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7 Tips for creative development in online qual

Tom Woodnutt

Tom Woodnutt

Feeling Mutual

Tom Woodnutt is a planner and qualitative researcher with over 16 years in the industry. He works at the intersection of digital, insight and strategy. Tom has helped many agencies learn how to design research that is more inspiring for both clients and participants. He has also been digital skills trainer for the AQR (Association of Qualitative Researchers). 

In a digital world where copy and creative can be quickly launched and dynamically A/B tested, some might wonder whether there’s still a role for qualitative pre-testing. In my view its value is as high as ever, if not higher. While behavioural data shows you how people interact with content, qual research takes your understanding to an even deeper level by helping you make sense of what people think, how they behave and how they feel.

These tips for creative development in online qual research can be applied to any piece of creative that you want to pre-test, from digital creative to social media content, TV advertising and more.

1. Use online qual research platforms that allow unbiased questions

In some ways online qual research gives you a purer read than face-to-face research. That’s because you can ask questions in private and capture people’s reactions before they’ve been exposed to what other people think. In this way, online qual reduces the ‘group effect’. Make use of these features online and get a private response before opening it up to the group.

2. Get spontaneous responses before probing

As with face-to-face qual research you should ask for spontaneous reactions before focusing on specifics. Online research platforms should allow you to drip feed your questions so you can understand participants reactions without influencing them by the way subsequent questions are phrased.

3. Rotate stimulus across groups

Again, best practice in face-to-face also applies to online qual research. You should rotate the order in which you expose different groups to stimulus, to minimise any ‘order effect’. If the order varies across groups, you can be more confident that their judgements are not simply because they saw a particular idea first or last.

4. Turn useful quotes into video

As the moderator you are the gatekeeper of which comments you choose to prioritise. That’s the strategic and professional challenge facing researchers. Show your faith in the verbatims you share with the client by asking participants to repeat their text based answers to camera via mobile or webcam. This can greatly reduce the time you might otherwise spend hunting though countless hours of video for those few diamonds in the rough. Remember, video can be far more impactful than text only quotes.

5. Ensure stimulus is properly understood

You should ensure that you provide a clear explanation of what the stimulus is before seeking participants’ reactions. In any research, participants can often think that a mocked-up concept is supposed to be a finished ad causing them to judge it on the wrong terms. Additionally, they can fixate on executional details rather than providing feedback on the overall concept. You should address this through the way you phrase the questions and in your moderation.

6. Ask for a score out of ten

I know, I know ‘this is qual, not quant man, why get numbers?’. While I sympathise with the complaint, scoring out of ten does help. Obviously you wouldn’t give an average score to the client on such a small sample. But when it comes to analysis, scores out of ten give you a shortcut for working out how ideas have performed. Build the story of your report back from this less subjective measure of evaluation. It doesn’t have to be an arbitrary score out of ten, it could be focused on something strategically relevant e.g. distinctiveness, emotional salience or credibility.

7. Use group questions to collaborate

Although private, unbiased questions are invaluable, if you want to develop ideas you should open up the conversation to the group. Remember to ask them to build on each others’ ideas or they may not. Make collaboration part of the task and sit back and enjoy their collective creativity. Recruiting people with an aptitude for creativity helps too.

Follow these seven tips and your online qualitative creative development research will bring you better creative than you had before and a profound understanding of your market.


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