Thursday, 20 February 2014

So long as the fridge is full: a day in the life of a market researcher

If you work in the market research industry I’m sure you are already very familiar with the early morning starts, the delayed trains, cancelled flights, and stuffing your face on the move – not to mention the long hours spent holed up in a dark room, so oblivious to the outside that the apocalypse could happen and you would be none the wiser.

But for those of you who don’t work in market research and wonder what goes on behind the glass – no wild parties here, unfortunately – allow me to elaborate.

We conduct the majority of our research in a viewing facility. Think of those detective dramas, like CSI: New York, when they are interrogating a suspect and they are observing it from behind a huge one-way mirror. Our team, including clients, watch the research as it’s happening live.

Almost all respondents accept that they will be observed. Some even wave to our team behind the glass. And for our moderators, it’s quite daunting to conduct an interview with so many colleagues and clients present. But for the moderator, and I’d imagine the respondent too, after 5 minutes you forget about that fact entirely.

The viewing facility staff are almost always pleasant. They show you to your room. They point out where the limitless supply of snacks are (my favourite part of the induction) and the nicely stocked fridge (from water to wine), the air conditioning controls and the audio control. The essentials of fieldwork. Tea and coffee are offered and ALWAYS accepted. Overall, it’s like being shown around your hotel room.
If the travel was difficult, the first thing you want to do is collapse into a chair, with some facility chairs being more comfortable than others. You might be wondering why I mention this. Well, when you are expected to sit on a chair for fieldwork days from 10am to 10pm, the chair often becomes your best friend. And best friends should always be a comfort.

Our moderators have to be on the ball – you are there to take notes, but also to identify and interpret respondent insight, which takes a great deal of intellectual concentration. However, the most rewarding part of fieldwork can be the dialogue you have with your clients. You can debate their business objectives in the backroom after particularly insightful interviews and formulate a strategy alongside them. It’s an extremely productive way of working and we always encourage our clients come to central location days for this reason.

Setting up the interview room is all about asking where the respondent should sit so that the camera (we use to video them for analysis purposes) can capture them, and the size of the table in terms of how many respondents you are interviewing and the nature of the materials you are testing.

With room set up it’s all about the atmosphere you want to create between you and the respondent. You want them to feel sufficiently relaxed so that they are more willing to open up when asked questions. You want to be close enough to show them materials whilst not invading their personal space. And ultimately you want them to enjoy the experience.

And then there are the subtle touches you have to think about with regards to the topic of the discussion. If you are interviewing patients with diabetes it would not be prudent to have a big plate of biscuits etc. There are obviously many more examples.

Each respondent is different, of course. And the most exciting part is understanding how best to approach an interview based on their personality and engagement levels. No two interviews are ever the same, which is what makes the job both unpredictable and fascinating.
Sofia Fionda is a Research Executive in the Branding Science London office.

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