focus groups

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.

 

Scrubbing Unintended Bias from Research Surveys

Unintended bias can undermine survey research, rendering findings as unreliable. Best practices, starting with clear and objective questions, is the best way to ensure survey findings are useful and actionable.

Unintended bias can undermine survey research, rendering findings as unreliable. Best practices, starting with clear and objective questions, is the best way to ensure survey findings are useful and actionable.

“Bias is the mortal enemy of all surveys,” says SurveyMonkey. It turns out bias is a sly enemy that can sabotage meaningful research findings.

SurveyMonkey offers tips on how to “promote honest answers” from surveys, which all depend on the good intentions and sound practices of the survey creator.

“One of the leading causes of misleading survey data is researcher bias that comes directly from the survey writer,” according to SurveyMonkey. “This bias is sneaky. It’s caused by survey creators who innocently influence the results to reach an outcome they hope or expect to reach. It’s sneaky because survey creators are typically unaware it’s happening.”

Bias is reflected in the wording of questions. Just as attorneys are taught not to lead witnesses, researchers should avoid leading questions in surveys. This applies to all types of research from online surveys, telephone polls and stakeholder interviews.

SurveyMonkey says unintended bias can be sneaky and sabotage research findings.

SurveyMonkey says unintended bias can be sneaky and sabotage research findings.

Unintended bias also can occur by asking the wrong or incomplete questions, SurveyMonkey says. If you ask respondents to name their favorite kind of pizza, then list a few options, you may skew the results by appearing to limit the range of choice. An open-ended question would be better that allows respondents to list their choice, whether it was pepperoni or pineapple.

Another survey flaw is interviewing the wrong people. An unrepresentative sample can generate findings that don’t reflect the views of the audience you are targeting.

Related to that is excluding a significant cohort from your sample. This can happen when surveys are conducted at times or places where some people can’t participate. For example, a telephone poll that relies only on randomly selected landline phone numbers is bound to underrepresent young people, minorities and lower-income households. A focus group only works for a random sample of people in the immediate area of where the focus group is held.

Bias can rear its head by misreading survey data. “Bias can come into play when a survey creator gets excited about a finding that meets their hypothesis, but overlooks that the survey result is only based on a handful of respondents,” SurveyMonkey says. A common mistake is trying to quantify findings from qualitative research such as focus groups or stakeholder interviews.

The key takeaway is that bias can creep into research at just about every phase of survey work. Tools such as SurveyMonkey make online surveys broadly available to anyone who wants answers. However, researching best practices are essential to ensure you get useful, actionable answers.

Best practices start with clear, objective questions and include a representative sample and a faithful reading of results.

“By remaining true to your survey’s purpose and having a firm understanding of the topics of your research,” SurveyMonkey says, “ you’ll be well on your way to eliminating researcher bias from your survey.”

 

Don’t Underrate or Undervalue Intentional Conversations

One of the most underrated and undervalued form of research are intentional conversations. When conducted with rigor, they can deliver insights on a new logo, a business decision or an advertising campaign.

One of the most underrated and undervalued form of research are intentional conversations. When conducted with rigor, they can deliver insights on a new logo, a business decision or an advertising campaign.

Intentional conversations are an underrated – and too often undervalued – form of qualitative research that can generate insights to power branding exercises, creative advertising and advocacy campaigns.

Insights gained from intentional conversations provide the perspective and language of people discussing a product or idea, which telephone or online surveys generally can’t deliver.

Findings from intentional conversations aren’t – and shouldn’t be – rendered as pie charts or percentages. That’s the role of quantitative research. Polls and surveys can statistically verify the findings from intentional conversations and intentional conversations can help sharpen the questions asked in surveys and polls. They aren’t enemies. They are just tools.

The best research is the research that matches the task. Some of the tasks that match well with intentional conversations include:

  • Shaping a branding strategy
  • Checking stakeholder alignment on a new initiative
  • Evaluating creative content
  • Exploring policy options or product features
  • Assessing management options
  • Learning the language consumers use
We often recommend one-on-one interviews to engage customers, stakeholders, employees or policymakers and gain their collective insight on important topics such as business decisions, product features and creative content.

We often recommend one-on-one interviews to engage customers, stakeholders, employees or policymakers and gain their collective insight on important topics such as business decisions, product features and creative content.

Intentional conversations can take a variety of forms that include focus groups, one-on-one interviews, roundtable discussions, meetings with opponents, point-of-sale intercepts and online dialogues.

What makes this form of research robust is its conversational character. You aren’t asking for “yes/no” answers. You are probing what people think about a subject.

Skilled researchers understand the value of sparking constructive conversations, and, when needed, how to cool down overheated exchanges or prevent an alpha person from dominating the dialogue.

Like any form of objective research, there is no right answer. Questions shouldn’t be framed in ways that bait certain responses. Moderating the conversation should include delving deeper on some points, but not skewing or influence the conversation in any particular direction. 

