The essence of marketing research is an effort to understand how people think and uncover what guides them to make choices.  Looking back, it is not surprising that I began my undergraduate career as a psychology major before switching to marketing. It is also not surprising that a few of the students in our Fall 2017 MS MR cohort came to the program with undergraduate degrees in psychology.  There are psychological elements scattered all throughout the subject of marketing research, especially in conducting qualitative research.  Our cohort was very fortunate to have Anita Watkins, Global Head of Qualitative at Kantar, speak with our class about the process of conducting qualitative research.

Watkins began her career as a moderator and worked her way up to running a global practice, so it was clear from the start our class would be able to gain some key insights from her presentation.  She explained to us that a majority of conducting qualitative research had to do with using empathy to understand and connect with people while keeping your own opinions to yourself, which she claims requires a fair amount of stamina on the researcher’s part.  “Humans are incredibly complex,” Watkins further explained, “they are not always rational, and at times, can be very emotional.”  Sometimes people make decisions contrary to their own personal interests due to influence from social surroundings (friends, family, and culture).

Many researchers have to fight the temptation to settle for quick results and immediate gratification.  They have to acknowledge that research design, which assumes humans always mean what they say, misses out on multiple pieces of the puzzle.  Conducting superficial research can often lead to the production of inaccurate data.  Watkins described the use of projective techniques in qualitative research to bring out deeper emotions from respondents.  In utilizing this technique, researchers are able to uncover underlying values, and this, according to Watkins, is where marketing research meets psychology.  By understanding the deeper values of respondents, businesses are able to anticipate the effects of raw emotion, which can lead to exciting innovations and can reduce waste – both of which increase profits.  Lastly, Watkins described key differences that exist country-to-country in terms of what people value.

As our cohort pushes through to the end of the semester, we will be confronted with a number of presentations and group projects, one of which requires us to moderate an in-depth interview.  In conducting these interviews, we will be sure to remember the insights into qualitative research that Anita Watkins shared with us!