Confronting Change

There’s no question the data technology industry has experienced dramatic changes over the past decade, driven largely by the emergence of the cloud. Anticipating the need to adapt to this new reality, a steadfast leader in the data space began searching for a research partner who could help them better understand the dynamics of its evolving B2B customer base, and the best way to respond.

Beyond research expertise, this partner needed to speak the highly technical language of the respondents they were talking to with authority and authenticity. With in-the-trenches experience as programmers, systems analysts, and software engineers, Thinkpiece’s technology research team fit the bill. Brought in to moderate our first group over seven years ago, we’ve been partnering with this client on multiple projects covering a broad range of mission-critical topics ever since.

Asking the Right Questions

Our technology research team was able to find respondents with the relevant level of technical expertise for each study and jump in head-first not just to moderate, but to conduct peer-to-peer conversations with respondents — many of whom were developers. By asking the right questions and steering the discussion in a productive direction, we were able to equip our direct client with the reports they needed to make a compelling case for change to internal stakeholders.

Our technical expertise also infused the research with a level of credibility, which in turn helped our direct client and his team capture the confidence of their stakeholders. Reassured that we understand the technology as well as the human dynamics, our direct client trusts our work and insights.

“Thinkpiece has the rare trifecta of what we look for in a research partner,” says the company’s Director of B2B Market Insights, who has worked with the Thinkpiece team since the first project over seven years ago. “They have their feet in each world: research, technology, and B2B — plus they know how to present their findings in a visually compelling way.”

Actionable Insight

Over the course of our multi-year research partnership, we’ve helped arm the client with tools they continue to employ to make informed decisions and move forward. Working closely with our direct client, we built on the research to develop robust audience personas that revealed the real motivations driving their customer base, as well as the differences between their various audience segments and roles. This insight helped the client shift toward more tailored and targeted messaging.

The client continues to use Thinkpiece reports and audience personas to train hundreds of salespeople to more effectively capture opportunities in emerging and adjacent technology spaces, most recently including AI. The research has additionally been shared with key strategic partners, including creative and marketing agencies, to guide them in better positioning the company.

“The work we’ve done with Thinkpiece goes beyond the typical customer journey,” explains the Director of B2B Market Insights. “We’ve used their insights and reports to come up with new decision path frameworks, to learn and grow new muscles.”

Knowing Which Way to Pivot

The insight Thinkpiece and the client gleaned over seven years of collaborative research has been instrumental in helping the company pivot and adapt to an increasingly cloud-dominant technology climate. The research we’ve done with the client has also played a role in helping align the company’s marketing, sales, and business development teams in a shared understanding of who their customers really are, what’s most important to them, and how to break through to them.

“We’ve come to trust Thinkpiece as an extension of our team,” says the Director of B2B Market Insights. “The work they’ve done has helped equip us to have those intellectually honest and often sensitive conversations about our need to do things differently and where we need to go as a company. We bring in Thinkpiece for our biggest, most strategic questions we’re tasked with answering, and plan to keep doing so.”

Learn more about Thinkpiece’s technology research approach here.

Qualitative Market Research Trends to Track in 2024

As we welcome 2024 and all its possibilities with open arms, we thought now would be the perfect time to explore some of the trends — current and emerging — we believe will have the biggest impact on qualitative market research. Let’s start with the trends we see as gaining momentum in the year ahead.

Digital Qual Research Continues to Dominate

Ushered in by the pandemic, digital qualitative research is now the new norm — and will continue to be so in 2024 and well beyond. Survey findings show that 87% of researchers did over half of their qual research online in 2023, with 85% of them saying they’ll continue to do so over the next 12 months.

We go into the pros (and cons) of remote focus groups and interviews here, but the bottom line is this: digital research can help companies expand their reach of respondents more easily, conduct interviews more quickly and conveniently, while saving resources and money. Digital research extends beyond online focus groups, as well. In 2024, we expect researchers to keep using digital tools for all manner of activities including surveys, social media listening (more on that below), online discussion forums, data-mining, and more.

Smart Use of Mobile Market Research

Mobile devices are a key part of the digital conversation. Smart phones are ubiquitous; in 2023, 92% of Americans owned a smart phone, and spent around four hours a day on these devices. Researchers have realized that mobile phones provide an excellent platform to engage with respondents who are perfectly comfortable communicating via screens, taps, and swipes.

There are advantages to mobile phone research, starting with a low barrier to entry. Respondents don’t have to be at a specific place at a certain time to participate in a mobile-based interview or focus group, respond to a survey, or provide in-app feedback. They can just whip out their phones on the spot to provide in-the-moment, real-time reactions.

Respondents can also share responses in a wide range of ways — via text, voice messages, video, emojis, and even gifs. Mobile devices also allow researchers to conduct location-based research (thanks, GPS), as well as ethnographic research via daily video journals and notes apps. As such, we expect the mobile research trend to continue building steam.

More Social Media Research

The use of social media is also part and parcel of the shift toward digital qual market research. Researchers have already been using social media as a platform for asking questions, conducting polls and surveys, soliciting feedback, testing concepts and messaging, and showcasing prototypes. With Americans spending around two hours a day on social media apps, these platforms are an obvious place to find and connect with respondents.

