As a true qualitative market researcher I love to ask questions. Each question should lead to another,  and I cherish consumers’ elaborate answers, and also look to glean information from their nonverbal behaviors.

This mindset caused me to get easily frustrated whenever I was subjected to a quantitative survey, allowing me no room for a lengthy answer. This was particularly difficult if none of the response scales or categories reflected my attitude or state of mind. “Surely this researcher would end up with no insightful results whatsoever!!”….was what I would end up thinking.  

Consumer safari

So, here I was many years ago, doing a ‘consumer safari’: immersing myself into an ordinary family’s’ typical Friday evening at home gathered around the TV. My client, a cable provider, hired me to take  an ethnographic approach to focus on ‘how people watch TV’. This ethnography afforded me every chance to observe and ask questions if they came up, just as I liked it.

My evenings on their couches were just as insightful as they were ‘cozy’, as we say in the Netherlands (gezellig). However, we could never draw any firm conclusions from these visits because these data weren’t quantitative. At the time I didn’t see the value in quantifying data obtained from qualitative research, partly because I couldn’t really envisage how one would go about such laborious task.

Patterns in behavior?

Then I joined Noldus, specialists in naturalistic observations and behavioral analysis. It was soon after joining that I learned how the right tools and expertise make such tasks manageable, and how much value lies in quantifying ethnographic data. For example, I saw how otherwise unnoticed or unimaginable behavioral patterns emerge from the wealth of data. Moreover, facts emerging from these data are not mere ‘insights’. I may still have doubts regarding the quantification of self-reports, but definitely no longer about the quantification of objective information such as behavior. Read some of the cases Noldus consultants have worked on here.

I am now wondering how much more value we could have added at the time with quantifiable data. For example,  TV remote handling. Who is using the remote, how often is it switched to another family member, how many channels are zapped through, how long is one single channel watched, what is the total time spent per channel? How long does each family member actually gaze at the TV, when are conversations occurring, when do people stand up to go to the kitchen, etc. All of this quantifiable data can be gathered by trained Noldus consultants;  information that the family members could not have possibly answered, nor could I as an observer have kept track of while sitting on the couch, without losing a feel for everything else that was going on in the room.

When searching for background information for this blog post, I came across an older blog post. In this post it gives an example of how rigorous and structured coding of a whole series of behavior (from unpacking, preparing and consuming a food) pays off by delivering unsuspected conclusions. Namely, it was not the sensory/functional attributes of the food itself, as measured by questionnaire, that significantly contributed  to overall satisfaction, but certain other behaviors during consumer interaction with the packaged food. Without these key insights, that can only be gathered through quantitative behavioral measurement, the manufacturers would have surely put their efforts into improving the wrong elements!

It is the combination

I for one believe that combining objective quantitative analysis of observations with the insights gained by participant observation comes closest to taking a peek inside a persons’ mind and heart. If you want to truly learn how your target group behaves in your area of interest, and not just take their word for it, quantification of the ethnographic approach may well be the method for your objective. To learn more, get in touch with one of our consultants.