Post-Election Lessons: The Case for Qualitative Research and Analysis (siteground)

This is not a political post. It’s not even about politics, actually. It’s about research.

In the wake of this presidential election, many words are being written about why the so many polls, all those surveys, got it wrong. The reasons are complex, as you might imagine.

It is also the case, though, that not enough of those who predicted a Clinton victory truly listened to, without discounting, the feelings of many of those who voted for Trump. And this is where we make the case for qualitative research – especially for talking and listening to people who are not like you. Marketers, like political pundits, can too easily fall into the trap of thinking that the target audience thinks like them, or that “Who in their right mind could look at X and not see it the way I do? If you can’t see it, you must be stupid, and I’ll dismiss you and your opinions as having no value to me.”

The essence of qualitative research is choosing exactly the right people to talk to, asking questions and probing in the right way, and then listening to what your target has to say. And following up the open-minded listening with thinking deeply (that requires analysis, not just drawing instant conclusions within minutes of the last interview). It requires us to resist the temptation to ignore the comments you don’t like, the ones that tell you your product won’t work, or your ad isn’t clear, persuasive, or engaging because the person who made the comment is obviously an “idiot” because s/he dresses or speaks “funny,” or isn’t as articulate as we…. But mostly, truth be told, because we are uncomfortable with hearing something we don’t want to hear.

In my decades doing qualitative research, I’ve trained myself in the art of listening without judgment, and accepting that though not every belief or opinion is based on facts, every single one has value; meaning and insight that must be analyzed and integrated into our understanding of people.


Kathy Cramer, author of “The Politics of Resentment” had this to say in an illuminating Washington Post interview:

That’s partly about listening, and that’s partly about spending time with people from a different walk of life, from a different perspective. There’s nothing like it. You can’t achieve it through online communication. You can’t achieve it through having good intentions. It’s the act of being with other people that establishes the sense we actually are all in this together.



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