If you are buying or conducting qualitative research there is a simple thing to always keep in mind when planning what questions to ask in what order: start broad, move to the specific.
Picture a V – at the top of the V where there is all that open white space is where you begin with asking broad and open-ended questions, a long way from your objectives. You might start by understanding the target first – what are they like? What is their life like? Allow them to share with you who they are. Keep listening for clues to this as you move down the V.
Next, might be the category – what are their broad rational and emotional associations? Is it a category which is dull, important, frightening, exciting? Does it reflect something they resent or are excited by? Tell me about …, what comes to mind when you think of …..
Understand the competitive set of brands before you hone in on your client’s brand. Cover the broadest brand associations and then pick apart the rest – the product attributes, the personality.
Work your way through the objectives, always starting with the broadest possible question before narrowing down to the specifics to ensure that you are not leading them. Watch out for assumed knowledge and take care not to tell them anything along the way or to introduce any language you haven’t first heard from them.
The magic of qual is that you are allowing people the space to discuss without requiring them to tell you an answer. The fact is that most people don’t know why they do what they do, that’s why you need to allow them the space to discuss, listen to others, reflect and talk some more. It’s your job to listen and observe and build the hypothesis. You find the answers. It’s not up to the respondents to do this.
If you are just peppering people with a series of what and why questions you are doing it all wrong. And if you think it’s about arriving at a consensus you are also wrong. It’s about the insight from the discussion.