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Qualitative research results – what’s next?

Qualitative research results example - quotes from market research respondents on IT account manager service

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Why read this? : We explore what should happen after qualitative research results. Learn from our example how to create ideas and a plan from your research debrief. Read this to get more ideas out of your qualitative research results.

Qualitative research digs into the “why” behind your customers’ thoughts, emotions and actions. You ask open questions in focus groups and depth interviews to better understand customers

However, doing the research isn’t the end of the market research process. You still have to analyse the results and turn those insights into ideas and an action plan.

It can often be challenging to turn your qualitative research results into clear and compelling actions. That challenge is our focus this week. 

Market research process - Flow diagram showing define the business problem - the research brief - the research plan - do the research - analysis an action plan

Case study - Qualitative research results

We’ll use the case study results from our qualitative research guide as background for this article. 

This research asked an IT business’s customers about their experiences with the company. It also asked open-ended questions about how they evaluated suppliers. Its lead research question was “Why would Heads of IT choose us over competitors, if quality and price are similar?”. 

The results debrief was too detailed (a habit of many market researchers that drives you crazy) to share hereHowever, see the image for example quotes. 

Qualitative research results example - quotes from market research respondents on IT account manager service

Gather those who can decide and act

To start, you’d look at who is responsible for making decisions and acting on the research results. In a small business, this might be just one person. 

However, let’s assume that this company is bigger, and there are more functions and management layers to consider.

In such cases, mid-level managers are usually responsible for managing the next steps from qualitative research results. They control the budgets and teams that make things happen.

Business meeting round with a man presenting in front of a screen to 5 colleagues

The market research team normally organises and facilitates this next steps meeting. They’ll already know the stakeholders from the research brief. They’ll use this as the starting point for gathering the right people. The ideal criteria for attendees are those who :-

  • manage resources (money, people, time) they can allocate to ideas and actions. 
  • have relevant skills and experience in converting customer feedback into ideas and action plans. 
  • have an open-minded and positive approach to creative thinking and idea generation.

Example - next steps meeting invite list

In this case, the market researcher’s invite list was :- 

  • Marketing Manager.
  • Marketing Innovation Manager. 
  • Head of Field Sales.
  • Sales Learning and Development Manager.
  • IT Business Partner for sales.
  • HR Business Partner for sales. 

That’s 7 people (including the market researcher) from 4 different functions.

Five people's hands side by side on a wooden table

This is about right in terms of people and functions for this type of session. Avoid having too small a group. You need diversity in expertise and perspective. But also avoid too large a group. This makes the process slow and unwieldy. A group of 5-7 relevant and engaged managers works best in most cases.  

Prepare for the next steps meeting  

The meeting organiser should send out the full debrief at least 3 days in advance. All attendees should ensure they’ve read it. 

It also helps creative thinking to give them a small pre-meeting task to start their brains working on possible ideas and actions. 

This triggers the Zeigarnik effect. Their brains get more time to think about a problem and so come up with more and better answers. (See our thoughts about thinking article for more on how this works).

Woman wearing a grey sweatshirt and looking at her phone in a dark room

As “pre-work” often feels like just more work, keep this short and simple. No more than 3 questions to help attendees start their thinking. e.g. :-

  • What’s the first idea that springs to mind when reading the results?
  • Which idea or comment surprised you the most?
  • Where do you see the biggest gap between what we do now and what’s suggested in the research?

These help prompt initial discussions on the day and also stimulate different parts of the attendees’ brains. 

Asking about the first idea that springs to mind taps into people’s instincts. Great ideas are instinctively appealing. Asking which surprised them taps into emotions. Great ideas stir people’s feelings, and surprising ideas are often the most interesting.  Finally, asking about the biggest gap forces attendees to use the logical parts of their brains. They have to connect the results with their existing knowledge of what’s happening in the business. 

Example - next steps meeting agenda

The organiser should also send an agenda out at the same time as the debrief. This doesn’t have to be hugely detailed but should inform attendees about what’s expected. 

As per our 5Ws of idea generation article, this should include :-

  • when the meeting will start and how long it will last – important to manage energy levels. 
  • where the meeting will happen – people are usually more creative in places away from their normal working environment (e.g. at agency offices).