In 2024, we predict advances in technology will make it easier and more attractive for qual researchers to embrace social media listening for sentiment analysis. There’s a growing list of shiny new tools that enable researchers to track keywords, hashtags, mentions, reviews, and sentiment across multiple social media platforms. Tracking this info can provide valuable insight into emerging trends, unmet needs, consumer preferences, and brand perception.

Ethnographic Research for B2B

Ethnographic research that’s immersed in the actual real-world environments where respondents live, work, and play has been around since the 1950s. So while it’s long been a staple for consumer research, we believe ethnographies offer great potential for B2B research as well — particularly in the field of technology.

We’ve recently tested out this theory ourselves, by using an ethnographic approach with one of our technology clients. For this particular study, we had respondents — specifically, software engineers — take over and physically use our moderator’s computer to play around with an application and provide real-time feedback. The insight we gleaned from this exercise was invaluable, and our clients were thrilled with the results.

Emotion Recognition and Neuromarketing Research

Emotion recognition technology uses algorithms and machine learning to identify and classify micro facial expressions that signify joy, sadness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust, contempt and more. Neuromarketing research takes it a step further, employing medical procedures including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalograms (EEG) to track and measure physiological changes in the brain to indicate and identify emotional responses.

Emotion recognition and neuromarketing research aren’t new concepts; some of the largest market research firms even have their own in-house labs set up for these kinds of studies. And if you don’t have the budget for these methods, there are lower-cost and less obtrusive devices that can track and measure a participant’s heart and respiration rates which indicate an emotional response as well.

With the emergence of AI, it will be interesting to see where these types of research approaches will go. AI-enabled eye tracking, for example, maps out eye gaze and movement to understand where a person is looking, what they’re looking at, where their gaze lingers, as well as pupil dilation (an indication of arousal). This is definitely a space we’ll be keeping our eye on.

Merging Qual and Quant

We’ve seen an increased need for and openness to a hybrid research approach that combines qualitative and quantitative, and we expect this merging to continue in 2024 and onward. And we’re here for it.

While they may seem diametrically opposed, quant and qual together can strengthen each other while providing a more holistic view of the research. Quant alone can get bogged down in data, making it harder to connect the dots and reveal the insight. Qual, on the other hand, can sometimes be hard to measure, with a lack of quantifiable “proof” to clarify how conclusions were drawn.

Integrate the two research worlds, and you have the what, why and how behind the data. This can result in more meaningful reports that also provide clients the proof-points they need to believe in the insight. Advances in technology and systems are making it easier for researchers to combine qual and quant data in a single platform, which also make it faster and less cost-prohibitive to do both.

A Case for Agile Market Research

Agile market research has been around for a while, as well, and there’s been some debate as to its effectiveness as a methodology. We see the increasing value of agile market research, but also the need for it to be done exceedingly well.

In the current business reality, things change very fast. As such, companies need answers to their questions now, which means they need quick, focused research studies and lots of them. Agile market research responds to this demand by taking an iterative approach to gathering consumer feedback to very specific questions along multiple points in the development of a product, service, or campaign.

Instead of taking weeks or months to test and collect respondent reactions, agile market research delivers answers in days. This allows companies to make on-the-fly tweaks as they go, and ideally launch their product/service/campaign more quickly.

In the hands of an inexperienced firm, agile market research can end up sacrificing quality for the sake of speed. That’s why it’s important to have researchers with first-hand industry knowledge and experience, who know exactly the right questions to ask and how to extract the critical insight quickly.

Now that we’ve addressed some of the current trends, let’s turn our vision toward those we see emerging in the year ahead.

AI As a Collaborative Tool

There’s no doubt that artificial intelligence will play an increasingly larger role in qualitative market research. We expect more research firms to embrace AI technology, apps, and services as a collaborative tool to help them drive efficiencies and productivity. A recent Qualtrics survey supports this, finding that 46% of researchers say they’re “very confident” with using AI in research, and 26% reporting they feel “extremely confident.”

We predict a turn toward AI for a broad range of research activities, from developing screeners, surveys and discussion guides, to weeding out bogus or unqualified respondents, to transcribing interviews, to quickly analyzing massive amounts of data from multiple sources, to generating attractive and compelling reports. But we caution that AI should not and cannot replace the human element when it comes to revealing actionable insights that businesses need to make strategic decisions. You can read more about that in our recent blog post here.

Prioritizing Data Privacy

All the hype about AI leads us to the next emerging hot topic for market research: data privacy, for both consumers and clients.

Today’s consumers are ever-more aware of and concerned about protecting their private data — especially online. According to Pew Research, 72% of Americans believe that almost all their online activity is being tracked, which understandably makes them uncomfortable. It can also make them less willing to participate in qual research studies.

In response to rising fears around data privacy, countries around the world are enacting stricter guidelines designed to protect personal information and give consumers more control over their own data. Moving into 2024, researchers need to be aware of and respond to the concerns of consumers as well as the compliance requirements of their governments. That means having clear and formalized data security protocols in place, as well as complete transparency on how data is collected and used.

Researchers will also need to take measures to protect themselves and their clients against malicious actors. GreenBook reports that upwards of 30% of market research qualifies as fraudulent, propelled by respondents who lie about their qualifications, bots and fake traffic completing surveys, and widespread identity theft. As such, it will be critical for researchers to implement robust safeguards from here on out.

We delve deeper into safeguarding data in our recent blog post here.

