Ken Stern

About Ken Stern
 Qualitative Research
Branding & Consulting

Qualitative Research

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research, such as focus groups or individual interviews, is a powerful tool for exploring the dynamics of a market as well as understanding why people buy – or don’t buy – certain products or services. It tells us about the emotions, motivations, rationales and beliefs that influence their purchasing decisions.

Whether we are selling a product or a service, qualitative research provides valuable insights about what our prospects need or want, how they perceive us, and how we can reach them better.

Unlike quantitative methods, such as surveys, which catalogue explicit values, rational structures and top-of-mind associations, qualitative research probes what lies beneath the surface. When properly executed, qualitative research provides strong, strategic insights—not observations.

Qualitative research does not always need to be conducted in traditional focus group facilities. Ken has used ethnographic/observational techniques in less conventional venues such as

  • Private homes
  • Sporting events
  • Bars and restaurants
  • Workplaces
  • The point of service, where this technique provides the ultimate vantage point — a close-up of your client’s products and services through the eyes of the consumer

Ken offers the full panoply of qualitative research techniques, in each case helping the client choose the one that best addresses their product or service, target audience, and marketing needs.

Focus groups
Individual depth interviews
Ethnographic research

Hybrid techniques

Focus groups

One of the most valuable benefits of focus groups is leveraging the dynamics of the discussion that occurs among respondents. They are especially beneficial in the early stages of the product development cycle or when you are gathering information.

Ken has conducted hundreds of focus groups both in the U.S. and overseas. During groups, he applies a highly interactive, lively moderating style that encourages respondents to do most of the talking without having a couple of people dominate the discussion.

If appropriate, he relies on a variety of innovative non-verbal, projective and group exercises, both before and during the groups, to break down barriers. The goal is to help respondents relax and encourage them to open up.

Individual in-depth interviews (IDIs)

These interviews can offer unique benefits. Because we spend more time on the topic with each respondent, they tend to produce more detailed information than focus groups. Every interview can be tailored according to the respondent’s level of sophistication. IDIs also avoid the “group think” of a focus group, which can discourage some respondents from expressing a contrary viewpoint.

Ken recommends IDIs to clients who are in an evaluative, rather than early exploratory mode, and want the opinion and perspective of the individual, rather than a group. It is often much easier to get respondents to participate in IDIs rather than focus groups, since they require less of the respondent's time and can be worked into busy schedules. They are also valuable when confidential or sensitive information is going to be discussed.

Ethnographic research

Sometimes marketers, product engineers and designers need a more in-depth understanding of how and why people buy products and the meanings that they attach to them. To do this, firms have hired Ken to literally hit the streets, observing people in a variety of settings to understand how they interact with products. This technique produces valuable insights that are difficult to uncover through other forms of qualitative research.

Hybrid techniques

Certain situations call for a combination of qualitative research techniques. For example, you might use a traditional one-on-one, in-depth interview to get acquainted with a customer and understand what was at stake in his or her in product use. This might be followed by an ethnographic approach where you observe the customer in a store or online studying other options or making buying decisions, or at home using the product.