The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 6 Issue 5   October 2010


Your qualitative research captures much more feedback than is shown in the final report. But in order to make use of it later on, you’ll need a system for categorizing, warehousing and locating the information … the subject of this month’s Research With a Twist!

Best regards,

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Some Like it Hot
I love hot sauces and spices. How much? Well, a few years ago, while vacationing in Albuquerque, my husband Dan and I spent three hours at the now defunct Chili Pepper Emporium. We shipped home over thirty different sauces, with names like Walkerswood Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, W.O. Hesperus Shark Bite Mustard, and Dave’s Insanity Sauce. (And those are just the hot sauce names that we can print in a PG-rated newsletter!).

(This was, of course, merely to fill a cabinet that already was well-stocked with representation of our local favorite line of hot sauces, Dr. Gonzo’s.)

Knowing of my hot and spicy fixation, Mark gave me a bottle of Bella Diavolo Extreme Heat for my birthday a couple of months ago. Dan and I wasted no time devouring it, and so last week, after doing some up-front research on the Stop N’ Shop web site, I set off to buy a replacement.

Empty bottle in hand, I walked in and headed straight for the hot sauce aisle. Unfortunately, and despite initially thinking he’d seen it on the shelves at some point, the teenage clerk finally conceded that they “must not carry it anymore.”

I was just about ready to go home empty-handed when another shopper — overhearing the conversation and noticing the bottle in my hand — said, “I think I saw that over in ‘Specialty Foods.'” Sure enough, there was one bottle left and I grabbed it.

It occurred to me the next day that the same, “I think I’ve seen that at some point but can’t find it now” phenomenon often happens in research. We observe a focus group, or read a verbatim and it triggers a memory: “Haven’t we heard that same sentiment before?” Next thing you know there’s a mad rush to dig up the original comment.

But who said it? In which study? In which city? And is that what they really said, or is our vague, collective memory wreaking havoc with the truth?

Spotting Trends Early

Tying together similar sentiments over time and across studies is about much more than just scratching the itch of a nagging memory. From a strategic perspective, it’s about uncovering trends, ideas and leading indicators.

For example, suppose you’re talking with a group of business leaders and someone says, “There is no substance to this alleged economic turnaround; the other shoe is going to fall.” Everyone else in the group may disagree (and if they do, this majority opinion is likely what will make it into the study summary), but this person may be on to something.

It could be the early sign of something significant — something that everyone else has missed. A few months later, when another executive says the same thing, you may want to connect the dots.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if there were a way to categorize, warehouse and locate qualitative research findings within your organization for future reference, weeks (or months) later? There is, provided you establish a data retrieval program containing the following three elements:
  1. Data Capture. The first step when conducting qualitative research, whether focus groups or one-on-one interviews, is to record and transcribe the conversations. The transcription piece is often overlooked, however it’s critical for two reasons.

    First, because without it, finding a particular snippet of conversation is like finding a needle in a haystack — you can’t do a key word search on video. Second, because effective coding (see step 2 below) requires words, not just summarized concepts and findings.
  1. Coding and Categorizing. Whether using coding software (Shameless self promotion: CSR’s proprietary coding software has been supporting this capability for years) or something as rudimentary as an Excel spreadsheet, the goal is to keep track of what’s been said. The more rigorous the coding process, the easier it will be to find something later on. But even a simple spreadsheet may give you enough breadcrumbs to find your way back to the original comments.

    (Note that the coding of qualitative interviews is not an attempt to quantify results [e.g. “30% of people mentioned A and 15% mentioned B, so A is twice as important.”]. It’s well understood that this type of comparison has a number of statistical flaws. The purpose of coding and categorizing is to allow for efficient access to information later on.)
  1. Consolidation. Warehoused data — regardless of how well it’s categorized — is of no use to anyone if it can’t be located. And yet in many cases, the report writer of a study isn’t even a company employee. The client gets the final, already-filtered report, and the nuggets overheard in focus groups or read in verbatims become the stuff of urban legend, subject to each individual’s memory.

    Instead, keep the original transcriptions in a centralized library or within some kind of tool that allows the results to be accessed easily. Again, the more granular the coding used, the easier it will be to trace the necessary path to a particular participant’s comment.
Here’s the Twist: As a practical matter, most of the detail that’s gathered in the qualitative research process is necessarily concealed beneath the summary findings of a final report. Unless you have a process for capturing, coding and consolidating this detail, when it comes to finding it later on, it will be as lost as a jar of hot sauce in the wrong supermarket aisle.

– Julie

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As mentioned above, transcription is an essential step in the qualitative research process. But not all transcripts are created equal. Here are three suggestions for getting the most out of your next effort:

  1. Attribute every transcribed comment to a specific person. Many transcripts simply sort comments by “speaker 1,” “speaker 2,” etc. But what if later on you want to pull out comments made by Asian women? Or east coast seniors? Or something you hadn’t even considered at the time? Unless you attach participant profiles to speakers in some way, you’ll lose these potentially useful insights.
  1. Keep the transcriptions as close to literal as possible. Sure, you need to clean up speech to the point that it’s understandable (some people use lots of “ums” and “ahs”), but as soon as you cross the line into paraphrasing, you’re losing data (forever). Make sure your transcribers are transcribing, not filtering.
  1. Clean up inaccuracies. Filtering aside, you want your transcriptions to be understandable. Transcribers who don’t work in your industry may mishear common acronyms like EBITDA or GAAP. Have an insider review the transcripts (while the conversations are still fresh) and correct any obvious errors of this kind.


Some Like it Hot

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

It’s not too early to plan your trip to The Market Research Event, November 8–10, in San Diego.

We’ll be there as always and hope to see you as well!

“I can’t sit around and wait for the telephone to ring.”

— Tony Curtis, star of “Some Like It Hot,” who passed away at age 85 on September 30th in
Las Vegas

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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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