Let’s Hear it for Voice of Consumer (VoC) Research

Modern VoC research involves using technology and tools that analyze text and consumer sentiment across a range of digital and traditional channels and methods including surveys, interviews and focus groups, social media, feedback forms, online reviews, customer support interactions, customer journey mapping, and more. The goal is to capture what customers are saying about your product, services, and/or brand for authentic insight.

We expect VoC research to gain traction as companies continue to place an emphasis on customer experience and customer-centric strategies. VoC also plays a key role in developing customer personas that help companies better understand and respond to different audience segments.

VoC research, however, can be challenging and complex since it requires an omni-channel approach and sophisticated tools in order to reveal the complete picture of customer preferences, sentiment, and behavior. It’s also important to make sure the VoC data you collect truly represents your target audience, and that you maintain customer privacy and data security.

Diversity and Inclusion in Market Research

In 2022, 44.1% of the U.S. population was non-White. By 2044, over half of Americans is projected to belong to a minority group. The percentage of Americans who identify as LGBTQ+ is growing as well, especially among younger generations; in 2022, 10.5% of Millennials in the U.S. identified as LGBTQ+, while 20% of Gen Z did.

Our country’s population is aging, as well, with the median age coming in at just under 40 years — a number that’s expected to rise. Even as we get older as a country, younger generations are gaining power as consumers. Millennials now represent the largest group of consumers, and Gen Z’s buying power is going up.

All this to say: in 2024, it will be imperative for researchers to make sure their research samples and respondents reflect the diversity of their audiences — including ethnicity, cultural background, lifestyle, gender, age, and sexual preference. It will be especially important to include traditionally underrepresented populations such as women of color, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Focus groups comprised of respondents who have similar experiences, preferences, and biases can often lead to skewed results. We get it: sometimes you need to find respondents who check off specific attributes — a certain age group, profession, demographic. But within the confines of the screener, and whenever possible, diversifying your groups and interviewees can help reveal richer, deeper insight that leads to better decisions.

Diversity and representation are an even bigger challenge when we consider how difficult it’s becoming to find respondents. Today’s consumers are increasingly likely to ignore phone calls, emails and texts from unknown sources, including field managers trying to recruit for research studies. Which leaves only those self-selecting consumers to respond and participate — and who often lack diversity. To address this challenge, qual researchers will need to lean hard into relationship-focused recruiting.

Beyond diversity, researchers must also work to ensure inclusivity with their studies. That requires creating environments where every participant feels listened to, valued, respected, and involved — regardless of who they are.

What Did We Miss?

Call us optimists (we certainly embrace that title), but we’re excited about the emerging tools, technologies, and methodologies researchers can leverage to unlock even greater insights that drive tomorrow’s innovations. As is the nature of our industry, we’re sure this list will continue to evolve as the year advances, and we’re curious to see what develops. We’d also be interested to hear about any trends you’d add to the list. Reach out, and let’s discuss.

9 Tips for Using AI Safely in Market Research

There’s been plenty of hype around Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it’s going to transform our world — including the world of market research. What’s lacking is practical guidance for using AI in our daily work as researchers. For the next series of Thinkpiece blog posts, we’re focusing on less hype-ful and more helpful AI insight.

For the first of this series, we’re sharing our top tips for using AI safely. True, AI offers the potential to help make research more efficient and effective. But AI technology also comes with a host of potential risks, particularly when it comes to data protection and privacy. After all, AI apps are designed to collect as much information — including sensitive info — as possible to keep learning and becoming “smarter.”

Before you invest in that shiny new AI app or tool, here are nine basic safety practices to keep your, your clients’, and your respondents’ data secure and protected.

1. Choose Your AI Apps Wisely

Before you start using any AI app or tool, take some time to research the company behind it. You’ll want to make sure the developer is legitimate, offers good customer support, and has a solid reputation particularly around security.

Avoid fly-by-night and sketchy apps, and do some digging into the tools you’re considering. Check out the company’s portfolio to see what they’ve done before, and the quality of those products or services — keeping a lookout for any bad press or reviews. Make sure the company is well versed in the latest AI and machine learning frameworks, and is clearly an expert in the field. Last but not least, scrutinize their commitment to security (see tip number 3).

2. Don’t Overshare

Assume that any data you share with an AI app will be used to improve its machine learning — and is at the mercy of the app developer. Which means you should also assume that this data is vulnerable to breaches.

To that end, avoid sharing any personal, confidential, or sensitive data — especially your clients’ or respondents’ info. For example, any proprietary client information, such as a new product that’s being held under wraps, should definitely not be shared with any AI app or tool. A general rule of thumb we follow: if you don’t want it blasted on social media, don’t share it with an AI app. And if you come across AI-generated content that requests sensitive information, run the other way.

You might also want to invest in additional security tools designed to prevent oversharing of confidential and sensitive data. LLM Shield, for instance, prevents language learning machines (LLMs) like ChatGPT from leaking your clients’ or respondents’ personal or private information.

 3. Peruse the Privacy Policy

Reading the fine print may be a pain, but it’s important to know what you’re signing up for. So be sure to peruse the privacy policy, terms, and conditions for any AI app you’re thinking about using. This will let you know how the app plans to collect, store, protect, and use any data you share with it.

As previously mentioned, most apps use the data you share to make it “smarter.” But the app’s developers may also be exploiting data for other purposes, such as selling personal information to third parties who want to completely freak you out with personalized ads. The app’s privacy policies should give you confidence that the developers won’t do anything dubious with your data and are taking thorough measures to protect your info from hackers.