A typical agenda would look like this :- 

Date : xth May, 202x

Venue : X advertising agency offices, X High Street, Sydney. NSW 20xx  

  • 9.00 – 9.15 : Arrive and coffees.
  • 9.15 – 9.30 : Introduction and creative warm-up exercise.
  • 9.30 – 10.00 : Debrief on pre-work questions.
  • 10.00 – 10.30 : Creative Thinking Exercise 1.
  • 10.30 – 10.45 : Coffee break.
  • 10.45 – 11.15 : Creative Thinking Exercise 2.
  • 11.15 – 11.45 : Review and prioritise outputs.
  • 11.45 – 12.00 : Wrap up – agree responsibilities and deadlines.

Running the next steps meeting

How you run this idea-generating session depends on your style and the expertise and experience of your invitees.

However, a 3-hour session with a creative warm-up, 2 creative exercises then a wrap-up / prioritising session is fairly typical for this type of meeting. A half day is about right for managing people’s energy and time too.

Let’s look at how the key sections would work. 

Yellow post it with illustration of a lightbulb pinned to a wooden pin board

Creative warm-up

You should set the creative tone of the meeting early. The goal is to develop ideas that can be turned into actions. Brainstorming type rules apply to the whole session. You want attendees to be open-minded and see all ideas as opportunities.

You can find many ideas for creative warm-ups by searching online, but here are 3 of our favourites :-

  • Unusual uses.
  • Name chaining.
  • Zombie Apocalypse Preparation. 
Young child holding a blue paint tube and squeezing it out

Unusual uses

Pick a random object in the room e.g. a pen, scarf or coffee cup. Give everyone 3 minutes to write down as many uses as they can for the object. The more unusual the better. 

Then ask them to tally up their ideas. The person with the most ideas then reads them out. If anyone else has that idea, they all score that idea out. Once they’ve done all their ideas, the person with the most remaining ideas does the same. The “winner”  is the person who came up with the most unique uses.

This warm-up is helpful to encourage more unusual thinking beyond “obvious” ideas.

Name chaining

Gather everyone in a circle. Pick someone to start. The first person has to say a famous person’s name. The person to their left then has to say another famous person’s name starting with the first letter of the first name’s surname. 

So if Person 1 says Kylie Minogue, Person 2 has to suggest someone starting with M e.g. Mahatma Gandi. Person 3 then has to suggest someone starting with a G e.g. Gary Oldman.

If someone suggests a name that starts and ends with the same letter e.g. Charlie Chaplin, the direction of naming is reversed. 

If someone suggests someone with only one name e.g. Madonna, Beyonce, Prince, it keeps going in the same direction, but the next person has to say another name with the same letter. 

Give people 5 seconds to come up with a name. If they can’t they’re out. Same if they repeat a name or say someone no one has heard of. Keep going until only one person remains. 

This warm-up is helpful to encourage the value of listening to others’ ideas and thinking spontaneously.

Zombie Apocalypse Preparation 

This is adapted from the excellent Creative Act for Curious People by Sarah Stein Greenberg. 

Split into 2 teams. Tell them that outside the meeting, a Zombie Apocalypse has just happened. There are only enough resources in the room for one team to survive long-term. 

The facilitator has to decide which team has the most skills to survive the longest in this new zombie world. They’ll send the other team out as sacrifices so the winning team can escape.

Each team has 5 minutes to list the skills they have which make them most likely to survive the apocalypse. They then have one minute to pitch their list. 

This warm-up is helpful to help people get to know each other and introduce more out-of-the-box thinking.

Creative thinking exercises

Following on from the warm-up, you’d then use more creative prompts to encourage people to both suggest and build on ideas for the qualitative research results. 

You can again find many creative prompts online, and could even run it as a 6 Hats type session. However, for this session, we’d suggest keeping it a little simpler. 3 of our favourite ways to do this are :-

  • What would x do?
  • What if you made it x-er?
  • Future headlines. 

Many open rainbow coloured umbrellas

What would x do?

If attendees don’t know each other well, it can be hard to get them to share more “out there” creative thoughts. People often worry about sounding weird or wacky in these types of sessions, when actually that’s what you want. Social pressure and fear though can hold people back.

A great way around this is to ask people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes to suggest ideas. That way the ideas come “from” that other person and don’t necessarily reflect on them.

Half open and lit up apple macbook on a glossy beige table

So you can prepare a list of “famous” people, companies or organisations, and challenge the group to come up with say 10 ideas that they would have based on the research results.

This can be as serious or as fun as you like. Apple is a pretty common suggestion as they’re good at articulating ideas in simple and stylish ways. 

However, if you want to push the boundaries more, pick people, companies or organisations that are less obvious. For example, how would John Lennon have imagined this? What ideas would Ferrari drive to solve this? Or how would the All Blacks rugby team tackle this? 

The idea is to look at the challenges in more unusual ways. This should give you a list of initial ideas to use as a springboard for more ideas. 

