The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 5 Issue 2   March 2009


Whether in sports or in market research, stories make the details come alive. In this month’s Research with a Twist we offer suggestions for using stories and data together most effectively.

As always, please click here to send us your thoughts and comments.

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Is Your Research Super Bowl-Worthy?

I have to confess, this year’s Super Bowl just didn’t grab my attention. Without my fair-haired New England Patriots in the game (or for that matter, anywhere to be found this season), for me, this year’s big game was much more about “The Event” than it was who would win or lose at football.

It seems that for most people, most years, that’s the way it always is. Oh sure, there’s a minority of true football fans watching, but we all know that the only way you’re going to get 98.7 million viewers to show up at the same time on the same day is to offer more than just the game itself.

For proof of this you need look no further than at the proliferation of Super Bowl “back stories” — all over the newspaper, in the pre-game coverage and on the web. Among them were unlikely coaching combinations that made all the difference; last minute injuries — and miraculous recoveries — that carried the day; and, of course, individual players who found their way to the biggest sporting event of the year by overcoming heart-wrenching set backs and personal tragedy.

(Speaking of which, comedian Andy Borowitz quipped during last year’s Olympics: “A member of the U.S. Olympic diving team was disqualified from competition today when it was learned that he did not have a sufficiently compelling human storyline to exploit…”)

Interestingly, while we wouldn’t care very much about the stories without the game, it’s the stories themselves that turn the cold facts and statistics of sport into something worth watching, and that help us to understand the bigger picture.

Market research works in very much the same way. If your projects start and end with the gathering of quantifiable data, ignoring the human drama that drives the numbers, you’re leaving a lot of value, insight and persuasiveness on the table.

Indeed, in a recent article in AdAge, Kim Dedeker, market research VP for no less than quant-obsessed Procter & Gamble, went as far as to say, “…market researchers need to shift their focus toward listening and developing ideas better on the front end and away from ‘feeding the metrics monster.'”

We couldn’t agree more. Quantitative research is vital, but by adding qualitative insights, companies benefit in several ways:

  1. Qualitative research adds color to the numbers. Super Bowl or not, stories are more compelling and more memorable than numbers alone. They’re also easier to digest, particularly by the portion of your client base that is less numerically oriented than you.

    In our work, we often circle back at the completion of a quantitative phase, with the specific purpose of identifying (and then interviewing) some number of individuals (anywhere from 15 to 75) whose personal stories are representative of our findings. These anecdotes, while not statistically significant in and of themselves, give impact to the data. (It’s worth noting, too, that it’s these stories that clients repeat for months and years to come when recalling a study’s findings.)
  3. Qualitative research yields additional questions. In market research classrooms and lecture halls across the country, the standard research project formula (theory) has been, “Find out what to ask (qualitative), ask it (quantitative), find out what they meant (qualitative).” Budget realities in recent years may have necessarily trimmed back that sequence (practice), but the benefits of knowing what’s behind the numbers still exist.

    For example, suppose you conduct customer research and find that satisfaction has gone up by three points since last year. Congratulations, but why? If the purpose of research is to make business decisions and take informed action, you need to know what’s behind the change. A qualitative follow-up — one that allows people to share their stories and motivations — adds considerable value to your numerical data.
  5. Qualitative research reinforces customer relationships. Most enlightened companies understand the importance of strong customer relationships and there’s no shortage of senior managers willing to champion this notion. And yet many of these same companies employ research approaches more suitable to lab mice: Find them, bring them in, run them through some data-gathering drills, feed them and set them free.

    Winning back trust, by contrast, requires something different… something that goes well beyond just the information value of qualitative research. Real conversations, in which we engage in an authentic give and take with respondents, is appreciated. If they trust you, the people behind the colorful stories will help you succeed; treating them as more than just data is a big step on that path.
Here’s the Twist: In the fast-changing world in which we live, viewing quantitative and qualitative research as an “either or” proposition is like deciding between offense and defense when building a football team. The only teams that get to the Super Bowl are the ones who learn how to make them both work well together (as the New England Patriots have shown in past years, and hopefully, will do again very soon!).

— Julie

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Our February 2008 edition of Research with a Twist looked into the concept of ethnographic research — what it is and how it works. In short, it’s a research approach based on gaining insight through first-hand, in-person, behavioral observation, often by moving in with a family or shadowing someone in a business environment.

It has many benefits, some limitations, and one serious drawback: cost. Scaled-back versions of ethnography, leveraging technologies to replicate the in-person observation element, offer much of the value at a significantly reduced price.

The key is to remotely stay in touch with respondents throughout the study, particularly at key points in their behavioral and decision-making process. For example, in conducting research regarding how sales people develop proposals to prospects and clients, we…

…asked participants to fill out a “forward looking” diary, breaking their day into several parts and estimating how they expected to spend their time over the next week.

…contacted participants at the end of the week via phone to review their plan for the week and see where it diverged from their actual behavior.

…asked participants to keep a log. “Keep track of every time you’ve done anything that relates to proposal development.”

…contacted participants several times throughout the week, to learn more about what they were working on, what went well and what they found frustrating related to proposal development.

As a result, we gained important insights into process roadblocks and potential solutions, while avoiding the significant costs associated with traditional ethnographic research.


Is Your Research Super Bowl-Worthy?

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

Happy Birthday To Us!

We’re happy to share the news that CSR celebrates its 30th year in business in 2009.

Founded in 1979 to explore ways that the richness of qualitative research can be usefully paired with the statistical reliability of quantitative data, we’ve been helping clients adapt to a range of business opportunities and economic trends for over three decades.

To celebrate, we’re holding a contest. The first three readers who reply to this e-mail with the correct answer to the question below will receive a commemorative gift from CSR:

Which three of the following did not occur in the year that CSR was founded (1979)?

  • Shah of Iran is overthrown

  • Elvis dies

  • Sony introduces the Walkman

  • Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister

  • The comic strip Garfield debuts

  • Star Wars is released

  • Apple Computer is founded

Click “reply” to send your answer!

“The best leaders… almost without exception and at every level, are master users of stories and symbols.”

— Tom Peters, Author, Consultant, Trainer

Problems? Click here to send us an email with your request.
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result, our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.

Understanding What People Really Think

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