4. Customize Your Security Settings

After carefully reviewing the app’s privacy policy and deciding you’re comfortable with it, don’t stop there. Go into the app’s privacy and security controls and change any settings to meet your preferences.

For example, the app may give you the option to have data automatically erased after a certain amount of time, or you may be able to choose to delete the data yourself manually. You might also be able to review and erase search histories and clear conversations to delete anything you and the AI app might have “chatted” about.

5. Train Your Team

It’s a good idea to formalize your own security policies and practices for using AI apps and tools, as well. Guidelines can cover a wide range of topics, including how the app should be used in alignment with your or your clients’ values; complying with laws related to data privacy; identifying and addressing potential AI biases; reducing risks of exposing or mishandling sensitive data; the role of humans in ensuring AI app safety; and steps to take in the event of AI-related errors or disputes.

Train your team and anyone who will be using the AI app on these policies, practices, and guidelines to make sure they’re understood and followed.

6. Keep Up with Compliance

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself and any other users on your team with current compliance and regulatory requirements around the use of AI. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), for example, enforces strict guidelines around protecting patient information and privacy which might easily be violated using AI. If you’re conducting research in Europe, you’ll want to be aware of any potential General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) issues when using AI tools.

Compliance and regulations around the use of AI are ever evolving, so it’s important to stay on top of these changes to protect yourself as well as your clients and respondents.

7. Follow Good IT Security Practices

The growing prevalence of AI makes robust IT security protocols and hyper-vigilance even more critical, now that the area of attack is much larger. Keep employing the usual security best practices, such as creating strong passwords for all apps and websites, making sure all your software is up to date with the latest versions, and employing reputable anti-malware and anti-virus software.

This last point is especially important since it’s now possible to create malware that observes what you enter into an LLM like ChatGPT and then sends that information to a malicious actor for the purpose of stealing sensitive data. It’s also possible to use prompts engineered to “hypnotize” or trick an AI tool into doing things it normally wouldn’t, such as compromising the user’s data or producing incorrect or malicious responses.

These hypnotized AI apps can be used in phishing attacks to steal data from a user who thinks they’re interacting with a reputable source. Following good IT security practices will help protect you against this new crop of AI-enabled hacking.

8. Remember: AI Isn’t Perfect

Far from it, in fact. AI algorithms are subject to bias, which can lead to inaccurate, unfair, and even offensive results — all of which we definitely want to avoid in market research. Case in point: you might have read about the New York-based law firm that used ChatGPT for legal research and submitted a filing that referenced six completely fabricated legal cases, complete with bogus decisions, quotes, and internal citations — putting the firm in legal jeopardy as a result.

Which is why it’s critical that you don’t rely or make decisions based on AI alone. Have an actual human review, vet, and confirm any content or results generated by an AI app — paying close attention to potential inaccuracies, prejudices, or outright lies.

9. Just Keep Learning

One lesson we can glean from AI: the more we learn, the smarter we get. If you’re interested in leveraging AI for market research, we recommend learning as much as you can about the subject before you invest in and start using any AI tools or apps.

One good source of knowledge is Amazon, which recently launched its “AI Ready” initiative with free courses that teach you how to use generative AI (GenAI) to create text, images, and other media. Think ChatGPT and DALL-E. We just completed Amazon’s Generative AI Learning Plan for Decision Makers course, and recommend it for anyone interested in understanding more about using GenAI in their organizations.

You can also schedule a no-cost tutorial session with our in-house AI expert and Director of Technology Research, John Dibling, and download our free resource guides including “Understanding AI & Why It Matters for Market Research” and “8 Tips for Using ChatGPT in Market Research” here.

While one of the aims of AI is to simplify our lives, in reality it’s added a lot of complexity. And that complexity is constantly changing. We’re here to help you safely leverage AI as an effective, collaborative market research tool — human to human. Let us know if you have questions or are looking for more guidance.

Remote Vs. In Person Focus Groups: Is One Better Than the Other?

There’s no question COVID has changed the world of work. One of the most obvious shifts is the significant number of people who continue to work remotely at least part of the time. According to a recent McKinsey study, upwards of 25% of workforces in advanced economies work from home between three and five days a week — representing four to five times more remote work than in pre-pandemic days.

The qualitative market research workforce is no exception. Not only are more researchers working from home, but they’re doing more focus groups and interviews remotely as well. Research from Take Note, an interview transcription service, tells us that around 93% of market researchers are using online and video focus groups more often than they were three years ago. Which makes complete sense. During the pandemic lock-down days, market researchers were forced by necessity to move their studies to online platforms like Zoom.

The question now is: will focus groups continue to be conducted remotely — and should they? The answer to the first part of that question is, without a doubt, yes. The answer to the second part, however, calls for a deeper exploration of the upsides and downsides of virtual interviews and focus groups. So let’s dive in.

Jettison the Jetlag

Clearly, the most compelling advantages of remote research studies are convenience and flexibility — for all parties involved. With a virtual group or interview, there’s no need for the respondents, moderator, or client to travel, when all you have to do is pull up a chair and turn on a computer. While avoiding airport hassles and jetlag, clients can still view remote focus groups and interviews behind the scenes and provide feedback or direction to moderators in real-time. Less travel time also means lower costs for the client — with no plane tickets to purchase, cars to rent, hotel rooms to reserve, or per diems to dole out.

