Focus groups can be a good source of gathering testable ideas


Many business schools throughout the U.S. discuss the traits of successful CEOs. 


In our experience, there are two that highly successful senior leaders require – quantitative ability (numbers) and qualitative aptitude (interpreting the field, soft management). Unfortunately, not all CEOs have the latter ability, and today’s labor economy is driven primarily by the STEM curriculum. But this is a mistake.


Is Qualitative Research Even Measurable?


By avoiding qualitative research, managers often lose the “why” behind important phenomena. For instance, if a statistic shows that only 5% of shoppers read the signs above sections in a supermarket, what do we do with that? Quantitative feedback (sometimes referred to as hard data) only gives us the numbers, but not the context behind the results.


Certainly reasons can be made by managers, but these are only assumptions. Questions surrounding the data point should not be “how do we get shoppers to see the signs?” but rather, “do the signs need to be there? Do they prompt a purchase?” Many of these questions are not answered in close-ended surveys, but require qualitative discussions.


There are a number of other reasons to complement quantitative research with qualitative research. Depending on the industry, a consulting firm will have a culture, domain and field (borrowing from Dr. C’s Flow), that might look something like in the table below. Any firm can use this framework to determine unknowns and research hypotheses, making it a useful tool for marketing, sales and product/brand managers.


Foodservice: The Elements of Qualitative Research Informing Strategic Thinking


System Elements (Foodservice Industry) Qualitative Questions for our Client
  • Hospitality
  • Cleanliness
  • Excellent Food
  • Menu Desirability
  • Concept Essence
  • Supply Chain
  • Labor
  • Food Safety
  • Are these changing?
  • Are these achievable?
  • Are there new ones that exist?
  • What does this mean for our category? 
  • Research Analysts
  • Economists
  • Statisticians
  • Business Strategists
  • Can we accurately market size?
  • Can we tie the business implications in with the research?
  • Does our client have the resources to use this information?
  • Foodservice Operators
  • Broadline Distributors
  • GPOs
  • Industry Pundits
  • Consumers
  • Foodservice Contractors
  • Brokers
  • How do each of these stakeholders impact a category, company or market?
  • Why do gaps exist in responses? By region? 
  • What are we not hearing?


Gut-Based and Evidence-Based Research


We don’t want to downplay the importance of company culture and the importance of collaboration. Research itself will not achieve a strategy. Research will provide a number of data points that may or may not require a closer examination which leads to the “synthesis” stage. 


The synthesis stage transforms the input (qualitative and quantitative) and discharges scenarios and risk management plans based on the data along with the collective intellect and experience  of an organization. In other words, the most successful businesses use both evidence (research) and estimates (gut feelings) because only your company can make the best decisions in the end.


In our second piece on qualitative research, we will discuss the different types – ethnographies, focus groups, contextual interviews, intercepts and longitudinal methods – and when to use them. 


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