What if you made it x-er?

Another common creative exercise when you have a list of initial rough ideas is to challenge them with different frames of reference. 

So, you’d take your initial idea – let’s say, it was a sales promotion giveaway item. 

You’d then interrogate it by asking what if you made it bigger? Smaller? What if you could only deliver it digitally? What would the simplest version of it look like? The most outrageous version of it? What if you had to make this idea fail, what would that look like? 

Hand holding a small wrapper package marked fragile

It’s similar thinking to the what would x do but it’s about building on existing ideas to tease out new potentially more interesting ones. 

Most great ideas come when you collide ideas together. So having these different reframing questions gives everyone the freedom to think of even more creative ideas.

Future headline

A final creative thinking approach that’s helpful when you’re trying to pull out stronger ideas is to ask the teams to write future headlines about their most intriguing ideas. 

Break them into 2 groups. Ask each to pick their 3 favourite ideas out of all the ideas so far. Then, ask them to imagine it’s a year down the line and you’ve launched that idea successfully. The media are now reporting on it. What headlines are you likely to see from different types of media e.g. :-

Man calmly reading a newspaper while it's on fire
  • a gossipy tabloid newspaper. 
  • a serious business or current affairs TV program.
  • an industry or trade website / newsletter. 

Give them 5-10 minutes to write some creative headlines in these different styles. Award a prize (probably snacks as people will be getting hungry by this point) for the winning headline.

Prioritising and wrap-up

The most common way to wrap up idea sessions is “power-dotting”. Everyone gets a sticker (maybe a few) and is asked to put their sticker against their favourite ideas. 

This is an OK but not particularly creative way to prioritise ideas. It’s also prone to groupthink as people often follow the lead of whoever puts their sticker(s) up first. It also favours “safer”, more predictable ideas as people’s heads turn to thinking about the practicalities of doing the ideas.

Wooden law gavel on a plain white background

Better is to structure the prioritisation (rather than just asking for vague “favourites”). Ideally, you’d match the style of the pre-work prompts, so ideas that tap into people’s instincts, emotions and logic, remember?

So have 3 rounds of “power dotting” but with a different filter question for each. Ask the pre-work questions in reverse order to give it structure i.e. :- 

  • Which idea solves our biggest gap? (logic)
  • Which has the biggest element of surprise? (emotion)
  • If you could only do one right now and had to ditch the rest, which would you choose? (instinct) 

It’s a smart way to close the session as it mirrors the opening. You’d of course then allocate names and deadlines to each so everyone is clear on who “owns” that idea.

Qualitative research results - Example wrap-up

As an example, when looking at the qualitative research results from the IT case study we mentioned earlier, the focus idea areas looked something like this :-

  • Opportunity / problem 1 – Customers find it hard to know when Account Managers are available.
  • Focus idea area – Set up a shared calendar app with key customers so they can pre-book check-in meetings. (Responsible – IT Business Partner).
  • Opportunity / problem 2 – Customers find some Account Managers poor at time management.
Wooden scrabble tlles spelling out Go for it, with a speech bubble calling out action!
  • Focus idea area – Identify Account Managers who are best at time management and get them to coach the others. (Responsible – Sales Learning and Development Manager).

  • Opportunity / problem 3 – Customers want more personalised communications

  • Focus idea area – Create a customer journey map to identify specific interactions where personalisation will add the most value. (Responsible – Marketing Manager).  

Conclusion - Qualitative research results - what’s next?

From an innovation point of view, customer feedback is a rich source of creative inspiration. In this article, we shared an example of the typical next steps which would follow a qualitative research results debrief. 

You start by getting the right people in the room and briefing and preparing them to look for ideas among the results. 

You run that session to provoke creative thinking so attendees help you create and craft more compelling ideas.  

Qualitative research results example - quotes from market research respondents on IT account manager service

Finally, you prioritise and wrap up those ideas so they’re ready to be handed on to separate project teams.

Check out our qualitative research and market research in the marketing plan guides for more on this. Or get in touch if you need help getting better ideas out of your qualitative research results.

Photo credits

Business meeting : Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Hands : Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Woman looking at phone in dark room : Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash 

Idea Bulb Post it : Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Kid squeezing paint tube : Photo by Dragos Gontariu on Unsplash

Colour umbrellas : Photo by Malte Bickel on Unsplash

Apple laptop : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Small fragile delivery box in hand : Photo by jesse ramirez on Unsplash

Newspaper on fire : Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on Unsplash

Wooden Gavel : Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Go for it (adapted) : Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

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