Long live the extended consumer research session – or do they?

From 45-minute focus groups to even shorter sessions the insight industry is characterised by a renewed interest in system 1 response, fast quick turn-around projects and ‘cheap as chips’ research   We exaggerate to prove the point but defend the role for longer consumer sessions too. Here’s 5 reasons why:

1. We believe in working with consumers as intelligent collaborators. After all, if we were having a discussion outside the ‘bubble’ of research, we naturally debate and discuss. It’s about sharing ideas and building on theories. In other words, the art of natural human conversation.

If the focus is just on what rises to the surface ‘à la system 1’ or quick dip responses then how do we know what we are missing? As per the Johari Window model ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’. One of the tasks for insight should be to reduce that knowledge void.

2. If system 1 response is important, there are ways to capture it without losing the richness of conversation. Techniques exist to capture a natural gut response that can be applied within the context of a longer consumer session. A mixed methodology of short and long consumer sessions can also isolate system 1 and 2 responses.

3. People do not just see an ad or new product once in real life. Engagement or conversely disengagement builds over time and new interpretations rise to the surface. We do not want to lose understanding the ‘response journey’. By using additional techniques e.g. follow up contact to assess recall and stand-out, product trial dairies we can further the understanding of that journey.

4. As researchers, time has always been an issue for the face to face research session. Discussion guides risk becoming a questionnaire as different stakeholders need their questions answered and quite rightly so. However, today’s pressure for shorter and cheaper sessions means taking the time to listen is compromised. We think there is value in taking a step back and allowing the conversation to flow. If we prompt and steer the conversation we may lose important insights which often illuminate the questions you must answer. There’s a skill to balancing the two needs but the luxury of time will make the task a lot easier. In return it will produce far richer insights.

5. With a nod to our international work, some cultures such as China are naturally reticent in articulating a response in the research context. They require nimble but insistent probing to get to the root of the real response and not to rely on the initial response ‘for show’. This requires time to peel away the ‘for show’ veneer.

From a practical point of view longer sessions can be more time efficient. This particularly applies if research happens across several markets. Depth not breadth enables more manageable logistics, efficient use of researcher time and thereby lower demands on budget.