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Insights from qualitative research with retirees

How can qualitative research help you understand retirees?

Qualitative research is conversation-based exploratory research. We use it to understand the deep psychological and emotional drivers of behaviour as well as social and cultural influences.

Methods include one-on-one interviews, in person focus groups, online focus groups, online communities, and ethnography.

In qualitative research we aim to understand someone in-depth, within the context of their lives.

Qualitative research project use small samples but deliver rich insights.

Qualitative research insights are expressed in language and visuals, not numbers.

Qualitative research reveals the human stories that shape retiree behaviour

Organisations who want to offer innovative products to this market need to think about retirees in new ways by asking some deep questions beyond the simple metrics of age, work status or superannuation account balance.

From the stories we have heard retirees tell, these decisions often come down to a sense of identity as independent people with social relationships.

Independence or a burden?

One premise behind the new Retirement income Covenants is that superannuation trustees should help members move away from a ‘nest egg’ mentality so that they spend more in retirement. When you listen to retirees’ stories a nest egg mentality is in many ways perfectly understandable as this is a generation that has seen its fair share of market crashes. Emotionally, a nest egg helps people maintain the independence that they have valued their whole lives up to this point. The fear can be that they will be ‘a burden’ on others if they run out of money.

Always a parent

Our culture places a high value on parents nurturing and protecting their children into adulthood. Because of these cultural pressures it can seem to some retirees that their primary obligation is to the children – to give them money now, and to leave a legacy for grandchildren. These are emotional decisions about a person’s sense of identity as a parent that can’t be easily countered by rational argument.

The role of money

Some retirees especially those over 70 tell us that they simply don’t need the money. They don’t need to spend money on the trappings that shored up their social identity as working people – the cars, and the new furniture and the clothes. They have a new social identity now and are ‘cheaper to run’ – and to some extent this becomes a habit.

For others though this new social identity is a new social group – perhaps new friends to travel with. Building and maintaining this identity may take money.

Why qualitative research helps

As I have suggested, the decisions that people make for and during their retirement sometimes have nothing to do with money. Instead, it is the deep social and cultural issues such as who they are as a person now they no longer work, what their relationship is like with their partner and family as they have aged, and indeed how do people feel about aging.

Qualitative research explores the social and cultural influences on behaviour. In contrast, survey research measures only individual behaviour. Surveys cannot reveal any of the social and cultural tensions that are such a driving force in this market.

What kind of qualitative research will work best?

Based on these insights, we recommend 6 different methods that allow people to express themselves in whatever way best suits them and which is able to uncover these complex issues of identity and the social and cultural tensions and challenges involved. Methods that allow us to understand couple and household dynamics are also useful.

In truth, it’s best to use a mix. Different methods have different strengths.

  • One on one interviews (zoom, at home or in a venue) are a great way to gain feedback on particular pieces of content or products that you have designed, but in fact you can use one on one interviews for almost any topic. Take care though – you need the skills of a professional moderator like us if you want the person to open up about the deeper emotions driving their behaviour. Zoom one on one interviews are also a great way to make sure that the sample is geographically diverse. Interviews with couples help us understand joint decision making.
  • Diaries and other forms of self ethnography. You can ask retirees to document their lives, giving you photos and videos about what they are actually doing. This can be a great way to open up a difficult conversation. It is also a great way to understand the realities of their lives. We can design games and challenges that help to reveal people’s innermost thoughts.
  • In person ethnography. In person ethnography usually involves observing behaviour as someone is doing it in the context where they would usually be when they do it. The aim is to identify actual behaviour rather than the account that someone may give in (say) a focus group. These can be conducted anywhere that is relevant, for example to observe someone as they explore different superannuation funds online.
  • Face to face focus groups suit the social retirees the best. They will be happy to attend, and happy to share their views in public with strangers. These focus groups are a great way to explore social and cultural attitudes towards saving, spending and legacy ideals, or attitudes to advice. If done well, face to face focus groups can be used to explore social and cultural tensions and challenges – see our post on stimulus material to find out more about how to get the most out of face to face groups. They are less ideal for people living with some form of disability, or who are generally quieter and more introverted, and are generally more difficult to conduct in regional areas, so it’s best to combine them with another method.
  • Online communities. Online communities last 3 or more days with each person logging on for a set time – perhaps 30 minutes – each day. When online they answer questions posted earlier by the moderator. These are a great way to explore issues in depth. Participants have much longer to think about their answers than in other forms of research. We can ask participants to watch videos or go to certain shops or websites and then report back. These communities can suit extraverts and introverts alike, but in many cases they will need some tech capability.
  • Semiotic and cultural analysis. Semiotic and cultural analysis is desk-based analysis that takes the artefacts of our culture such as our myths and stories to reveal the taken-for-granted assumptions that people in our society share.

What next?

We have an ebook called ‘How to talk about retirement’. It is for marketing and communications professionals. Contact Sue if you would like a copy.

We are unique in that we understand the retiree market from a cultural, social and individual perspective. This is valuable and unique thinking. For more contact Sue.

Susan Bell Founder & Lead Consultant
Sue Bell, Founder & Lead Consultant

We would love to hear from you, and are always happy to talk through research methods and options with you, if you are not sure what you need. Why not get in touch for a free, obligation-free, and confidential conversation.

Find out more about Susan Bell Research.

Keep up to date with new thinking about user testing, research with ‘older’ people, different research methods, and much more.

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