Research with a Twist
blue lineVol. 10, Issue 4, July 2014
 CSR - Center for Strategy Research
 In This Issue…

twistAndShoutTwist and Shout


While there are not a lot of aspects to Big Data that get to “Why,” sometimes output gathered from non-research-study sources, such as social media, can help you move in the direction of understanding “why.” Click here to read a case study illustrating how CSR used its unique coding and warehousing tools to quantify comments posted to a popular local news site regarding a local employer.

Our categorization process allowed our client to help better understand why:
  • Reactions to new managements’ strategies were so negative
  • Recent communications to customers were unsuccessful
  • Store sales were not improving as expected.
 Quote of the Month
“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

– Robert Kennedy

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Why is it that Summer is so awesome? Why can’t Summer in New England be longer than 6 weeks? Why don’t we have all of our meetings for the next couple of months on the beach?

Here at CSR, we love the question, “Why?”

So much of the market research landscape these days, however, seems to all but ignore this open, unbiased question, leaving us to wonder this Summer, “Where’s the Why?”

signature - Julie
Julie Brown

signature - Mark
Mark Palmerino

Executive Vice President
Julie and Mark
articleOne Where’s the “Why?”
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the question, “Why?” My kids are older now, so they tend to ask mainly for car keys or money. But when they were little, “Why?” used to be their favorite question. Not only do Louis C.K. and his TV-daughter portray this brilliantly, it’s amazing how much the audience learns, thanks to his daughter’s dogged (many parents would say “incessant”) probing.

Young children are looking for the big picture – they need to know not just the rules, but about the whole system that makes the rules necessary. Unfortunately, as most of us aren’t children anymore (though summertime does help many of us feel younger!), in this age of instantaneous answers and giant data sets, we tend to bury that innate child’s curiosity. Instead, we use our adult’s viewpoint to focus (often, more than we need to) on the process-oriented “What,” frequently at the expense of the more visionary, aspirational “Why.”

So, why are we, as researchers, not asking “Why?” as often as we could?

At CSR, we think there are at least a few trends that discourage or distract from the posing of this important question, including:
  1. The Rise of Big Data or Data Analytics

    As discussed in a recent New York Times article, Big Data is ubiquitous these days. In fact, I just googled “Big Data” and got 825 million results. By comparison, “Qualitative Research” netted 13.5 million results.

    Of course, knowing the number of results doesn’t tell me anything about Why there is currently 61 times more content about big data on the internet than for qualitative research. And that’s just the problem with Big Data! Lots of “what,” not so much “why.”

    Why don’t we illustrate with an example? Suppose that we find out, through data analytics, that a particular insurance provider sells more life insurance in a particular region when tornadoes are in the weather forecast. So, we assume, without asking any customers why they’ve purchased this life insurance, that the imminence of a life-threatening event is the driver, and we then time an onslaught of ads for days when tornadoes are predicted.

    But, what if we actually do ask customers who purchased the insurance at those times, and find out that almost all of them took the day off due to the forecast, and were therefore home to receive a cold call from a local agent? On those days, customers were more likely to pick up the phone because they wanted to hear any available news about the weather. The reason for the purchase, therefore, was due more to availability and to the channel used (phone) than to fear of death!

    In this second scenario, a more targeted, and more accurate explanation of the correlation between policy sales and the weather could be found, and a better solution could therefore be crafted, because the question “Why” was asked!
  1. The Continued Popularity of Closed-Ended Surveys

    Closed-ended surveys have similar issues.

    For example, in helping to design a recent satisfaction study, our business services client was much more focused on what their customers like and don’t like about their relationship, and much, much less interested in why. They resisted efforts to add a qualitative phase to the research (our top recommendation), and even edited out the open-ended questions we added to the survey (our distant second recommendation).

    This is too bad – “Why?” allows us to understand customers’ motives, therefore opening up the field of possible responses and helpful next steps to address any issues.

    Instead, the survey included a lot of questions about “what” customers liked and disliked, but not much about “why” that’s the case. While of course it’s important to know that customers don’t like being kept on hold, knowing the reason why they don’t is incredibly useful.

    If the reason is that they are afraid they’ll be transferred to someone else, and will have to explain their problem more than once, then the solution is not necessarily to reduce the frequency with which customers are placed on hold, which we might do if we didn’t know the “Why” behind the dislike. Simply requiring representatives to assure customers that they will not be transferred to someone else could be a much easier, and potentially less expensive, solution.
  1. Use of Focus Groups as a Common, or Only, Qualitative Methodology

    Yes, it’s not a typo! Contrary to popular opinion, we contend that focus groups do not answer the question “Why?” very well.

    Typically, in a focus group, not everyone is asked the same question in the same way – research participants bounce ideas off of each other, and build on each other’s responses. Instead of getting a clear sense of motives from each research participant, what usually results is an amalgam of the popular opinions expressed by research participants, often driven by whomever happens to emerge as the group leader.

    Talking with customers and prospects one-on-one – in-person, by phone, or online – is a better approach to understanding their motives clearly. In an in-depth interview (IDI), the research participant can express opinions and preferences without adjusting to meet the expectations of a group. In addition, the interviewer can spend more time probing that person’s responses, and can adapt probes to match that particular research participant’s communication style.

    In other words, I-D-I is a great way to get at W-H-Y!
Here’s the Twist: In order to understand customers’ vision and motivation, it’s important to ask them “Why?” in a systematic way. Trends and tools that tend to undermine researchers’ dedication to this question include the prevalence of big data, closed-ended surveys and yes, even focus groups. Being aware of this dynamic and adding consistently asked, “Why” questions will add immensely to the insight you gain for your organization. And … why not?


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Here are some ways that researchers can add more “Why” to their research efforts:
  • Test correlations gained from data analytics: Amazing, powerful relationships are uncovered on a regular basis by Analytics teams. Instead of assuming what the correlations mean – test them. With customers. Ask them “Why?” they did what the data suggests!
  • Add a qualitative phase after quantitative studies: Once you’ve learned “what” is driving satisfaction, or interest in a particular concept, or brand affinity, conduct some in-depth interviews with customers and prospects to find out “Why?” This will improve your ability to respond with the most relevant marketing or sales strategy in a cost-effective way.
  • Try 1:1s instead of focus groups: IDIs are much more well-suited to understanding motivations and preferences of individual research participants!
Finally, we suggest that you carefully consider your different audiences when trying to make the most of “big data”. Big data generally refers to the practices, patterns, and social media input of consumers… millions of them, which is what makes the data so “big.” But, for many companies, their “biggest” clients are not consumers, but other business entities. Understanding C-level executives’ decision-making is, in many ways, the antithesis of “big data”, and asking “why” of this rarified audience is critical to successfully developing products and services that appeal to business leaders.


aboutUsAbout Us
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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