Qualitative Philosophy: Virtual Playgrounds

We learned a long time ago if you want to get the real story from customers, you need to get them actively involved in the process. We create playgrounds where the expectation is to “get down and dirty” using one or more of our projective techniques.

We need to understand icebergs to understand why people do what they do.

Edward Smith, the captain of the Titanic, only saw a glimpse of the iceberg that sent its passengers and crew to their icy death. The bulk of the iceberg was submerged below the surface – an invisible deadly killer. Isn’t the submerged, invisible part of the iceberg extremely important? It was to Captain Edward Smith.

We create playgrounds where the expectation is to “get down and dirty” using one or more of our projective techniques.

Cathy Fitzgerald

An iceberg is the perfect metaphor for the human mind.

  • The visible tip of the iceberg that is readily seen peering out of the ocean represents the conscious or rational self.
  • The huge mass below represents the unconscious or emotional self where we find the actual truth of why we do what we do. Here lurk true emotions that drive preference, choice, satisfaction and loyalty which determine the decisions we make. It is here where we can find those “pearls of wisdom” and create marketing opportunities.

Our Clients Needs Insights—The Meanings Beyond the Words

The Story Behind the Story. We Give Them That.

To get needed insights, we need to understand the unconscious or emotional self. We have described this as the huge mass of the iceberg below the surface. The part that is typically invisible—but crucial to understand.

How do we do this? By creating a playground using symbols, cartoons, stories, role-playing and metaphors, just to name a few.

Why do they work? This playground equipment works because it accesses that part of the brain that thinks using images or pictures and not words. We are using the exact language that will enable us to get the rich insights into customer behavior that our clients want. Good qualitative research is all about uncovering these unconscious thoughts.

To get needed insights, we need to understand the unconscious or emotional self.

Cathy Fitzgerald


For more than 25 years, our clients have relied on us to gain deep understanding of customer needs especially in the area of new product ideation, brand loyalty and trend forecasting. Our extensive international experience is broad and deep. In addition to tried and true methodologies such as focus groups and IDIs, we have been very innovative in use web-based interviewing techniques to increase speed and reduce costs – especially valuable in international studies.

Creative Playgrounds to Go Beyond the Typical Focus Group and IDIs

We go beyond the typical focus group format employing highly creative techniques to gain insights not otherwise attainable. These creative techniques are used not only in in-person environments but have been adapted to web-based IDIs across the globe include. An example of some of these innovative playground techniques include:

The Emoji Meter

The Emoji Meter works by showing customers a range of emotions and then asking them to choose the one that best describes how they feel. It works because it gives them “permission” to use the Emoji as the representation of their true feelings about your product.

Red Light/ Green Light

A highly useful technique where a respondent uses red and green markers to highlight elements in a picture or written description. Green for positive and Red for negative. By asking a respondent to physically draw, circle or highlight elements that are attractive and those which are negative, we are able to draw from respondents much deeping insights and eliminate “group think” in focus groups.

Thought Bubbling

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. Thought Bubbling accomplishes this.

Thought/ Say Diagrams

What people say and what people think are often very different! Respondents get “trapped” in their logical mind which subconsciously leads to “justified” and “rational” responses. But aren’t purchase decision often driven by desire and intuition? This technique frees up respondents to tell us about their desires and intuitions by allowing them to rationalize their decisions freeing them up to express how the really feel.