One-on-One Interviews: The Rodney Dangerfield of Research

One-on-one interviews can produce uniquely informative and insightful findings.

One-on-one interviews can produce uniquely informative and insightful findings.

One-on-one interviews are the Rodney Dangerfield of research. They don’t get the respect they deserve, even though they can produce uniquely informative and insightful findings.

As a form of qualitative research, one-on-one interviews can penetrate issues more effectively than focus groups. One-on-one interviews are more conversational and flexible; potential participants are selected precisely, and the one-on-one environment yields candid insights.

The advantage of one-on-one interviews lies in who is interviewed. One-on-one interviews typically are scheduled from lists of customers, key stakeholders, managers or elected officials. In most cases, potential participants are recognized as “influentials” who impact opinions of others.

Participation rates are high even though you are targeting a very specific group of busy people. Why? The interviews are scheduled to meet their schedule, not at a specific day, time and place to accommodate client schedules. Also, key stakeholders like sharing their opinions, especially when assured comments are not for attribution.

Focus groups and one-on-one interviews both rely on discussion guides to propel discussion. Focus groups allow researchers – and clients – to observe a group reaction to a discussion guide consisting of questions, value propositions, logos or advertising messages. One-on-one interviews are more like confessionals when subjects feel comfortable to share their personal beliefs and attitudes. You can get unfiltered viewpoints directly from people that you interview.

With these virtues, why do clients purse their lips when asked about one-on-one interviews? Maybe they doubt how 20 well-conceived one-on-one interviews with a representative sample can outdo 500 randomly selected telephone surveys or a series of well-facilitated focus groups. They should erase their doubts and have faith. One-on-one interviews can deliver the goods.

Here are some excellent uses of one-on-one interviews:

Confirming alignment on objectives: One-on-one interviews are a discrete way to see if your managers or board members are in sync with a new overarching policy or strategic plan and, if not, to learn why not. Using a skilled third-party interviewer who will treat the interviews confidentially can generate a wealth of candid observations. Employing one-on-one interviews before full implementation can save a lot of frustration and embarrassment. 

Floating trial balloons: If you have a radical idea, one-on-one interviews can give you an advance read on how a defined audience will regard your out-of-the-box concept. The interviews will expose the most salient arguments opposing your idea and reveal strongest arguments supporting it. Findings can provide clues as to whether your trial balloon will soar or crash. More important, findings offer bread crumbs of how to proceed to avoid a crash.

Evaluating New Branding: Creating a new name, logo and visual identity is at its core subjective. One-on-one interviews can triangulate some perspective from stakeholders, customers or competing brand managers. Findings won’t magically produce a name, logo or visual identity, but can point to a productive direction and identify some key concepts. Findings also can warn of dead ends or bad ideas, which can save a lot of wasted time, energy and money.

Auditing media attitudes: Media audits can be valuable ways to assess relationships with reporters and editors who cover your business, products and services. The most effective way to conduct media audits is through one-on-one interviews. A third party, preferably someone with his or her own rapport with reporters and editors, can fetch the most candid observations and useful suggestions for improving media relationships.

Tapping Influencer insights: People who influence the behavior, preferences and consumer choices of others can be a valuable source of insight. One-on-one interviews may be the only viable way to capture that insight. Coincidentally, the outreach can establish or enhance relationships with key influencers.

Sampling diverse perspectives: Diversity and inclusion are increasingly important in organizations, but that priority doesn’t always scale down to understanding diverse perspectives within a group or team. One-on-one interviews with a diverse range of employees can suss out subtle and not-so-subtle differences in perspective. That knowledge can lead to greater cohesion in a unit and broader understanding of the range of viewpoints and cultural lenses in an organization.


Where Research, Branding and Product Design Meet

The former Blitz-Weinhard brewery introduced a popular beer designed by guys sitting at a bar. They provided the research and branding that a brewmaster turned into a best seller.

The former Blitz-Weinhard brewery introduced a popular beer designed by guys sitting at a bar. They provided the research and branding that a brewmaster turned into a best seller.

A Blitz-Weinhard marketing guy sat at the bar at Jake's Famous Crawfish night after night asking customers what they would like to drink that wasn't on the menu.

That patient, first-person inquiry led to the development and introduction of Weinhard's Blue Boar Red, a hoppy amber beer intended for people who like good beer.

Those one-on-one interviews with beer drinkers produced a recipe for the color, complexion and finish of a beer product that didn't exist. The marketing guy handed the customer specs to the brewmaster, who turned it into a successful commercial product.

This is a great example of the intersection of research, branding and product design – in that order.

Many companies and entrepreneurs come up with the product, then try to figure out what makes it distinctive and who would be interested in buying it. That may account for why a lot of new products and enterprises fail. You develop what you want to sell, not necessarily what anyone wants to buy.

Innovative product designs can be box office hits. But the odds improve for success if you do research first, branding second and product design third.

In our welter world of proliferating communication channels and diminishing attention spans, your intended audience may never notice your unbelievably great product. Greatness isn't a typical, quantifiable product feature. People are interested in products that solve their problems, meet their needs or satisfy an unmet wish.

Starting with research is the only rational course. Marketing plans depend on solid research. So does branding. And, by extension, so do sales.

Research doesn't have to involve a telephone survey. For new product design, such research is close to useless. If polled, no one would have urged a manufacturer to create a computer. Once Steve Jobs created a unique computer with an intuitive interface and vast graphic capabilities, he sold it by showing people how it could be used.

Some inventors view it as dishonest or dishonorable to create something simply because it addresses an existing problem. That is wrongheaded. This is exactly why you should create a product or service.

Most often, you aren't the only one working on a solution. You have competitors. You need to design a product or service with a distinctive advantage, something that makes your product stick out. We call that branding.

Effective branding depends on research to know what qualities people want in a product. Someone may design a product that comes in different colors. But you would be smart to design the same product with a simpler operation in a single color if simple is what potential buyers want. You can add colors later in the "new and improved version."

If you know what potential buyers want or need and design a product with a distinctive feature or quality that meets consumer demand, marketing is like following a map instead of solving a riddle. Your research will have told you what people want – and where they will go for information or to buy the products that met their needs. Your marketing channels will have been identified.

Research also can reveal who your potential customers look to for credible advice. A savvy marketing campaign will push those information sources to the forefront – in testimonials and as spokespersons.

It is a wonderful feeling to take a warm shower and have an epiphany of the next great thing. Dry off, comb your hair and write on your foggy mirror – research first, branding second, product design third. That will save you a lot of consternation and preserve your energy for the challenges that can lead to successful sales.

Slowpoke Communicators Miss Opportunities

Lurkers, laggards and slowpokes. Call them what you will, but many very good managers in the public and private sectors are still skeptical about using social media as a communications tool. 

The facts expose the truth: social media is now part of mainstream communications and is an invaluable way to connect with targeted adult audiences. 

Business is using social media effectively to support brands. A hyperlink survey conducted by NBCUniversal Integrate Media among 2,500 people 18-to-49-year-olds found:

• 72 percent interact with brands and companies at least occasionally, including 39 percent who interact all the time of regularly.

• 50 percent say brands are very or somewhat effective in getting their attention on social media.

This age cohort is the marketing sweet spot for most businesses. These are the people who advertisers target with promotions.