Remote interviews and focus groups also make it easier to reach and attract a wider geographic range of respondents while also simplifying the scheduling (and field managers love that). For instance, we found it much easier to get a larger size of respondents for an online group — easily finding 50, when we were originally targeting just 30.

Distraction-Free Zone

Remote interviews and focus groups can also provide a more distraction-free setting that allows both respondents and moderators to stay focused on the topic at hand. After all, there are no windows to stare out of, no thermostats blasting freezing air, no neighbor in the next seat to annoy you with the weird way they suck their teeth.

That being said, online respondents can also get distracted by what’s going on around them at home — a toddler crying, a dog barking, a delivery person knocking. So even with remote groups, it’s important to minimize disruptions as much as possible by making sure respondents have set aside the dedicated time and space to focus solely on the discussion.

Remote or In Person? Great Question.

For pure practicalities, we find remote interview and focus groups a great option when respondents are scattered across multiple states. Virtual platforms are particularly well suited for our B2B respondents, including software engineers, technologists, and clinicians who are comfortable with online meetings. Offering a remote option can also make it easier and faster to replace respondents on the fly when one doesn’t show or drops out.

We find that remote interviews are ideal for respondents who prefer to retain their anonymity, since they don’t have to reveal their face or name. However, when the topic being discussed is of a sensitive nature, an in-person moderator who displays empathy, compassion, and strong listening skills can be more effective than a talking head inside a square on a screen.

 Consider the Respondent

Remote platforms may be the preferred option for one-on-one interviews that require drilling down into complex subjects with high-level professionals who have incredibly busy schedules and limited time. For example, we typically conduct our interviews with physicians and clinicians online, and find the remote set-up works best for discussing complicated medical procedures, products, and research that require the focused attention of moderator and respondent alike.

On the other hand, certain consumer respondents — such as older patients — seem more comfortable with in-person settings. These types of groups tend to respond better to the reassuring physical presence of a skilled moderator who can guide the discussion with compassion and care.

For respondents, like our hypothetical older patients, an in-person setting may also make them feel more relaxed and at ease. While a screen can create a sense of distance and remoteness, in-person groups and interviews may feel less formal and structured. Respondents who are inclined to give truncated answers in a virtual setting like Zoom may be willing to talk more freely and openly in person. This in turn can further the conversation and lead to deeper insights. It can also be easier for moderators to see and read respondents’ facial expressions and body language in person versus online, which can provide additional shading, insight, and guidance in steering the conversation.

Controlling the Group Dynamic

It’s also important to consider the group dynamic of the respondents participating in the study. As any moderator can tell you, there’s generally one or two people in every group who tend to dominate the discussion, while others may be too intimidated to contribute and thus fade into the background. You may also have respondents whose strong, outspoken emotional reactions overly influence the responses of other participants. Every group dynamic is different, and it’s up to the moderator to make sure one single person isn’t monopolizing or skewing the conversation.

To that end, moderators will want to consider which platform puts them in the best position to steer the group dynamics in order to get the most complete, in-depth, and representative insights from all respondents. Some moderators feel they’re better able to do this in person, while others may find a virtual group (with less interplay between the respondents and access to a mute button) allows them to more easily exercise control and make sure everyone has a say.

Testing Concepts and Technical Know-How

In our experience, in-person settings often work best when testing messaging, concepts, and creative visuals. Sometimes, there’s just no substitute for having a physical board or document to put in front of person, without the barrier of a screen. That’s not to say you can’t present concepts online (we’ve done our fair share of that as well), but we find we often get more extensive and genuine responses when we do this work in person.

When deciding on remote vs. in-person, it’s also a good idea to consider the technical know-how and comfort levels of the respondents when it comes to remote platforms like Zoom. The last thing you want is a flustered respondent who can’t get their mic to work or figure out how to turn on their camera.

The Final Verdict? Be Good at Both.

So back to our original question. Yes, we believe that remote focus groups and interviews are here to stay, and that’s a good thing. Virtual platforms can make it easier and more cost-effective for researchers and clients to find, reach, and recruit a wider range of respondents. Given the challenges around recruitment, any advantage is welcome.

But we also believe there is still a time, place, and need for in-person research studies — and that there will continue to be so. So rather than picking one over the other, we recommend seeking out research partners who embrace and excel at both. Your research partner should also understand which option will generate the best results and insights based on the topic, the respondents, and the client’s goals, and make recommendations accordingly.

We’d love to talk remote vs. in-person with you to see what your experience has been. Reach out to continue the conversation.

To Get from Findings to Insights, You Need an Actual Human

With all the buzz (and, in some cases, panic) around artificial intelligence (AI), we thought it would be a worthwhile endeavor to examine the impact of AI on a subject near and dear to our hearts: qualitative market research.

As researchers, should we be warily eyeing AI with suspicion? Could AI eventually replace us carbon-based lifeforms when it comes to gathering and distilling research (once it’s done taking over the planet, of course)? While the continual evolution and emergence of AI will no doubt have a significant impact on how market research is done, we may be focusing on the wrong questions.

Instead of asking: “Will AI make us obsolete as researchers?” — let’s reframe the query. What we should be asking ourselves is, “How can we leverage AI to be even better at what we do?” In other words, rather than panicking over AI, let’s plan and prepare for it as a collaborative tool in the hands of people who know how to use it.

