Conducting Better Research Interviews Leads to Better Marketing

There is an art — and a science — to conducting fruitful marketing research interviews. Here’s how we do it at BS LLC

The tried and true staple of marketing research, desk research, has undoubtedly changed over the years. Long, long gone are the days when you (or a contractor) spent hours in a physical library pouring over vast volumes of old data.

However, despite a genuinely mind-numbing array of sources online, you still arrive at a place where the only way to get the customer or industry-specific information you need is by having one-on-one conversations with the right people

This article will give you a quick overview of how we go about it at BS LLC, where we approach strategy using a Jobs To Be Done (“JTBD,” or sometimes called, “Timeline Theory”) lens.

What this article won’t do is tell you how to go about locating (or “recruiting”) “the right people.” That is a masterclass in and of itself. 

So, we’re going to assume you’ve got a robust list of qualified industry or customer contacts queued up on your calendar. What do you do when the conversation starts?

Set — and fulfill the interviewee’s expectations

During the recruitment process, you’ll want to let your interviewees know what the research is about, and what areas you’ll be exploring. Understand that, despite a willingness to participate and even receiving modest compensation, your subject is still a volunteer. 

Take as much mystery out of the experience as you can upfront. Let your interviewees know that they are there because they are the expert in this particular area, and that the knowledge they are sharing is essential, and will make a difference towards new products, services, or whatever else is relevant to the engagement. Most people enter into these scenarios in good faith, so reciprocate in kind.

Ask for their patience. Let them know that you’ll be offering up rather pedantic-sounding questions, and that you’ll be repeating yourself — perhaps often, along the way.

Listening to your customer’s voice, defining who that customer is, and defining their behaviors as it relates to your brand offering isn’t only good marketing, it’s showing your customer how much you respect them. Research informs everything we do at BS LLC. We’re confident our kind or research will help your brand — and help your customer. Contact Ben Greenberg to get started

Also let them know that, despite your affiliation with Company A or Brand X, your goal isn’t to discuss the merits or flaws of those entities. Instead, the focus is on the results of job processes they enter into and participate in.Of course, secure their permission before you begin to record them. Audio or video recording is highly encouraged. After each recorded interview, you can use digital transcription services to turn the live interactions or video calls into text, and that means they’re searchable. Searchable text takes the pressure off of you as an interviewer to be super diligent with note-taking, liberating you to focus on the conversation.

Personalize the experience

A simple way to get things started after the preamble above is to ask the interviewee to share their professional background, and any personal aspects related to the topic. Ask follow-up questions to let them know that you’re genuinely interested in them as a person, and not just as a repository of facts that you’re trying to tease out.

Attempt to round out The 9 Steps

The aim of JTBD always centers around the person doing the job and the desired result it yields. Who is this person, what is their role, and what is the specific result they are trying to achieve?

This is all pretty dry stuff. And it can be tedious to get your interviewee to talk in mundane specifics. Most will speak in broad strokes and generalities that aren’t measurable. 

The gold, however, is in the mundane, because it’s in the steps people take for granted that gaps and opportunities appear.

To aid you in getting these specifics, you’ll want to inquire about and capture detail for as many of The 9 Steps as you can:

  1. Defining the job
  2. Items or info to gather first
  3. Job prep
  4. Job prep completion
  5. Steps to complete the task
  6. Definition of task progress
  7. Definition of task adjustments
  8. Job conclusion
  9. Archiving or next job prep

We go into more detail on these steps in our White Paper, “Brand-building and Innovation using a Jobs to Be Done Approach 

Fulfilled and Unfulfilled Results

Each of the individual 9 Steps have definitions defined by your customer of what success looks like. Moreover, the entire process aims for a specific, sought-after result. You need to capture those expectations. You also need to define what happens in the interviewee’s mind when a step isn’t getting the hoped-for results! What do they do then? Do they take failures for granted and move on? Do they adapt and improvise?

Principles to keep in mind

From a linear perspective, we’re done. That’s the entire routine! 

If you simply stick to this every interview, the resulting treasure trove of information would get you much further than a series of conversations that often get reduced to discussions about products or brands, and that’s NOT what you’re after. 

However, we can do better. Here are some guiding principles that can help you get to even more juicy details that are meaningful to your customers; the kind that can help you drive change.

The emotional side of things

There are factors other than the usual quantitative goals that can define a successful outcome for any research interview. For example, how might a person think they’ll be perceived by their peers, supervisor, direct reports, family, or friends if they successfully achieve the overall outcome of the job process at hand? How would they feel personally? And then there’s the flip side: what negative feelings enter the picture if the desired result doesn’t come about? Are there feelings they seek to avoid during any particular step or at the end of the process? Emotional motivators such as pride, accomplishment, and yes — fear, embarrassment, and even anger can be revealed, and could have a powerful shaping force on the innovation you’re trying to develop.

Stay linear — “What’s first? Second? Third?”

This process is also named “Timeline Theory” because you’re breaking a task down into 9 steps, and then each of those steps gets examined linearly. To avoid pat, staid, or overly-broad answers to these steps, you’ll want to be gently persistent. “When you’re preparing to do this, what do you do first?” Or, “What comes before you do that?” Eventually most interviewees will start to see the time-based thinking you want them to use.

Repeat and Probe: “What else?”

Probe further whenever you get to the point where the energy surrounding a step or a procedure peters out. A simple way to do that is to ask, “What else,” and then… remain quiet. Don’t rush to fill the silence. Let your interviewee think for a few moments.  In this way, everything included in this part of the process is more likely to be addressed. 

Out on the fringe — Related tasks

Amid one or more steps, you’ll encounter tasks that are not the principal activity or job, but are related. These “side streets” or diversions may be interstitial, or they may run in a parallel path to the primary process you’re examining.The point is: don’t ignore these related tasks. There may be an insight or two to be gained from these other activities that support or inform the current objective.

Patience and Tenacity

Focus groups and survey subjects tend to try to bring conversations back to the brand or service they associate you with. This usually happens with generalized, unmeasurable language that “rates” the product or service. Most often this occurs because the interviewee thinks this is what you’re after.

With gentleness and firmness, return the conversation to your subject’s desired outcome, and the steps they’re taking to achieve that desired result. 

The discipline you put to work in this process will help you craft innovations, solve particular customer problems, and inform your marketing communications in remarkable ways.

BSLLC offers branding, strategy, and design solutions because we believe businesses operate at their highest growth potential when guided by a holistic set of values and goals. 

If you would like to learn more about how BS LLC can help you grow from the inside out, please send us a message or give us a call.  Additionally, you can take an in-depth look at our services and resources. Contact Ben Greenberg