What Lies Beneath

Advertising Focus Groups have been getting quite the public battering recently – from speakers at our recent BrainFoodStore to commentary in Ireland’s MadMen on RTE. In many cases, the critics are making a very valid point. When qualitative research is done right, it can be hugely insightful. However, it is highly dependent on the skill of the moderator.

Poor moderators skim the surface of a research topic. They take the first response as the real answer and look to the group consensus for an insight relevant to everyone.  Good moderators draw out deeper levels of discussion. They delve into an individual, to find the insights which drive us all.  Qualitative analysis requires an understanding of human psychology, which the best researchers develop through training or intuition, but many don’t have at all.

The challenge with all consumer research, whether quantitative or qualitative, is the limits of what people can actually tell you.

The average person can’t tell you how to create compelling advertising and they don’t know how to design products which will sell. They also can’t tell you the ins and outs of their decision making process, when it comes to brands, products and purchasing – because they don’t really know.

90% of our thoughts are unconscious.

So just asking consumers what they think is no longer enough. I’m just back from our OMG Insight Conference, where both OMD France and OMD Germany shared with us some pioneering approaches into subconscious research. These ranged from using imagery tasks and semiotics, to using implicit association tests. All of their research aims to go beyond what people say and pick up on their unconscious feelings and biases – a much more powerful predictor of behaviour.

Brave new frontiers which bring us one step closer to understanding people better. But there is no holy grail and in reality, we need to keep exploring lots of different routes from subconscious associations to observational research, to the burgeoning fields of neuroscience. All important little pieces of the big puzzle.

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