5 craft skills of the digital strategist part 2: Qualitative analysis

So yesterday, we heard about why getting to grips with data is vital for digital strategists.

Today, it’s all about getting away from your computer and talking to real live people in real life:

2. Qualitative analysis

Probably the most important thing digital strategists need to do is ask ‘why would the consumer care about this?’ and yet all too often we don’t spend as much time with our target audiences as we should.

Ad agencies do, as their clients pay for them to hold focus groups, both to look for insights and to test their creative work.  Digital agencies tend to be seen as further down the food chain (although not always) and are supposed to just make things without questioning them too much – but we should be doing the same as our advertising counterparts and starting from first principles: what is the insight? What is going to work for the people who are actually going to use this?

Qual research is an art form and it doesn’t just mean focus groups, although moderation of groups is possibly the hardest and most pointless or useful qualitative thing you can do (depending on your point of view.)  I’ll probably write more about moderating at some point.  I kind of love and hate doing it all at the same time.

The good thing about groups is you can see what ‘real people’ say to each other about something – in a good group you can see real conversations about the topic unfolding in front of you.

The bad thing about groups is all the things people say are bad about focus groups – there’s always one opinionated person who biases the outcome, they bully everyone else into agreeing with them, people are on their guard and don’t say what they really feel, and so on.  You don’t get the truth in a group blah blah blah.  I don’t think groups are right for all digital projects, but they can be right for some things, for example, getting to understand the basics of what people think about brands, and to test different routes and territories.

Maybe you get better results from an online panel but so far I’m yet to be convinced.  No one seems to turn up for those, and they take forever.  You don’t get the immediate response you get in a real room.

I agree that interviews and user testing are more useful than groups for certain things, e.g. understanding how people use websites and for gathering detail.  But focus groups are useful and they should never be discounted altogether.

A skilled moderator will navigate the dynamic of the group pretty quickly, and stay on top of things.  They’ll tease the insightful stuff out of the quiet people and make sure the opinionated people feel heard but don’t dominate the chat.  A skilled moderator goes in and stays open to what people are saying all the way through.  Above all, you need to be a good listener and be aware that sometimes the subtext is more interesting than what people actually are actually saying.   Those are the skills digital strategists should have.

Maybe the strategists who are skeptical about groups just haven’t had decent research training.

Tomorrow, let’s have a change of scene and talk about why it’s important for digital strategists to think like web designers and have some of the skills – but be quite bad at them.

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