Many kinds of intentional conversations have the side benefit of being easier to set up and often cheaper. A manager can schedule lunch with his staff. A company leader can call up a persistent opponent to talk over a cup of coffee. You can ask customers or vendors to sit down and talk about working with your business or nonprofit.

The most fruitful intentional conversations rely on rigor and someone experienced at conducting this kind of research. Consistently following a well-designed discussion guide yields comparable information from multiple interviewees. A light-touch in asking follow-up questions avoids bias.

One of the most unsung advantages of intentional conversations – and qualitative research in general – is the use of visuals such as logos, print ads or videos as part of the exploration. This is especially valuable in evaluating creative material. It can look great on the drawing board, but fall flat in a group discussion. Better to have your ego crushed in a small group than after spending a few million to air ads that confuse consumers or don’t succeed in their purpose.

When research budgets are cut or on the chopping block, remember to look at intentional conversations. They may very well provide a cost-effective, multi-purpose research option that delivers the insights you need to make a smart decision, create a memorable logo or run a profitable advertising campaign.

 

Using Research to Find Out What You Need to Know

The moment you think you know it all is the exact moment you need to stop and take stock. Quality, affordable research can make the difference on a new product, rebranding exercise, website home page or ad campaign.

The moment you think you know it all is the exact moment you need to stop and take stock. Quality, affordable research can make the difference on a new product, rebranding exercise, website home page or ad campaign.

The moment you think you know it all is exactly the moment when you need to stop and take stock. Hubris can turn on a dime into expensive mistakes.

Market research and timely public opinion polling is often dismissed on grounds that “we already know the answer to our questions.” That may be true, but it could be a disaster for a business plan, communications strategy or a school bond campaign if it isn’t true.

Frequently hubris is cloaked as a budgetary concern. “We can’t afford conducting any research right now.” Experience shows that many businesses, nonprofits and public agencies can’t afford not to conduct research.

Cockiness can be the cousin of recklessness. Most executives wouldn’t think of making a major decision without legal or financial counsel. So why would they risk the fate of a new product, the design of a website landing page or the effectiveness of an expensive ad buy based on a hunch or a gut feeling?

Research can be overlooked because of unfamiliarity with all its different forms. Many people think of research as only telephone polls or focus groups. Those are common types of research, but there are many other options that may fit better with a project and a budget.

One-on-one interviews is a cost-effective way to gather reliable information. These interviews won’t produce pie-chart results, but they will generate useful perspective and context. Say an executive is ready to launch a new initiative. One-on-one interviews can test whether his top lieutenants are on board or have lingering concerns. A nonprofit is considering a name change. One-on-one interviews can help ascertain how much brand equity resides in the current name and the aspirations for a new name.

For consumer-facing businesses, follow-up online surveys can gauge customer satisfaction and identify problems with products, personnel or shipping.

Roundtable discussions, whether in lunchrooms or at community centers, are an underutilized form of research. You might think of these as informal focus groups where you can collect information directly from participants and view group interaction. Both can provide insight, either by reaffirming what you thought, countering your assumptions or uncovering something you never thought of before.

An old-fashioned idea, which remains relevant, is to walk around and talk to people. Ask employees what they would improve. Ask customers whether you are meeting their expectations. Ask vendors how you could do business better and more profitably.

Research professionals are valuable resources who can give advice on the type of research that matches what you need and what you have to spend. They also can assist on what questions you ask and how they are framed to avoid biasing answers and skewing results.

One final thought. Third-party research, whether in the form of surveys or interviews, can yield more candid responses, especially if the topics explored relate to bosses and their plans.

The fundamental value proposition for quality research is what helps you find out what you need to know, not just what you want to hear.

 

Why Health Care Market Research Makes Sense

Listening to patients is what health care providers do every day to inform their diagnosis, so it makes sense for them to turn to market research to find out what patients like and dislike about their practice, which can inform their marketing and PR strategies.

Listening to patients is what health care providers do every day to inform their diagnosis, so it makes sense for them to turn to market research to find out what patients like and dislike about their practice, which can inform their marketing and PR strategies.

Marketing in the health care space is still in its infancy, but that doesn’t make the industry immune to more generalized marketing maladies.

Social media shaming can challenge reputations. Negative provider reviews can deflect new patients or patient referrals. Mind-boggling bills can befuddle and frustrate.

Perhaps most at risk are doctors and providers that fail to recognize or acknowledge the role of marketing in a successful contemporary health care business – or the pitfalls of not marketing.

While convenience and price are typically drivers for other kinds of business, health care providers increasingly rise or fall based on credibility and experience. People will drive extra miles to see a physician they trust or view as experienced, even if it costs more because that physician is out of their health care network. That has made reputations and patient reviews more significant factors in health care marketing efforts.

