue in the last few years, despite a world-wide recession.
Qualitative research can be a highly effective tool for conducting international research.
- It is very effective in understanding the context of customers' attitudes and behaviors re: observed cross cultural differences.
- Another key advantage of qualitative research is that it is unstructured -- not dependent on researchers' terminology.
- Often observational, and requiring minimal cognitive skills, qualitative research is often the best methodology for emerging markets.
It also presents some unique challenges. Here are a few strategies to help ensure the success of your next international qualitative research project:
- Consider employing projective techniques – photo sorts, mindmaps, grouping, collages – are very helpful in researching emotional benefits, and in understanding the cultural characteristics that influence the target market.
- Create a safe environment which allows respondents express disagreement. The concern for harmony in Asian countries can serve as a barrier to meaningful insights and identifying unmet wants and needs.
- Use caution when developing stimuli – these materials need to be readily understood, and devoid of cultural bias.
- Thoroughly train recruiters, moderators ... and interpreters!
- A real-world understanding of, and sensitivity to, differences in each test market's environment is critical, but analysis and reporting also require a broad and balanced interpretation of results beyond the local context.
It's all too easy for "P" to "become "B", or "R" become "N" when conducting research in diverse international environments. Knowledgeable and skillful implementation of these guidelines will help ensure that you obtain the information and insights required to solve your global marketing issues.
All the best,
How Magazine Ads Help You Make the Right Purchase Decision
By Lynne Van Dyke - July 12, 2010 - firstname.lastname@example.org
My 86-year old father is in the process of buying a new car. I became aware of this when, to my astonishment, I found him sitting in the sunroom reading lifestyle magazines. My dad is a retired chemical engineer who spent nearly 40 years working for U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh, Pa. His interests are new developments in coke processing, golf, fishing, and the Steelers --- not learning how to make wild rice pilaf from scratch, or a washcloth mitt out of decorative ribbon.
When I asked my father why he was reading these magazines, he held up a full-page, color ad for an SUV and said, "Just take a look at this ad. You can really see and appreciate the styling and the detail in the design of this car --- a lot better than on TV or in a newspaper."
In fact, magazine ads have a long, rich history of providing people with ideas for products and services that match or enhance their lifestyle. The first magazine ad appeared in 1742 in Benjamin Franklin's General Magazine.
Yet with the growth of new media and innovative technologies, it is easy to wonder if print ads are a good way to spend advertising dollars. Research recently conducted by KS&R on vehicle purchase decision making reveals that magazine ads play an important, complementary role to visual, audio and electronic media.
For a consumer shopping for a new car, magazine ads offer real advantages:
- Really show me what the vehicle looks like
- Helps me connect the vehicle to my lifestyle and interests
- Makes me aware of new features and technology
- Helps me identify with the vehicle
- Communicates the image/feel of the vehicle/brand
- Helps me to put the vehicle into the context of my life
- Provides an environment in which I can imagine myself owning / driving the vehicle
- Motivates me to seek out additional information
- Makes it easy for me to know where to get additional information – it lists the website and makes it easy to remember
Additionally, research indicates that consumers tend to keep magazines around and flip through them several times before finally storing, lending, or recycling them. Why is this important? An ad needs to be seen 3-10 times in order for it to be effective. With a print ad in a magazine, an advertiser can achieve effective frequency in just one issue.
Mark Twain said, "Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising". I think my dad would agree, as he sits back on the couch and dreams of GM's new keyless entry system on his next vehicle.
All the best,
By Lynne Van Dyke - February 17, 2010 - email@example.com
I love "Wicked the Musical". I saw it for the first time in October 2003 when it opened on Broadway. The late Ann Michel, Founding Partner and KS&R's first CEO, bought me a ticket. She thought I would enjoy the play where women take center stage and it's easy to identify with the main characters -- both the good and bad. She was right. I have now been to "Wicked" 11 times, including performances in Chicago, San Francisco, and London.
If you've had an opportunity to see "Wicked", you know that one of the most memorable moments of the story comes when the green-skinned, black-clad Elphaba laments about the extent to which folks are fixated on her verdigris.
Elphaba had it right. "Green issues" remain high on the radar across the globe. Yet a recent KS&R study revealed that in today's current economic environment, where companies are being challenged to do more for less, businesses often forgo green purchasing if it means a premium price.
Corporate decision makers, particularly those in small and mid-size businesses, admit that they are more likely to consider environmental and social sustainability factors when making personal purchases than corporate ones.
Instead, these companies are looking to leverage the eco-friendly behaviors of their service providers in order to stretch their own "green" credentials. Without having to expend resources, they are able to bask in the "green glow" of eco- association as vendors undertake efforts to recycle, lower their carbon footprint, use natural products, and buy locally.
Aesop said, "A man is known by the company he keeps." How eco-friendly are the companies you do business with…and are you making the most of it to reinvigorate your brand and your messaging?
All the best,
By Lynne Van Dyke - December 1, 2009 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Sometimes a focus group moment stays with you long after the final report has been delivered.
