By: Kea Wheeler, Senior Project Director
1: Travel for work = vacation
Being a moderator and traveling for work, people often comment on how “lucky” I am to travel for my job. It is true that I am lucky to have a career that I enjoy, but being “lucky” because of my work travels is an overstatement.
When I travel for a project, I usually work 9-12 hours per day inside of a temperature controlled, windowless facility. After my interviews are complete, I stagger out into the night air in search of food and beverages and then hurry back to my hotel room to write-up my notes for the day…then repeat. I know what you’re thinking “wait, that sounds like…work.” Well it is work. And this cycle could last for 1 day or up to 10 days if I am participating in a clinic. So travel yes; vacation it is not.
2: Traveling gets you away from the office
When I relate my tale of what it is truly like for me to travel for work, I often hear “well at least you are away from the office.” With the advent of smart phones, and other mobile devices, is anyone ever truly away from the office? Not really. And this holds true for moderators too. Just because I am not physically positioned at my desk in our office building, does not mean that I am “away” from the office.
Once back at my hotel in the evenings, I am answering all of the emails that I received while I was conducting interviews. The work back home doesn’t stop while I’m out on the road and neither do the email/text notifications.
3: Moderating is easy
This is my favorite moderator myth. There are some who look from the outside and see me “talk” for a living. But moderating is much more than simply talking to someone. It is engaging in conversation about topics that consumers may not even know they could converse about at length. When I conduct interviews about a topic or product that consumers take for granted, such as a cleaning product, my interviewees wonder, “What is there to talk about for an hour?” Once we are engaged in the conversation and our time together has expired, respondents are shocked to realize that we did, indeed, talk for an hour.
I will say it is easier to speak to someone about a concept vehicle, but it takes skill to keep a somewhat natural conversation going about toilet cleaner.
Besides maintaining a conversation, my job also entails observing what is happening around me and determining my next move. In all things, body language is important. And as a good moderator, this should always be taken into account. Body language tells me when I need to follow-up on a response, when I need to ask another respondent what their position is on a subject, or when I should let a line of questioning lapse until the respondent feels more comfortable speaking on a certain topic.
So yes, I talk about everything from consumer concept vehicles to toilet cleaners, but if I didn’t also observe what is happening around me, I would only be getting part of the conversation.
4: Report writing is a breeze
I once had a colleague tell me that every time he tries to write a qualitative report, it goes something like this, “I write some people said this, some people said that…and then I die a little inside.” I don’t know if I would equate qualitative report writing to the withering of your entire existence, but for those accustomed to reading tabs and writing reports from the data, qualitative reports can be daunting.
The hardest part about writing a qualitative report as a moderator is trying to make sense of a ton of unstructured data. Not only are you looking for the answers to your questions and behavioral themes, but you are also searching for any context that may be important for a client to understand.
And while a quantitative report is sometimes rated on how many charts and different data cuts can be obtained, a qualitative report is judged by its ability to tell a story in the briefest possible manner. Think more twitter post, than blog. And while not as soul crushing as my colleague indicates, you may just be a little more bruised after your report is finished.
5: We don’t like numbers
I call foul on this. I like numbers. Numbers are necessary as they help to get a story across to a large number of people. This will never change. But what I will say is that in today’s world, you need both numbers and the human context behind the numbers to truly make a difference. Think about all the times you hear people say “I don’t want to be just another number.” It’s not that they don’t want to be counted. What they don’t want is for companies to treat them as only a widget to be tallied and tossed into a heap of others to be tabulated and charted. They want to be regarded as a person.
Qualitative helps to define the humanity behind the numbers. And once you can define the humanity, that’s where change can truly occur in how a company produces and markets their products and services. Once this change occurs, consumers flock to these companies as one that “gets” them. And that will add numbers to a company’s consumer base, its likes, its shares, and its sales – all numbers. Who doesn’t like that?
While there are certain myths about my job as a moderator that I have to contend with, I still love what I do. And I’ll admit sometimes the stars do align and I can tack on a few extra days to schedule a vacation after a project is complete. Not as glamorous as all the myths, but the truth never is.