Traditional Qualitative Research Methodologies
Ethnography, In-depths and Focus Groups
If you truly want to observe how people behave in their everyday lives, then Ethnography is one methodology that helps achieve this goal. Originating in anthropology, Ethnography traditionally refers to the practice where researchers spend prolonged periods of time living within a culture in order to study and understand it. The term Ethnography has been coined within the Qualitative Market Research profession to describe situations where researchers spend periods of time observing / interacting with participants in their everyday lives.
Ethnography differs to the more common interview-based research techniques where interaction with research respondents involves one-on-one “in-depths” (aka “depths”) or Focus Groups that take place outside the participant’s own environment. In-depths and Focus Groups are the mainstay of qualitative research as they are more cost effective to conduct than a pure Ethnography, can be carried out using more respondents and enable trained researchers to get under the skin of the participants and probe their motivations and behaviours. Focus groups also allow brands to observe the Focus Groups from “behind the mirror” which enables the brand to directly observe participants’ attitudes and opinions.
However, the limitation of in-depths and focus groups is that they typically take place outside of the participant’s everyday environment thereby limiting the extent to which the researcher can truly uncover real-world, real-life behaviours.
The advantage of Ethnography over focus groups or depths is that the Qualitative Researcher gets to observe the respondent in their real-world context and as a result is much more likely to observe subconscious / spontaneous behaviours and – ideally – the hidden needs of the consumer that are impossible to determine in an interview based format.
However, Ethnography does suffer from the “observer effect” where participants tend to modify their behaviours as a result of the presence of the researcher. Furthermore, ethnography is a very expensive technique, especially at any form of scale and as a result is only typically within the budget of larger clients.
Post Rationalisation Effects
In-the-moment research methodologies seek to minimise the impact of post rationalisation. In-the-moment refers to any methodology that can observe or capture the spontaneous behaviours or feelings of the respondent while they are doing what you asked them to do. Ethnography (notwithstanding the impact of the “observer effect”) is one way to truly observe consumer behaviour in-the-moment. However, this is expensive, time consuming and beyond the reach of most clients.
In-the-moment methodologies are particularly relevant to any shopper research or research that requires the researcher to truly understand the behaviours and motivations of the participant when they do what you asked them to do. Mobile and smartphones are rapidly empowering researchers to capture more in-the-moment observations at a clarity and scale that was previously previously impossible. By asking a participant to record their feelings or video their actions when they actually do what you ask them to do, you are far more likely to uncover true behaviours and as a result get a deeper understanding of the real motivation of the consumer.
Furthermore, with a one-to-one, private and real time connection to multiple participants using a platform like Indeemo, you can quickly determine if different participants behave in the same manner and, when they do, you can instantly trust the reliability of this insight as there is no group-bias at play, something which is typically a factor in traditional focus group formats.
Whenever participants are asked to diary their experiences or discuss their experiences after the experience took place, their responses are likely to be post rationalised i.e. they recount their experiences from memory and are more likely to post-rationalise the decisions they made at the time. Post rationalisation is a issue with any research that occurs “after-the-fact” and as a result, the responses need to be analysed accordingly. To counter post-rationalisation effects, many researchers are looking to try more in-the-moment methodologies and this is where mobile is rapidly evolving.