KS&R recently conducted qualitative research as the initial step in an attitudinal segmentation study to assist a manufacturer of outdoor games/sports equipment make decisions regarding investments in new product development.
Focus groups were conducted with parents and grandparents in order to capture the full breadth and depth of their attitudes towards this product category.
During the groups, participants created collages using photos, memorabilia, and other objects brought from home. Collages are an effective tool to explore participants' imagery, feelings, and associations. They also often reveal opportunities in every day details to make a real emotional connection with the target market.
Participants took turns describing their collages, including talking about the meaning and significance of the various elements.
One father's photo really caught my attention. He captured an act of kindness shown by one very young football player to an opposing player. The kind of everyday detail that often goes unnoticed, yet shows that sports can be about way more than beating the other team.
And an inspiring, emotional connection I won't soon forget.
All the best,
By Lynne Van Dyke - November 18, 2009 - email@example.com
Black Friday is nearly here. If you don't already know, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when stores kick-off the holiday shopping season.
There are multiple theories about the origin of the name "Black Friday". Some believe the Philadelphia Police Department first used the term in referring to the massive traffic jams that clogged downtown streets as shoppers headed out for special deals and deep discounts. Others say it is the day of the year that retailers who have been unprofitable change to being profitable, or "in the black."
Either way, from camping out overnight in parking lots, to the frenzy of shoppers pushing as doors open at the crack of dawn, Black Friday is famous for incredible door busters and long lines that stretch around the block.
KS&R's extensive work in support of the "optimal customer experience" for our clients reveals that the experiences customers have waiting in line significantly impact their perceptions of the services being provided - and ultimately, the brand.
Standing in line for longer-than-desired can cause boredom, frustration, anxiety, and even rage - even if the transaction that follows is efficient, courteous and satisfactory.
However, our research also reveals a great deal of consensus about the ways in which retailers can extend customers' wait time tolerances – and make them feel better about the wait:
- Inform the customer how long the wait time will be
- Use technology to make wait time informative, entertaining
- Enforce "fair play" -- first come, first served
- Ensure an appropriate level of staffing, particularly during peak business hours
- Make sure that employees appear fully engaged in serving customers
- Apologize for the inconvenience of the wait; customers tend to be more forgiving when employees are genuinely sorry for the inconvenience
Real "no-no's" that exacerbate the frustrations of waiting in line include sales staff who are socializing, performing non-critical work tasks, and/or are rude, not knowledgeable.
As for me, as I create my "game plan" for Black Friday (making gift lists, checking retail ads, etc), I'll put aside my usual "pain threshold" for wait times and just embrace it as "le sport" and part of the experience!
All the best,
By Lynne Van Dyke - October 13, 2009 - firstname.lastname@example.org
"Am rushing to pick up kids at school to get them home, fed, and off to soccer practice. Just made a call on my new cell phone for take-out -- and misdialed AGAIN 'cause the keys are so close together! Am SOOO frustrated with this device. It looked very small and lightweight in the store so I thought it would be perfect for my busy lifestyle.—NOT! Also had a problem this morning when I couldn't figure out how to use the speakerphone for a conference call with my client when I was on the freeway 'cause it doesn't have a separate button. I need to buy a new Bluetooth headset -- but it won't be the same brand as this cell phone. I won't buy this brand again!"
I am a big fan of homework. I loved watching my son Adam and his father struggle, then succeed, in building a sewage treatment plant out of popsicle sticks for an elementary school science fair. While my husband worried about being too involved/not involved enough in helping with homework, I took great pride in the "Aha!" moments as Adam made connections between process and outcome.
Assigning homework to respondents prior to their participation in a focus group or an In-Depth Interview often results in such exciting "Aha!" moments. While not new, homework -- photo journals, collages, video diaries, online diaries – is a surprisingly underutilized technique. The benefits it provides are tangible and many as it serves as a portal to accurate, candid data and authentic insights.
- Identifies unarticulated wants and needs, even the ones customers aren't aware of themselves
- Reliable data collection for everyday, routine events that are easily forgotten, or difficult to recall accurately
- A cost effective way to capture data over time ("for the next five days record...")
- Helps drive innovation because it provides a first-hand glimpse into the tasks that customers want the product to perform, in the environment those tasks will be performed in.
- Serves as a trigger for discussion
In a recent KS&R usability study on mobile devices, "alpha moms" were given homework consisting of video diaries – or "talk back sessions" -- using digital cameras installed on the dashboards of their vehicles. The in-car digital camcorder is an inconspicuous video recorder with a high quality zone microphone and low light handling, ideal for in-car use. An attached USB port allows for easy upload of respondents' video after each drive session.
Online diaries are another very effective homework tool KS&R employs to capture "in the moment" information and insights. Respondents make notations as they happen through a secure link that KS&R provides. This paves the way for deeper revelations that are key in successfully delivering on the research and business objectives.
Time to go and read some homework.
All the best,
Snow Globes and Ethnography
By Lynne Van Dyke - March 23, 2009 - email@example.com
I collect snow globes. And so does my 8-year old friend Ann Wallace. We think they are magical. You can hold a miniature world in your hand that is fascinating to observe when you turn it upside down and shake it.