Findings Vs. Insights, Humans Vs. AI

Our deeply felt belief is that AI will not, should not, and cannot replace humans when it comes to qualitative market research that delivers real, meaningful value to clients. Here’s why. As a tool, AI offers tremendous potential in helping researchers uncover, gather, organize, and present research findings with greater speed and efficiency. But it takes a human with a specific set of expertise, an understanding of why people behave the way they do, and — perhaps most importantly — empathy to translate those findings into actionable insight.

Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to clarify the difference between findings and insight — because, while related, they are not one in the same. Findings refer to the facts or cold, hard data that are discovered during the course of the research. A finding could be shared by a respondent you’re interviewing one-on-one, voiced by a participant in a focus group, or observed by the researcher. “This respondent preferred concept A over concept B,” for example. That’s a finding.

Insight goes a layer deeper than a finding, to reveal an unspoken truth, belief, or reality supported by the facts or data. While findings focus on the “what,” insights illuminate the “why,” allowing us to better understand what motivates that hypothetical respondent to prefer concept A over concept B. This information is invaluable in helping clients make decisions and move forward with greater confidence.

As researchers we need to get past the findings to explore those insights that provide true value and direction our clients can act on. This process takes time and imagination, which is why we need humans to lead qualitative research, no matter how advanced AI technology gets. More precisely, we need humans with a particular set of skills, talents, and experiences. Let’s dive into that a bit more.

Speaking the Language

Ideally, the human leading the qual market research should bring first-hand experience relevant to the subject at hand — something AI simply can’t provide. Yes, AI can scrape the vast universe of data and “learn” how to mimic an industry-specific expert, but there’s no substitute for in-the-trenches, hands-on experience.

We’ve found this to be particularly true with the research projects we’re involved with, which typically center around complex challenges and questions in the fields of healthcare, technology, and finance. Because our researchers started in these very same fields (as software engineers, clinicians, and fintech brainiacs), they don’t have to “learn” the language of the industries they’re researching; they’re already fluent.

This industry-insider advantage also means our researchers know how to connect with the respondents they’re interviewing (often other clinicians and technologists) in an authentic, peer-to-peer manner. This level of trust and understanding leads to better questions, more meaningful conversations, more relevant findings, and yes, deeper insights.

Understanding Our Fellow Humans

There’s one other area where humans excel and AI flounders: understanding people — the way we think and feel, the reasons we make decisions and have certain preferences, the motivation behind our behaviors. As much as AI can sound like a human, it simple doesn’t know what it means to be human — the desires, fears, wants, and needs that drive us. And thus, it lacks the capacity for understanding human behavior that is so essential to revealing truly impactful insight.

People — being people — already have a basic understanding of what it means to be human. But when it comes to turning findings into insights, it helps to have a researcher who is fluent in sociology and human dynamics. This added layer of expertise enables the researcher to delve beyond industry-specific language and pick up on what is often unarticulated. So for example, even if a respondent may not precisely know why they selected concept A over concept B, a researcher with a sociology or human behavior background can often uncover the motivating factors and share this critical insight with the client.

The Element of Empathy 

Perhaps the most important quality unique to humans, and absent in AI, is empathy. In the world of qualitative market research, being able to empathize is key to making the leap from findings to insights. That’s where researchers who come from the industries they’re researching have another advantage.

A researcher who is a former nurse has sat by the patient’s bed and walked the hospital halls. As such, she has the capacity to empathize not only with patients and their families, but with the clinicians who care for them and the companies innovating the drugs and devices to treat them. A researcher who burned copious amounts of midnight oil as a software engineer in a previous life will be able to empathize with CIOs, IT staff, and developers as well as the people using their technologies and products. What’s more, researchers with industry experience will have empathy for the client who seeks answers to challenging problems and is faced with difficult decisions that have a direct impact on the success of their company.

Applying Insights to Brands

If you’ve seen this horrifying AI-generated ad for a pizza delivery service, you’re familiar with the limitations (more like aberrations) of artificial intelligence when it comes to branding. And while AI is getting smarter with every passing day (hey, it can even recreate human-like hands now), it’s still a long way from winning any Clio awards.

For that, you still need creative, brilliant, brand-savvy humans. In the qual market research world, researcher may tend to overlook branding — being so wrapped up in the findings and insights part of it. But we would argue that branding is the natural progression of market research; that’s where the insight ends up getting implemented in messaging, concepts, creative, and campaigns. You need that human researcher who is able to not only reveal and articulate the insight, but demonstrate how that insight can be used to build resonant, effective brands that connect with — you guessed it — real, live people.

Collaborating with AI

The debate around findings vs. insights is a fascinating one. But at the end of the day, for researchers it’s really all about getting results our clients can act on. Findings without insights are just facts; interesting, yes, but so what? Insights without implementation are just reports that sit on a shelf in someone’s office, gathering dust.

As expert and empathetic researchers, we have a responsibility to our clients to deliver outcomes they can act on. That involves analyzing, collecting, and presenting the data and insights with a clear strategic direction. And that’s where AI can help. There are a wealth of AI tools and technology — with more immerging daily — that researchers can leverage to be more efficient, productive, wide-reaching, and accurate in how and where we collect data.

AI tools can help us identify and locate hard-to-find respondents more quickly. They can assist us in putting together effective screeners and simplify the process of developing discussion guides so we can focus our time and talents elsewhere. They can help us scale our reach, enabling more conversations with more target audiences.

