In order to determine which qualitative research approach best complements your needs, you must first clearly define your market research objectives. This involves asking the question, “Are you trying to solve a puzzle or a mystery?” Malcolm Gladwell highlights the framework to this question in his article “Open Secrets,”by referring to Gregory Treverton’s method for addressing decisions and discerning which type of problem you are dealing with.
According to Treverton’s theory, puzzles come to satisfying conclusions and provide clear and factual answers. If something goes wrong with a puzzle, identifying the culprit is easy. For example, if you are seeking a simple pulse check of your product or brand you are trying to solve a puzzle. A Communication Check could be an excellent method to determine clear insights and identify any weaknesses and strengthen opportunities. A mystery however, is not so simple to solve. As Treverton describes, “Mysteries are a lot murkier: sometimes the information we’ve been given is inadequate, and sometimes we aren’t very smart about making sense of what we’ve been given, and sometimes the question itself cannot be answered. Mysteries require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, and more often then not the hardest part is not that you have too little information, but too much.”
So how do you identify and solve a market research mystery? Mysteries require high levels of experience and discernment to wade through the ‘noise’ and uncover those underlying insights that are often easy to overlook. Exploratory research methods, such as Ethnographic Studies or In-Store Intercepts are excellent approaches for solving these kinds of complex mysteries. These methods allows us to observe how consumers actually use and experience products and services in their own environment, to determine patterns of usage, current level of satisfaction, unmet wants and needs, and suggestions for improvement. And while the answer may not be a definitive black or white like a puzzle, we are able to translate these observations into clear and valuable insights for your business.
Maybe it’s time to ask yourself the question, “Are you trying to solve a puzzle or a mystery?” If you can identify your market research objectives and discern the type problem you are facing, we can provide the answers for real business opportunities. What are you waiting for?
~ Marilyn Weiss
President & Founding Partner