I try to pick up a snow globe wherever in the world I find myself on assignment for clients. Colleagues, friends and family faithfully respond to my plea "Bring me back a snow globe!"…even though it's become a lot tougher (just try to get a snow globe through airport security).
The first snow globes were created in France in the 1870s, an off-shoot of glass paperweights. Enormously popular in Victorian England, snow globes made their way to the US around 1920.
I acquired my first snow globe at age 5, a gift from my father returning from a business trip to Niagara Falls. It is the center of my ever-growing collection. Among my favorites are a "sand globe" from Dubai (souvenir brought back by Scott Woodward, a KS&R Senior Research Analyst) and one from Paris that rotates while playing "Non, je ne regrette rien" ("No Regrets").
The parallels between my fascination with snow globes and my passion about ethnography are not lost on me.
Adapted from sociology and anthropology, ethnography is a method of observing people in their cultural context. It is a unique and powerful tool that evaluates a consumer's or businessperson's world and behavior in extraordinary detail and intimacy.
Our clients use ethnographic outputs to discover new opportunities, optimize product lines, identify consumer "hot buttons," communicate more effectively with customers, and solve tough problems.
The purpose of ethnography is to develop an "insider's view" -- to not only see what is happening, but also to feel it. It typically involves three kinds of data collection: interviews, observation, and documents, such as memos, advertisements, correspondence, other written items.
In a recent ethnographic study KS&R conducted for a regional drug store chain, the methodology went like this: rigorously-screened respondents agreed to allow KS&R interviewers to follow them around for hours while they shopped in drug stores, documenting the minutiae of the shopping experience and gathering information on everything from the lighting and color scheme of the cosmetic aisle to the respondent's emotional engagement with the pharmacist. The interviewers also kept tabs on how long respondents lingered over certain products; eavesdropped on discussions with sales clerks; and collected the Sunday newspaper circulars respondents had marked up.
If you are considering using ethnography to help your business gain a competitive advantage, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- Begin by clearly defining the scope of your research project. Don't let the open-ended nature of ethnography – one of its real strengths – become a weakness. It is important to stay focused.
- Allow sufficient time. Respondent recruitment, fieldwork, and analysis and reporting take time - typically four to six weeks.
- Validate and triangulate findings by using multiple sources, observers, and methodological tools. New technologies like micro cameras, video diaries, and webcams give us more resources to investigate consumer and business activities.
- Since ethnography relies heavily on up-close and personal observation, interviewers need to be able to develop a rapport with respondents, and require creativity and improvisational skills.
- Be disciplined and descriptive in note taking. As soon as possible after the interview or observation, review notes for clarity; elaborate where necessary and record additional thoughts and observations.
- Use verbatims, photographs, videoclips, diagrams, and artifacts in reporting. They are very powerful and help the report come to life.
So as I pack for my next assignment to observe consumers in their native habitats, I am careful to keep a small corner of my suitcase empty. I'm not willing to pass up a snow globe that catches my eye.
All the best,
By Lynne Van Dyke - February 22, 2009 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi, and welcome to my inaugural blog!
As Vice President and head of KS&R's qualitative practice, I'm very excited about sharing insights and information with you on the latest trends in qualitative research (and anything else that comes to mind). I'll also be providing links to relevant articles and research that lend insights to the topic at hand. As I plan to blog every few weeks, I'm hoping you will check back often for updates. Feel free to respond with your comments and to let me know if there are specific topics you'd like me to discuss. You can reach me at email@example.com.
What the Golden Gate Bridge (and other amazing edifices) Can Tell You About Your Brand
I recently traveled to San Francisco with Jennifer Coppola, one of KS&R's moderators, to conduct qualitative research in support of a client's “brand refresh” initiative. Central to this undertaking is the development and testing of various concepts for a new corporate logo, and San Fran was the first stop on our world-wide focus group tour.
Flying in over the Bay, I caught sight of The Golden Gate Bridge. A picture is worth a thousand words! No matter how many times I see the Bridge, it always takes my breath away. While at first glance it appears simple in design, its grandeur, uniqueness, resiliency and complexity set the stage for what I expect from this city.
Staring at the bridge from the window of the plane, I thought about the upcoming focus groups. Testing logos is tricky—which is part of what makes qualitative research so challenging, yet so exciting. Ask someone directly what they think of a logo design and you'll likely get a very logical, rational “left brain” response. But in order to uncover the imagery and emotions (often very surprising) that the logo engenders – and ensure its effectiveness in underpinning the brand -- we need the right brain response, too.
And for that, participants need help.
To get at how and what people think and feel about logos, KS&R employs architectural images using a “Picture Deck” projective technique. Focus group participants use the pictures as metaphors to describe their perceptions. Each participant is given an identical deck (see photos), and asked to select the photo that best represents the feelings, emotions, and attitudes communicated by the logo. Participants then describe those connections and associations.
The insights generated through the use of KS&R's Architectural Picture Deck also take my breath away! There is real power in such imagery, and the rich information it delivers is pivotal in the creation of a logo that truly maximizes the brand’s potential.
All the best,