The research methods we use

I was at a marketing conference recently, and I introduced myself to people as ‘a researcher’. The question I was asked was: ‘Qual or quant?’

I said ‘Both – and together’ because we conduct stand-alone qual(itative) research here as well as hybrid qualitative- quantitative projects. We never ever conduct surveys without some form of qualitative research.

We are knowledge seekers. Learning is part of our DNA. Incorporating hybrid techniques and using a diverse range of disciplines provides our clients with deeper and richer insights.

We conduct five types of research projects

1. Stand alone qualitative research projects

When you commission qualitative research you will discover that it is one of the best investments you can make. You will learn about your customers or members. You will learn how they think, how they feel and how they live their lives. You will learn the language they use to describe your product or service. You will find out how they differ from each other. It is not surprising that qualitative research is sometimes called ‘discovery research’ because you discover so much!

Qualitative research is used for concept, policy and product development, customer journeys and user and message testing.

Qualitative research methods includes one-on-one interviews, online communities, co-creation, ethnography, and traditional focus groups.  We mix and match any of these techniques to best suit a project. Don’t worry if you don’t know this terminology! We can explain it to you – but the big message is ‘qualitative is more than focus groups’ and more than online discussions.

2. Hybrid research projects

Every now and again, some organisation or another will publish survey results that make my heart sink. Why? because it is obvious that they have jumped straight to survey research without doing any qualitative research. These surveys are easy to spot because they use technical jargon.

That is why we recommend two-stages of research when we are are conducting quantitative research for a new topic that neither we nor our client has researched before.

  • The first stage is a qualitative stage dedicated to understanding the topic and the language the market uses.
  • The second stage is a survey written with the knowledge gained in the first stage. There are many types of surveys: member surveys, customer surveys, stakeholder surveys and general population surveys. These surveys are done either online, or via the phone.
“We hear our customers talk about our product in their own words so that we can use the language our customers use not the language the business uses”

3. Surveys with a cognitive pilot

For projects where we already have existing data and we already understand customer language we will recommend survey research preceded by a cognitive pilot. We also do this for tracking studies if we make changes to questions and wording.

A cognitive pilot interview is a ‘think aloud’ interview by one of the research team with a research participant as they answer the survey questions, noting their comments and any confusion.

Every time we conduct a cognitive pilot we make changes to the survey we have designed, because we discover:

  • That we have wrongly assumed the market behaved in a certain way, or
  • We have used language that the market does not use or understand

4. Semiotics

Semiotics is a cultural analysis technique that is the best way to understand how brands communicate – the language, colour, shape, and symbolism, and for revealing sensory meaning.

This is a desk-based technique – which means that we do not interview or survey anyone. Semiotic analysis is conducted by one of our research experts as a stand alone project or as part of a qualitative research project. It reveals the cultural assumptions that people cannot tell you in interview-based research.

The ultimate goal of semiotics is to unravel the meanings that are built into all kinds of human products, from words, symbols, narratives, symphonies, paintings and comic books to scientific theories and mathematical theorems.”
Marcel Danesi

5. Linguistic Analysis

We conduct two types of linguistic analysis, discourse analysis and plain language analysis

  1. Discourse analysis is a desk-based analysis of written language to reveal how ideas and topics are expressed in mass communication and popular culture. Discourse analysis can reveal the ‘voice’ of an organisation or brand. When conducted side by side with in-person qualitative research, the analysis may reveal differences between the public’s own ways of understanding a topic and the organisation’s, or market’s, understanding.
  2. Plain language analysis. Plain language analysis is one of our message testing capabilities. We use it when testing a large number of (for example) letters or statements. It is desk-based and can be stand-alone but in most cases the plain language analysis precedes message testing with users.

We would love to hear from you.

We 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

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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