Carefully executing several phases of research can help you understand your internal audience (your team), your external audience (your customers) and your competition.

Qualitative research requires conversations with customers that go beyond survey questionnaires. ( photo/BIGSTOCKPHOTO.COM PHOTO)

Qualitative research involves either in-depth interviews, also known as IDIs, or focus groups. Both IDIs and focus groups allow you to have in-depth conversations with customers, gaining a deep understanding of what drives their decisions, vetting processes and even the emotional factors involved in their relationship with brands and products.

There are many different tactics that research directors and moderators use to get the best results from these conversations with the target audience. But when conducting both IDIs and focus groups, preparing discussion guides and pre-screening respondents are imperative.

Focus groups can be used for many different reasons; for example, to gain general insights about your brand and your competition or, more specifically, to test advertising campaigns or new products. Most of them involve about 10 participants in a room with a third-party moderator while the client listens behind glass, and participant groups generally consists of a mix of existing and potential customers. All participants should be screened ahead of time to ensure they have some familiarity with the brand and/or the competition, ensuring that the group is well representative of the target customer.

One interesting tactic that is used frequently involves the use of imagery for participants to help explain their feelings about a brand. In some cases, participants are asked to cut images from magazines and create collages that illustrate their connection to a brand. This helps draw analogies that prove very helpful to marketers when developing brand positioning and eventually creative executions.

But if focus groups aren’t in your budget or timeline, IDIs via phone, can often prove just as beneficial. These IDIs are meant to explore deep driving factors and attitudes toward a brand, product and/or service. They usually last between a half-hour and an hour for each conversation.

These one-on-one conversations with existing and potential customers allow you to uncover many nuggets of information that respondents may not otherwise share directly with the brand. A research director usually serves as an impartial third-party, which can help respondents feel more comfortable sharing information about good, the bad and the ugly concerning your company.

And while these IDIs aren’t conducted in-person, you can still use visuals to gain an understanding of attitudes. Often, the use of visuals via storyboards for advertising purposes can be emailed to the respondent before the call, or the respondent may be asked to access a URL in order to give input on both design and function of a website.

The key to IDIs is to start with a solid discussion guide from which the research director can pull questions as needed. It’s also important to contact these respondents ahead of time to schedule a convenient time for the interview – remember, this isn’t a survey, it’s an in-depth interview, so you need to secure the time and approval with the respondent before you begin to glean the insights.

Once you have gained valuable insights through qualitative research, it’s always best to bounce the key findings off of the masses through quantitative research to ensure those findings stick. The quantitative components can be done through phone or online surveys, and unlike qualitative research, you don’t need to provide monetary incentives for respondents to participate, as it’s much quicker and more convenient for respondents.

Once you have completed an internal marketing audit as well as qualitative and quantitative research, you are ready to move forward preparing your branding, marketing and creative strategy. Then comes the most fun part — getting customers and driving your business.

Jennifer LoBianco is a partner at brand advertising firm 8Fold Integrated Creative Works in Morristown, N.J.

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