one-on-one interviews

Research Can Turn Skeptics, Mavericks into an Army

If you are stymied by skeptics or puzzled by a complex challenge, quality research can help by producing data that leads to discipline – and disciples.

If you are stymied by skeptics or puzzled by a complex challenge, quality research can help by producing data that leads to discipline – and disciples.

Through quality research, you can convert skeptics into believers and mavericks into disciples.

People will fight to the death in defense of ideas for which they may have only flimsy evidence to support. Talking them out of their view can be difficult and even acrimonious. Research findings can provide a bridge for them to retreat.

The point of research is to point the way forward based on something more solid than a hunch or an opinion. A hunch or an opinion may be right, and research can be the vehicle to provide it. Research also can expose an idea as off base, even counterproductive. Think of research as idea intervention.

There is no better place to witness this dynamic than a political campaign. Candidates or ballot measure proponents gather a group of key advisers, including important financial contributors. They come to the brainstorming table with a range of ideas, many rooted in the successes or failures of previous campaigns. That is valuable experience, but not a substitute for fresh, robust research into the current circumstances and voter attitudes that will face candidates or ballot measure advocates.

Mark Nelson, a legend in the realm of Oregon lobbying and political campaigns, was unequivocal in his reliance on solid research. A pollster himself, Nelson told candidates and campaign committees that if an idea hadn’t been tested in polling, it was unusable. (His actual phrasing was blunter.) His track record of success in defeating or passing ballot measures is unmatched in Oregon.

Nelson understood that credible data trumps impulsive ideas or even past experience. He would say research findings provided the discipline for a campaign to stay on message, and his triumphs proved him right. He would agree that research can convert skeptics into believers and mavericks into disciples. Winning can have that effect.

The Nelson approach applies to more than politics. Business decisions, marketing campaigns and strategic planning can benefit from a richer understanding of the competitive playing field, consumer preferences or management priorities. Knowing what gels and what thuds is invaluable in selecting a message or designing a product or service.

While some challenges require sophisticated polling, many can get by with less complicated and costly research techniques, such as well-conceived one-one interviews and roundtable discussions, especially if target audiences are smaller and relatively discrete. A representative sample remains vital to reliable findings, but the task at hand should shape the form of research. The people, businesses, nonprofits and public agencies that get the most of out of their research investments are knowledgeable research consumers.

Research won’t resolve every difference of opinion, but it can inform your actions and enlist skeptics and mavericks in your army of followers.

 

 

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.