I’ve been freelancing as a Planner for for nearly a year now and I’m doing a lot more qualitative research than I did as an Agency Type. I think partly this is because I no longer sit in a room full of quallies ready to head off to Milton Keynes with a discussion guide at a moment’s notice – and partly because it seems to me that if you’ve got to turn the insight into a brief/strategy/positioning, it makes much more sense to do the groups yourself (assuming of course you’ve had some qual training).
If something interesting comes up in the middle of a group, as a Planner you’re right there and able to move away from the discussion guide and explore the topic – and it’s far easier to overlook a real insight nugget of a respondent comment when you’re in a viewing room stuffing M&Ms down your throat.
Emily Reeve from The Nursery wrote a great Ten Top Tips for doing qual for the APG a few years ago. The piece seems not to have survived the move to the APG’s shiny new website (and a few things she mentions like doing groups in-home are a bit dated now), but I’ve got a well-thumbed print out filed away so here are some of her Top Tips:
Get there early
Get there about 30 minutes before the groups start. Any less and you won’t have time to work out how the DVD player works, go to the loo and sort out the massive amounts of stimulus so that there’s enough room for you and 8 respondents to sit in the same room.
Make friends with the recruiter
You also won’t have time to make friends with the recruiter…by asking her how she found the recruitment process you can sometimes pick up some useful insights about your target, e.g. interesting to discover that most of the Persil users had originally thought they were buying Ariel.
If you’re reading out scripts keep the tone of your voice reasonably neutral. This is not a presentation to the client, so gushingly enthusiastic tones will only make respondents feel either cynical or obliged to say that they liked it.
Write down your thoughts straight away
Set aside a bit of time to ‘dump’ all of your thoughts from the groups, almost as a stream of consciousness. It may be the last thing you feel like doing [after an evening of groups] but honestly is worth it. If you leave it ‘til the next morning you just won’t be able to remember it in the same detail.
To this, I’d like to add a few things I’ve picked up along the way:
Respondents don’t like an audience
Try and avoid letting clients sit in on groups. They can blumin well stump up for a viewing facility – or as an alternative try popping a video camera on a tripod in the corner of the room for the client to watch later (make sure your respondents agree to this though!). One discreet videographer or trainee researcher normally isn’t a problem to accommodate (so long as they’re properly briefed beforehand), but any more bodies and you’re putting on a play, not a focus group – and the insight you get back will be all the worse for it.
Don’t be afraid to go off-guide
Some of the best stuff I’ve got from groups has been when I’ve shown them a piece of creative that didn’t quite make the final cut or a POS leaflet that was lurking at the back of my client file. Keep everything to hand so that if the group rejects all the designs outright or suddenly want to talk about product guarantees you’ve got something to discuss with them. This is another reason why I think Planners should do their own groups where possible.
It’s sod’s law that the hotel restaurant will stop taking orders just as you wave off your last respondent. There is nothing more soul destroying than trying to find something to eat at 10pm in the middle of nowhere. So even if it’s only 5.30 in the afternoon and you’re not hungry yet, eat something. And chuck a few cereal bars in your bag of stimulus.