Be Careful What You Ask (For)

I’ve never seen data showing correlations between findings in qualitative research and people’s actual behavior. We use our findings or “learnings” as input to our judgments and decisions.

That said, I do know there are some questions you can ask in qualitative research that are practically guaranteed not to correlate with people’s actual behavior. In my own work, I beg clients not to have me ask those questions, or if we must ask, to ignore the answer and focus on the response to the follow-up “why do you say that?”

Here are the questions that I’d rather never ask in qualitative research:

1) “Why don’t you… (buy this product,

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like this ad, etc.)?”

2) Any variation of “How likely do you think you would be to buy this product, if it were available?”

The answers to “why don’t you” are usually very unhelpful. “Why don’t you drive a Buick?” Well, I don’t drive a car. I live in Manhattan. OR “Why don’t you eat Fig Newtons?” Well, I just don’t like them. OR “Why haven’t you bought cemetery plots yet?” Well… (and what follows are usually lots of rationalizations and explanations that may have little to do with the truth.)

Truth is, most reasons why people don’t do something or buy something have a lot to do with things marketers can’t control.

Truth is, people generally can’t predict whether they will or won’t change their behavior to buy a new product in the future. So they give reasons because you asked, and they’re being paid to answer, but those reasons have

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little relation to their truth.

Don’t despair, though! We can get at the underlying issues, with careful, thoughtful questioning and analysis of responses.

Instead of asking “why don’t you…” we can ask “What are some of the things that would make this useful to you? What are some of the things that would make this not useful for you?” And then probe to understand what makes the barriers, barriers.

Or “What do you see as some of the strengths of this new product? The limitations? Do any of these strengths help fill a need you have? What? How? What makes these things limitations for your life?”

More helpful, more insightful.


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