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Why Ask Why? An Irrefutable Use Case for Performing Qualitative Research


According to Simon Sinek, best selling author of Start With Why, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” For many traditional marketers, this is, at minimum, a conflicting if not an entirely irrational philosophy. Unfortunately for those traditionalists, they are missing the opportunity to tap into an otherwise hidden currency — the power of influence, which only comes from understanding why you exist (your ultimate competitive advantage).

Not until traditional marketers can answer this question for themselves, or moreover, effectively put it to use as a value-based proposition to inspire and convert consumers, will they gain anything resembling significant market share from progressive marketers who are already leveraging the technique. What is their secret to success? Qualitative research.

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Proving Grounds

What do companies like Apple, Southwest and Tesla have in common? They not only know why they exist, but they have capitalized on this knowing and its power to influence consumers who are compelled to purchase, not on features and benefits, but on deeper levels of emotional connectivity with their brands. For example, Tesla does not sell cars, but rather access to a select consumer group whose members are responsible for accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy. Southwest does not sell flights, but rather the capacity to connect people to what is important in their lives. And Apple, it does not sell tech-enabled gadgets, but rather the courage to challenge the status quo.

How did these successful companies, among many others, figure this out? How did they get to this knowing? To put it simply, they asked. They involved internal stakeholders, partners, existing customers and potential consumers in the investigative process of uncovering what matters most and to whom, and then aligning their business operations and their marketing efforts accordingly.      

Consider the following example:

This is what I sell, and this is how much it costs. Want to buy it?

Now consider this alternate example:

This is why I do what I do, and this is the impact it will have. Want to be a part of it?

Without much in the way of consideration, chances are high the alternate example resonated with you more than the first. Why? Because it speaks to your emotional versus your analytical self — the part of the brain responsible for your feelings, behavior and decision-making. This theory has been proven time and time again, and when conducted thoughtfully, these are the prized insights qualitative research is intent on uncovering.  

Getting Started

Let us, albeit safely, assume Aristotle was not talking about research modalities when he said, “The secret to business is to know something that nobody else knows.” Regardless of this assumption, the context was as applicable to businesses more than 2,000 years ago as it remains today. We all know something because of information, but information that provides something only you know is extremely valuable — especially in competitive arenas.

Think of it like this: if you could determine that three out of 10 people, or 30%, buy your products, you would have a valid data point. But if you could understand why that 30% buys your products, you would then have a meaningful insight — a means to leverage both against your competition and with that untapped 70%. So with this in mind, think of quantitative research as numeric and qualitative as sentiment.

While both modalities are equally relevant for surfacing valuable information, what we are seeking to answer is rooted in emotion, and as such, qualitative is the optimal approach for investigating and uncovering this hidden currency.

Into Action

Unlike in Aristotle’s day, today we have numerous methods, platforms and best practices for getting to and revealing the trends in thought and patterns in opinion which serve to answer specific questions or solve unique challenges. Whether unstructured or structured, witnessed or facilitated, qualitative research may include the use of focus groups, online surveys, individual interviews or observational studies.

All said, before embarking on any qualitative research effort, consider the following five-step framework a beginner’s guide for how to properly approach and perform the task:

  1. Define the purpose of your research; what are you trying to uncover or solve?
  2. Determine the method you will use; how are you going to collect your data?
  3. Decide the makeup of your participants; who are you going to include (or exclude)?
  4. Develop the content plan; what questions are you going to ask?
  5. Devise an activation strategy; what are you going to do with your findings?

With your framework complete, you now have a clearer roadmap for conducting the work ahead.  

Next Steps

So now you have a better understanding of the value of qualitative research, you know the literal difference between research modalities and you are equipped with a five-step framework for conducting the work itself. Now what?

There are nearly 2 million search results for books, blogs, articles and white papers for continuing education on the subject of qualitative research. There is an ever-increasing number of research enablement tools and online platforms being made available to handle everything from participant recruitment to survey distribution and analysis. And, there is and will always be an abundance of individual subject matter experts, consulting firms and agencies for hire who would each and all gladly lend their support to your qualitative research initiative.

Do not fret. We have taken the liberty of consuming a growing percentage of that continuing education; we have evaluated the most prolific of those enablement tools and platforms; and, we are available to lend our expertise and support to you as needed. But start here. Take one step into the transformation of your business toward understanding why it exists and uncovering its power of influence.

Simply download our “How-to Guide for Performing Qualitative Research” and you will be on your way.