However, getting good marketing or PR isn’t the same as running to the grocery store for a gallon of milk. Health care marketing has emerged as its own marketing subcategory, driven by patient privacy protections, governmental regulations and a bewildering health insurance marketplace. Patients aren’t persuaded by a news article or a celebrity endorsement. They put more trust in word-of-mouth validation from other patients.

If reputations and provider reviews play such an important role in patient decision-making, then it behooves health care providers to understand how they are regarded and why they get positive and negative ratings. Put another way, they need some quality market research before trying to market themselves. If you know what patients like and dislike about your practice or clinic, you can concentrate on the positives and correct the negatives.

Market research can take many forms. For a practice with an existing base of patients, it could be as simple as asking for feedback – from how patients are greeted at reception through the bedside manner of physicians, nurses and lab technicians. A more aggressive version of this approach would be to include former patients in the survey.

Tom Eiland  and  Dana Tierney  specialize in  health care market research  that protects reputations and informs client marketing and PR efforts.

Tom Eiland and Dana Tierney specialize in health care market research that protects reputations and informs client marketing and PR efforts.

Focus groups can be an excellent market research tool. The group dynamic of a focus group can provide illuminating depth in both the positive and negative qualities of a health care practice, not to mention the language they use in talking about their health care needs and concerns.

Providers can pay attention to online reviews. Reviews may skew more toward negative comments, but still offer teachable moments of where and how to improve a practice. When false or misleading information is posted, providers can take steps to correct it.

Secondary research can be eye-opening, especially research that shows how providers successfully build trust with their patients and transfer that trust to potential patients. Secondary research can highlight trends in health care marketing and underscore how and when patients look for credible information.

Market research would be wise when implementing new procedures or introducing new technologies, such as telemedicine consultations. Treating patients as partners can build trust, especially if providers listen to concerns and adapt their procedures accordingly.

The point of market research is to inform marketing and PR efforts. Learning what patients like and what they don’t and where they turn for trusted referral information can be invaluable in designing a marketing and PR strategy. And you need a strategy before you start communicating.

Health care market research tends to follow the general pattern of downplaying flashy promises and focusing on concrete benefits. It could be as simple as assuring patients they won’t have long delays in scheduling a visit or cooling their heels in a waiting room for a delayed appointment.

As health care providers should realize, market research benchmarks the status of a reputation, so you can tell if marketing and PR is bending the curve in the right direction or just flapping in the wind. In the end, market research is all about listening to people. That’s something health care professionals can appreciate.

Getting the Message Right

A winning message is one that has been tested to ensure its words and imagery click with the audience it is intended to impress. You could be eating humble pie if you don’t test your messaging first.

A winning message is one that has been tested to ensure its words and imagery click with the audience it is intended to impress. You could be eating humble pie if you don’t test your messaging first.

Organizations can be forced to eat humble pie when they don’t test their branding, key messages or product explanations to make sure their intended audience understands what they are trying to convey.

Staff brainstorming can produce clever ideas, but they aren’t strategic concepts unless tested to make sure they click with customers. Ditto for creative material that can sing to an internal audience, but fall flat with the people you are trying to convince.

Getting the message right is all about making sure you're using the right words, images and emotional content for the particular audience. The only way to have a degree of confidence you are right is to run it by a representative sample of people you seek to reach.

Smart organizations tap into their consumers or target audiences to identify and test messages that work. It takes nothing more than asking questions. In fact, most organizations already have tools that could be employed for effective marketing and communications efforts.

Use focus groups

Invite a small sample of people who fit the target audience to meet with you. Ask questions about the issue or product. Listen closely to the words they use and the concepts they describe. The language they use is the language you need to use to make them understand what you mean. It could be as simple as turning a familiar phrase.

Example: A health insurance client used focus groups to identify new messaging for promotional material. After changing brochures and ads to new consumer-furnished messages, sales increased by 6 percent.

Add a few open-ended questions to surveys

Provide respondents the opportunity to explain what they like, want or need. Ask how they talk about products and issues with their friends. Identify what is important. A note of caution, though: Be sure the survey sample matches the characteristics of the intended audience for the communication effort.

Example: A physician network used comments from an online survey to identify topics for newsletters, content for social media posts and ad themes. The rate of opens and clicks increased as content became more relevant.

Tap into social media

Creating conversations about the product or issue. Follow up with certain individuals to probe for additional information. Again, pay close attention to the words they use and how they approach your product, service or concept.

The key to effective messaging is making it relevant, informative and persuasive. Be sure what you say is important to the audience while providing meaningful information conveyed in words and imagery that resonates with them.

Tom Eiland is a CFM partner and the leader of the firm’s research practice. His work merges online research with client communications and engagement efforts, and he has a wide range of clients in the education, health care and transportation sectors. You can reach Tom at tome@cfmpdx.com.