Developing your Research Design

Last month, we discussed how important it is to identify your personal and company biases. The next step in connecting to your customer is to develop your research design.  Your research design is your map of how you plan to collect, analyze, and interpret your data.

The following are steps to carry out when designing your research:

  1. Objective Setting
  2. Strategy and Charter Building
  3. Prepare for discussion
  4. Recruiting and Screening Methods

Objective Setting

Before you begin designing your research method it is essential that you outline your expectations and objectives. These will work as a framework for your research design.

Objectives should outline a particular task that you wish to complete or an area you wish to explore. An expectation should outline what you hope to get out of the research.

What are your expectations for this research?

Example: I hope to gain a better understanding of how our end-users view our product in comparison with other products.

What are your primary objectives for this research?

Example: Explore end-users’ knowledge of the benefits of our product and discover which benefits are most important to them. Also, explore what other products deliver on these benefits.

This step forces you to think about what you are going to do with the research. You will learn things you never thought to ask or gain insights that you never bargained for, but when it comes to reporting on it,you want to make sure you designed your research to deliver the information you set out to learn.

Strategy and Charter Building

Start by building a Charter, a sort of “map” that is designed to keep everyone focused on project goals and helps to keep people on task, on budget, and on time. The process of “plan, do, learn” will continually repeat itself during an entire project, but it is imperative to do all three in each phase in order to get the most out of your research.

You can read more about creating a charter here

Prepare the Discussion Guide

Based on your objectives and the location for the research:

  • Consider how you can prepare your respondent with homework before you arrive (diary,photo log, questionnaire, collage)
  • Use prework, such as a collage and diary, or look around the respondent’s home at photos, sports equipment etc. for ways to understand lifestyle, life stage, and environments for unarticulated needs.
  • Ask the same question at different times in the discussion guide in different ways to test your assumptions by making more connections for cross reference and a deeper dive into areas of interest and the respondent’s ‘tacit’ knowledge such as beliefs, perceptions, motivations
  • Use diagrams such as a 24-hour clock to get at all aspects of context such as day part activities, product usage rituals, usage routines for work days and non-work social times
  • Rememberto build in probes to understand thought processes

Some possible exercises and activities

  • Show me
  • Teach me
  • Tell me
  • Imagine for me
  • Photo log
  • Questionnaire
  • Collage
  • 24-hour clock diagram

Sample Discussion Guide for a Semi-Structured Interview

This is a broad example of how to set up the discussion guide. You may be as specific or broad as the situation calls for but remember to include some detailed questions. This will help guide you through the interview and remind you of all the topics and questions you want to cover. The“time” column denotes how much total time should have elapsed between each question. This interview should take an hour and a half.

Determine the Recruiting Method and Write the Screener

“But this isn’t our target customer.”  The most frequent complaint I hear from clients.  “Interesting interview, but this really isn’t our target customer.”  It is not uncommon to discover that the recruit specifically being used by a company for years doesn’t hold up when confronted by a verifiable first-person observation, beyond the phone interview.

Miscommunication, intentional or otherwise is the rule in phone questionnaire research… we depend on random error to smooth out the problem.  When actually confronted with who they actually think they are:

Expect that up to 20% of your site visits will not be optimal for reasons such as:

  • A mis-recruit
  • Inarticulate customer
  • Inappropriate timing and the inability to find a site visit location

Great care should be taken to determine the appropriate target to recruit and then to validate that the recruited customer is the appropriate person for the research study. Particular attention should be paid to the recruiting process because you will usually have a small sample size.

As with most recruiting methods, a screener is a beginning tool used to determine if the person is a qualified customer for the research study.  A screener includes questions to screen the appropriate demographic and psychographic profile of the customer needed for the research.  Some hints to create a screener:

  • Start with broad questions and move to more specific questions
  • Ask non-leading, multiple choice questions
  • To save recruiting time, ask disqualifying questions early within the screener
  • Screen the person for past participation in market research and competitive employment
  • Unless it is a qualifying question, save personal questions such as income, number of children until the end of the screener (Groves, et al., 2001)

You may also want to hire a recruiting facility to find is a great resource for locating facilities in your desired market.

Select a recruiting facility based on:

  • Their understanding of project
  • Price
  • Confidence that they will be able to fill the recruit in a timely manner

You will want to request that you receive regular updates on who the facility is recruiting and make sure they tell you if they are having trouble filling your recruit – for any reason. You may need to adjust your screener if they are having trouble finding people.

One final comment… you are in the field and you see that the person your meeting with really isn’t the customer you would have hoped they would be. What do you do? You have already invested almost everything in the visit just by getting there… consider forging ahead. Why aren’t they your customer? Why do they identify as that kind of person when they are not? What problems does this person have that can inform other visits?

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