Market research is more exciting than the NBA.
There I said it.

Did you predict these teams would be in the finals?

I like sports but…

OK so I like sports. Let’s start off with that simple statement. Football, hockey, basketball, golf, tennis, soccer. I’ll watch most any sport you put in front of me. However, there is one major sport that I find myself watching less and less of NBA basketball. While I have been known to watch a playoff game here and there (especially if the Celtics are in it….so yeah, not often these days) I just have trouble sitting down to watch a full game.

Predictability makes me cynical

The weird thing? I love college basketball. March Madness is one of my favorite sports events of the year. And while there are a few things that annoy me about the NBA, something occurred to me as I turned off Game 7 of the NBA Finals to watch Game of Thrones. We all knew this game was going to happen. At the beginning of the season, everyone already knew it would be Golden State and Cleveland in the NBA Finals. And this is part of what makes this sport hard for me to watch. I mean, yes, Cleveland beating Golden State may have been a surprise to some but come on, they have one of the best, if not the best, player in the league in Lebron James on their team.

Remove the predictability and I’m excited

And this is the difference between this sport and all other sports to me. More often than not in the NFL, for example, the teams picked at the beginning of the year do not make it into the Super Bowl. And no one outside of Pittsburgh picked the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup this year. The unexpected is what makes sports so interesting in the first place. And the NBA lacks that for me these days. You have your top 2, 3 or even 4 teams in the league and two of them are pretty much guaranteed to make it into the playoffs. It feels that way to me, at least.

Allow me to do research and I’m in heaven

And as I thought about why I love sports in the first place and am frustrated with the NBA, I thought about how this relates to why I love qualitative research so much. Because it’s the “box of chocolates” of market research – you never know what you’re gonna get. Because open-end responses are not tethered to radio buttons or check boxes, respondents are free to say whatever they want. And if you are a true qualitative researcher, that’s what you want to see.

Expecting the unexpected is one thing…

…extracting the unexpected is another. So here are a couple of tips for helping a qualitative research session be as surprising as it is valuable:

  • Start broad – Whenever I conduct an Invoke session, I always use a “narrow the funnel” type of approach if I can. This means I start super broad in my question structure. If I am looking for feedback, I like to start with a “what are your initial thoughts” type of question or a “tell me how this ad makes you feel” route of inquiry before diving into specifics. If you start off with a pointed question aimed at something like purchase intent or likability, you may run the risk of setting them on a specific path. Good to stay broad at the beginning. Then dive into key metrics and lastly, focus on specifics.
  • Keep it conversational – Even if we are asking a mix of qualitative or quantitative questions online in a research session, it’s important to make it feel like a conversation, rather than a traditional survey. Whenever I follow up a closed-end key metric type of question with an open-end to understand drivers, for example, I would much rather ask a simple “Why?” or “Why is that?” than a pointed question aimed at a specific response because it feels more casual and this can serve to make the respondent more comfortable and free to share. Of course, if this happens, you do need a way to tie these open-ends back and understand what they said in the first place so in-session filtering is key. Hey, Invoke offers in-session data filtering. So that works out.
  • Let them know you’re listening – I think it’s important to let respondents know you are a real person listening on the other end. Before I start a session, I always like to show the respondents a picture of myself and start with an icebreaker question (favorite foods, movies, things to do in the summer, etc.) and then answer the question myself to let them know I am here and listening. If respondents know you are there and listening (as opposed to a static survey), this will help to support the feeling of a conversation which can make them feel more comfortable and more willing to share. Which can often bring to light surprising responses. At the end of most sessions, I often see respondents call me out by name which I think shows this works.
  • Respond to shifts in the conversation – Be ready to insert questions and further probe if you see surprising responses or the conversation going somewhere you didn’t expect. This requires not only the tools necessary to do it (Invoke’s platform allows for questions to be inserted on-the-fly and one-on-one chats with participants) but also the willingness and ability to be reactive. An Invoke session is often a lively event with stakeholders all sitting around a table together watching results come in in real-time. This requires a moderator – or storyteller – that can be nimble. Reacting to shifts in conversations can help us to really build on the unexpected and take us to places we may never have expected to go in a research session.
  • Use closed-ends as a foundation – It may seem odd to talk about closed-end questions in a post about qualitative research, but the world I live in now at Invoke blends the two in a session. This, for me, is what makes what we do here so important. Because having these two types of research blend together so seamlessly in real-time really does better both sides – qualitative and quantitative. This helps us to better understand what is driving key metrics, which can deepen our understanding of quantitative measures. Often, surprises can come up in quantitative measures. While this may be hard to explain with only quantitative results, having the qualitative data there can give us a direct answer as to why surprises may arise in the first place.

And these are just some of the ways we can use qual/quant research to help uncover the unexpected. The unexpected is why we do research, isn’t it. If we knew what was going to happen, why do research at all? As a researcher, the unexpected is what keeps me going. Not only because I feel this is what makes for better research for my clients but also because it’s what makes market research fun and interesting.

As for the NBA…

…I think they could do with a little market research. If I were so inclined, I would talk to fans, non-fans and (probably most importantly) lapsed fans to understand what could potentially “optimize” the league. While I am sure they feel they are doing just fine, I bet they would see some surprises in said research.


Wayne Goodreau

VP of Research & Insights


Wayne brings over a decade of experience as a market research professional. His expertise spans a number of vertical industries, including consumer packaged goods, information technology, insurance and financial services, and pharmaceuticals. Wayne has extensive experience in conducting both qualitative and quantitative research that translates into insights aimed at helping businesses make tactical and strategic decisions.


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