AI can be our tireless intern, working without the need for coffee or bathroom breaks to create and cull through focus group transcripts, survey responses, social media posts, reviews, and more. AI tools can help us identify trends and patterns that might take the human eye much, much longer to see. They can collect and synthesize data across a wide range of sources in a way that makes it easier for us to draw out those insights. And they can help us create reports that equip clients with clear answers and strategic recommendations.

What they can’t do is replace us — us being human researchers who bring to the table years of lived experience, an in-depth understanding of human behavior and dynamics, the know-how to pull insights from findings and apply those to brands, and above all else, empathy.

AI is here to stay, and we must come to terms with it in market research. But this can be a collaborative rather than adversarial partnership, one that benefits all parties involved — from the researcher to the respondents to the client to their customers.

We’d love to talk more about findings vs. insights and the role of AI in MR with you. Reach out with any questions or thoughts.

Thinkpiece to Chair AI-Focused Panel Discussion at The Market Research Event (TMRE)

Chicago, IL, October 5, 2023 — Thinkpiece, a woman-owned qualitative market research firm specializing in technology, healthcare, and financial industries, will be chairing the “Game-Changers: AI/Tech Spotlight” panel discussion at The Market Research Event (TMRE) October 23-25, 2023, in Denver, Co.

Featuring multiple market research leaders, the panel discussion will explore today’s most relevant and pressing topics related to the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on market research. Subjects to be covered include the perceptions around the use of ChatGPT, the rise of collecting and analyzing public data to understand consumer behaviors, the availability of new AI models for research, and leveraging AI to drive efficiencies.

The panel discussion will be moderated by Thinkpiece COO, Technology and Finance Lead, John Dibling, and will be held at TMRE on both Monday, October 23 and Tuesday, October 24, starting at 10:45am.

John Dibling plans to call on his AI expertise as he helps guide the discussion with his colleagues and fellow thought-leaders. “Artificial intelligence has long fascinated me as an emerging transformative force, which is why I pursued an emphasis in AI decades ago when I earned my degree in computer science,” he says. “I’m looking forward to being part of this conversation around the implications of AI on our industry. It’s a discussion everyone in market research should be having.”

Thinkpiece’s technology team has additionally written a series of books focused on AI in market research. The first in the series, titled Understanding AI & Why It Matters for Market Research, is available at

“Thinkpiece is excited to attend TMRE 2023, exchange insights with our industry peers, and explore the topics that are having the greatest impact on market research, such as AI,” says Thinkpiece Chief Executive Officer, Bonnie Dibling. “Along with John and myself, our technology, healthcare, and finance team will be on hand to answer questions and discuss the direction market research is heading with attendees.”

In the spirit of the AI thread at TMRE, the Thinkpiece team will be serving a custom cocktail created by ChatGPT at their booth number 203. “We’re calling it Liquid Insight, and it actually turned out delicious,” says Bonnie. “We’ll be revealing the recipe at the show, so we invite attendees to stop by our booth to try it while we talk all things insight.”

TMRE will be held at the Gaylord Rockies Event & Convention Center in Denver, CO, on October 23-25, 2023. For more information about TRME and the AI panel discussion, visit

To learn more about Thinkpiece and their unique approach to insight as market researchers who come from the technology, healthcare, and finance industry they serve, visit

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About Thinkpiece
Thinkpiece is a woman-owned qualitative market research firm that does things differently. We took professionals working inside the technology, healthcare, and financial industries we serve and trained them to be great researchers with the skills to reveal those hidden gems of insight. As software engineers, clinicians, advertising executives, and sociologists, we speak our clients’ complex language, get up to speed faster, hit the ground running, and dig deeper for the “why” behind the “what.” Using research as a strategic tool, we help our clients answer difficult questions and move forward. Learn more at

Key Questions (and Answers) for Building Your Digital Presence

We’ve looked at how small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can go from being virtually invisible to very much seen in our last two blog posts. Now let’s zoom in on one key aspect of this strategy for un-invisibility: building a digital presence.

We’re not just talking about having a website and a Facebook page, either. Rather, your digital presence can be best defined by how easy it is for your prospective customers to find your brand or company online. Whether you’re a start-up just dipping your toe in the digital pool, or an established company looking to expand your digital footprint — there are number of compelling reasons to grow your online presence. Starting with these.

1. Save while you sell.
Digital platforms provide a cost-effective way to reach more customers, and ultimately sell more products and/or services. Consider that the internet attracts around 5.18 billion users worldwide — accounting for 64.6% of the global population. People spend around eight hours a day doing digital activities, including researching companies.

In 2022, a whopping 98% of consumers used the internet to find information about local businesses. In other words, your customers are online. If you want to be seen by them — and sell to them — then you better be online too, and easy to find. In fact, your customers’ journey with you will often start in the digital realm.

2. Legitimacy and awareness.
Building your digital presence goes a long way toward building your credibility and brand awareness. After all, would you do business with a company that doesn’t have a website or a social media presence? Most consumers wouldn’t. The more professional, consistent, and reassuring your digital presence, the more credibility you convey and the more consumers will be aware of you.

3. More customer touchpoints.
Conventional marketing wisdom tells us that it takes an average of seven encounters with a lead before they become a customer. The more places you can be found online, the more opportunities your prospects have to encounter your brand and convert to customer.

Avoiding Online Obscurity.

