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Trust Me. I’m the Moderator.

Have you ever stopped to think about the focus group experience from the participant’s perspective? As a moderator of many focus groups, I can attest: It’s kind of creepy.  You get a phone call from a recruiter who asks you a bunch of questions.  After qualifying, you are often left guessing about the topic and given little opportunity to prepare.  You show up to a meeting with a bunch of strangers.  Even worse, there are more strangers watching you behind a glass wall.  And, we wonder why people only give us top-of-mind and safe feedback?

Things must change and here’s why.  In 2016, Harvard Business Review published a pivotal article around The Elements of Value.  The research identified 30 distinct kinds of consumer value, and these value drivers fall into a 4-layer pyramid.  At the bottom of the pyramid are the functional elements such as product quality, saves me time, and simplifies my life.  At the top of pyramid are more personal types of value, such as reduced anxiety, badge value, nostalgia, fun/entertainment, etc.  Even higher up on the pyramid are aspirations like “hope” and “belongingness.”  Increasingly, it is the value drivers at the top of the pyramid that are the differentiators.

The good news is that these top-layer motivators can be identified in research, but not in traditional formats.  We’ve honed a process that allows us to uncover these more emotional drivers. First, there must be a high level of trust between the interviewee and interviewer.  This is developed deliberately and using several touchpoints prior to the formal interview.  Lastly, while it may seem like conducting an interview just means asking a bunch of questions, there is a science to asking questions and engaging people at a more personal level. Professional moderators are trained with techniques of laddering that allow them to uncover higher order needs.

Want to learn more?  We strongly recommend The Elements of Value.  It has been an invaluable framework in our research efforts.  It can be used to segment consumers above and beyond demographics and psychographics.  We’ve also introduced the framework in ideation when looking for ways to improve the overall consumer experience or boost advocacy for existing products.

In this age of consumer experience, we think it is high-time to look at qualitative research from the participant’s point of view.  Purposeful trust-building is just one example that works in other social science disciplines.

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