Interviews can be the solution

When people think about market research, they often think about big, expensive surveys rather than one-on-one in-depth interviews.  But not all market research projects have to be big undertakings.  Surveys aren’t always the best tools for the job.

Sometimes, the best way to find out what you need to know is to sit down with people and talk to them.

The purpose of in-depth interviews is discovery, where people are asked to share their knowledge and thoughts on a particular issue.  It’s a technique that uses open-ended questions that often begin with “why” or “how”.  The researcher’s role is to ask questions, to listen and to tell the story.

In a world that is constantly moving and where answers are needed quickly, there are a number of advantages to this approach:

  • Deeper insights – in-depth interviews provide a level of detail that can’t be obtained through either surveys or through focus groups. These are  essentially very deep dives into the customer experience.
  • Smaller numbers – 8-10 interviews are usually enough to meet the research objectives for projects with a single target market. Where the market is more diverse, a skilled interviewer may only need three or four interviews per group.
  • Faster adaptations – a small number of in-depth interviews can deliver the information you need to make useful change quickly.  Turn-around times are generally shorter than for surveys – it may only be a few weeks between asking the question and hearing the answer.

Small studies –  great results

A few examples of projects where we’ve achieved project objectives through in-depth interviews include:

  • Market immersion –   A small number of interviews with the “right” people can often help identify the opportunities and risks in a new market.  For example, a client was offered the opportunity to invest in an asphalt manufacturing company.  With no prior experience in this industry sector, he wanted to understand more about the potential risks. 8 in-depth discussions were enough to highlight the potential pitfalls and convince him that what looked like a good investment on paper needed to be looked at more closely. In the end, he chose not to invest.
  • Problem identification – a building company wanted to understand why it lost customers towards the end of the sales process.  Rather than a survey 10 in-depth interviews were sufficient to identify the problems and potential solutions.
  • Concept testing – 8 interviews with existing clients were enough to provide a sense of the likely appetite for a number of new products a large membership organisation was considering introducing.  The interviews identified several concepts of real interest and one that did not resonate with members at all. Those products with potential are currently being refined before further market testing.

To sum up:

Conducting a few in-depth interviews is an approach that can deliver first-class results at a reasonable cost in a short time-frame.  To get the most from your research, here are a few things to consider:

  • What is it that you want or need to know? Being clear about your research objectives will help you identify whether you really need to conduct a survey or whether interviews will be suitable.
  • Who do you really need to talk to?  Current customers?  Lapsed customers?  Potential customers? Screen your participants to make sure they fit the target profile – with only a few interviews, each one of them counts!
  • Be flexible – is your interviewee more comfortable in their office or a cafe?  Would they rather talk to you on the phone than in person?
  • Use an experienced researcher and a question set that’s free of bias – it’s important the information that comes back reflects what the market said rather than what you want to hear.
  • Above all, be honest!  Trust and transparency is key.