Get Up Close and Personal with Customers – Without Them Knowing It

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Interested in engaging your respondents and backroom clients?

Want to create visual output that helps tell a better story than you could ever achieve by words alone?

Then read on to find out about the power of thought bubbles.

The Story Begins…

Amy, our client, wants to get deep insights on applications for a new product. She also wants to probe into perceived benefits and concerns among key business decision makers. She suggests qualitative research but asks…

“How do we get beyond the superficial explanations that customers and prospects often verbalize during qualitative discussions?”

Emotions and Feelings Control Decision-Making.

Our emotions and feelings unconsciously direct us in our decision-making. This is especially true among B2B buyers, where they have relationships built up over time that have a huge effect on behavior. For many B2B products, brand relationships are a critical element in why products sell. But how do we better understand the emotional foundation underlying these relationships which reside hidden in unconscious thought? To drive advertising copy and to develop appealing new product concepts, understanding unconscious emotions is critical.

I’ve seen this happen. As I’m watching behind the one-way mirror, Ralph, the respondent, rattles off “speeds and feeds,” telling us what specs are key in his buying decision. Ralph describes his firm’s elaborate process of developing a short list of products, getting feedback from the financial influencer, then making the final decision. It all sounds so clinical – and I don’t believe a word of it! And Amy, our client is not getting what she needs.

We Are Only Getting Part of the story

Qualitative Research Technique to Get Up Close and PersonalWhat is happening in our story about Ralph is that by just asking him questions we are not able to understand why he buys what he buys. We are only getting part of the story – the tip of the iceberg. We need to go beneath the surface to really understand the unconscious feelings and emotions that tell us the whole story of why Ralph the respondent does what he does.

Is it really as simple as handing Ralph some crayons? Yes and no. The secret to tapping into the unconscious part of the brain, where 95 percent of thinking occurs, is to get Ralph involved in the research through non-verbal stimuli. There are many ways to accomplish this using drawing, typing, pictures as metaphors, telling stories, etc. All of these techniques work because they are using “the language” of the unconscious mind: sensory images; emotion and metaphors.

How to Use Non-verbal Stimuli to Tap Into Unconscious Brain

One of the most effective ways to tap into the unconscious part of the brain is with “thought bubbling.” It is particularly useful for messaging, new product development, branding and positioning research. It can be done in focus groups or one-on-ones and works great for international research.

Here’s how it works. I hand Ralph a large sheet of paper. I’ve written the specific topic we are researching in a circle centered on the paper, such as we have illustrated in Figure 1. Next, I ask Ralph to write whatever thought or feeling comes to mind. He puts that in a new circle and draws a line outward from the center circle. He continues drawing a line from each topic and circling it to create additional thought bubbles. I encourage Ralph to take each bubble as far as he can by writing down all the additional thoughts and feelings that each bubble creates. I remind Ralph to simply write or draw whatever pops into his head with the goal of filling the entire page with thought bubbles.

A Thought Diagram is Born!

Thought Bubbling to get at unconscious thoughtRalph has worked hard and now he gets to present the fruits of his labor. Why do we put him on stage by asking him to present? So that we get Ralph’s story.

  • Ralph explains the connections between his thoughts, giving us the deep dive that helps us understand how he really thinks.
  • We get to understand Ralph’s individuality by explaining how/why he chose the bubbles he did.
  • Ralph feels responsible to do a good job and feels a sense of ownership when he presents.
  • Ralph feels energized, actively participates and communicates his thoughts in a creative way.

Together, the respondents create a visual story for the clients. The room is filled with visual output which engages all the clients watching in the back room. The energy level of clients skyrockets because they are doing more than just listening. It allows them to actually participate by watching and learning. Clients can draw conclusions faster because they are getting real-time insights from the respondents as they tell the story behind their thought bubbles.

In addition, thought-bubbling eliminates group-think since each person has to commit their own ideas to paper first. It gets even the shyest of respondents to contribute their ideas that normally remain unheard. It gives us a tool to access visceral-level responses and motivations and allows for more ideas to emerge based on others’ presentations.

A Road Map

Qualitative Research Road Map

Thought-bubbling gives us a road map to understand the intricate relationship between the positives and the negatives – which are often intertwined. When we ask questions, we logically have to separate them, but that is not how the mind processes or thinks. That is another reason why we use thought-bubbling. When we ask a business decision maker to diagram their thoughts, we get the architecture of their thought process, the evolution of the positives and the negatives. In other words, the map of their thoughts. We hand them pens, paper, markers, crayons, all the tools any brain needs to express itself and allow us to uncover respondents’ innermost thoughts and concerns.