By: Donna Taglione, Vice President
Prior to the Corporate Researchers Conference in late September 2016, David Almy, CEO of the Market Research Association (now Insights Association), wrote a short email promoting the event. In his message he said, “You only need one great idea to truly succeed, or one great innovation to truly advance.” Even though his note was endorsing seminar content, the notion of “one” got me thinking. In the age of Big Data, how important is one voice?
In my world of one-on-one interviews and focus groups, hearing the voice of one is critical. No matter the location or space, offline or online, one common thread I’ve seen in nearly every interview I’ve conducted is the presence of doubt in the consumer’s mind. I try to reaffirm to them at the start of every conversation that their perception, their voice, is important. I learn something new or different from each and every person I talk to and some of the most insightful comments are prefaced with qualifiers of uncertainty – “I don’t know if you want to know this or not …” or “I don’t know, maybe I did something wrong, but I noticed…” Respondents are always afraid they’re not telling us the “right” thing.
Big, little, obvious and not so obvious – it’s all important and nothing is “wrong”. The collection of individual voices helps to uncover patterns on a larger scale. Patterns that point us in a direction; patterns that help us weave a story. The beauty of qualitative research is that sometimes these patterns and collective voices force a u-turn because some “wrong,” off-hand comment by a few individuals turns into something of sheer brilliance – the “why didn’t we think of that” revelation.
These are the revelations we seek. In the aftermath of these moments, comes insight and direction. But there are times when client observers believe that the power of one voice can be negated, particularly if that voice does not solidify objectives but alters the direction of project. The remedy is to have open and honest discussions between the moderator and observers after the interviews are complete.
The easel is my best friend in a back room debrief, helping me chart confirmations of previous learning, note questions that still linger and record the gems of any project – the a-ha’s – those things that opened eyes to a new or different way of thinking and/or doing. The best intel often comes from an innocent remark; a remark that inspires a packaging engineer to rethink the design of a container or an advertising person to redirect the creative approach with greater clarity and understanding.
John F. Kennedy once said: “One person can make a difference and everyone should try.” In qualitative research, I know first-hand the importance of one person’s experience and opinion. It is the everyday experiences of individuals that aid product developers, designers and advertisers to make and market better products. We should all keep trying to hear the customer’s voice. It’s the one voice that can, and does, make a difference.