Clearly, your digital presence matters. The challenge comes in measuring that presence, and moving from online obscurity to digital powerhouse. Here are some key questions to ask yourself to assist with this process.

Where Are You Now?

Determine the health of your digital presence as it is today — starting with the state of your website. Is your current site old, sluggish, confusing? Does it work on a mobile phone? Is it cluttered with annoying animations? Your website has a huge impact on how your prospects view your brand, and whether they decide to become customers.

Research shows that 85% of visitors leave a website if it’s slow to load, 73.1% bounce if it’s non-responsive (doesn’t look good on a cell phone or tablet), 61.5% jump ship due to bad navigation, and 38.5% click elsewhere if the design is outdated. So if your site isn’t up to speed or visitor expectations, you probably want to make some improvements.

You can tell whether your site is working for or against you by looking at your site traffic. Google Analytics provides insight into who’s visiting your site, where they’re coming from, what pages they’re visiting most, and how long they’re staying on specific pages — all valuable information as you determine where to invest your enhancements.

Likewise, you’ll want to take a look at any available statistics for your social media pages. Social medial platforms share insights not just about the number of people who like a photo, but how many users saw your posts, as well as how they found them. See which posts are generating the most engagement and impressions (i.e. eyeballs) so you know what’s working — and what isn’t.

While you’re taking digital inventory, be sure to include your email outreach to prospects. Start with your list: is it current? When was the last time you scrubbed it of outdated contacts or recipients who aren’t really part of your target audience? Then look at the stats for the emails you’ve been sending out, specifically the open and unsubscribe rates. If you haven’t been sending email communications in a while (or at all), you’ll want to rectify that ASAP.

Where Do You Want to Be?

What do you want your digital presence to look like? Be specific with your answers to this question. Identify the quantity of monthly visitors you’d like your website to attract, the number followers you want on your social media pages, the amount of connections you want to make on LinkedIn each quarter, the number of new prospects you want to add to your email list by the end of the year, and so on.

Along with specificity, be realistic. Don’t expect to get 1,000 new followers in one month. Instead, try breaking your goals into smaller, more do-able chunks and build from there. Once you’ve set your objectives, you can start strategizing on how to achieve them.

How Do You Get There?

To address this question, let’s take it one digital bucket at a time.

Organic (aka Free) Social Media
Given that 59.9% of the world’s internet users are also on social media, this seems like a great place to direct your digital brand expansion. Having a strong presence on social media is a cost-effective and potent way to build your credibility while extending your reach to more prospective customers.

If you — like most SMBs — have limited resources and time, you’ll probably want to focus your efforts on one or two social media platforms most frequented by your target audience. You’ll also want to make sure your social media pages are professional, well branded, and credible with complete profile information, quality graphics, and relevant content.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to social media: it’s not all about the follower count. Fewer, more engaged users beat thousands of followers who ignore your posts, any day.

Focus instead on connecting with social media users who have an interest in the types of products and/or services you offer. Find social media communities and forums that overlap with your business and brand, and connect with people there. Build relationships with influencers who can help drive users to your social media pages. Reciprocate and engage on other users’ pages and accounts. Above all, be patient and consistent, allow connections to grow organically, and you will begin to build your presence.

Paid Digital
Supplement your organic social media activities with paid digital advertising, as budget allows. You have a lot of options when it comes to paid digital: Google search ads, social media ads, display ads, retargeting, to name a few. So if you’re new to digital advertising, try experimenting with different methods to see which delivers the best results for your money.

Whatever option you go with, make sure you’re being as targeted as possible with the audience who will be seeing your ads, how much you want to spend, as well as your goals. Perhaps you want to drive people to a specific webpage, or promote a particular product. Or maybe you want to get more people to sign up for your e-newsletter. By identifying a specific goal, you’ll be able to determine the best message, audience, and digital platform to use.

Emails can be a powerful tool for driving people to your online presence — namely, your website and social media pages. So building a good list of qualified, high-quality leads should be one of your top priorities.

There are a few ways to go about doing this. If you have information you can share with your prospects that’s of value to them (think white papers, guides, free samples or demos), then consider leveraging that as gated content on your website. Visitors share their contact information with you in exchange for accessing this free, value-added asset.

You can also add simple email contact form fields to your website, encouraging visitors to sign up for the latest news and developments. Invite people to sign up as well on your social media pages.

Once you’ve started building your list, be sure that you’re sending them emails on a consistent basis — without overwhelming them or their inboxes. Provide email content they really want and can use, rather than just self-promotional pitches, and follow best practices to keep out of spam filters and minimize unsubscriptions.

After all, much of your social media, paid digital, and email communications will be driving prospects to your website to learn more, view specific pages, and/or buy what you’re offering. So it’s of vital importance to make sure that your website reflects well on your brand, is fast and easy to navigate, provides the information your visitors seek, and delivers a great user experience.

Much of burden of that experience resides with your site’s content. Yes, content is a central component of SEO (search engine optimization) by allowing more opportunities to leverage key words that may help push your site higher on search engine rankings. But the quality of your site’s content also plays an important role in strengthening your brand, building credibility and awareness, engaging prospects and converting them into customers, and positioning you as a thought leader.

To that end, the content you develop and add to your site should be written for actual humans (ideally, your target audience) rather than for bots. It should inform your visitors, inspire them, excite them, enlighten them, entertain them, help them, make them think. In other words, your content should be of value to them. Offer them this level of content, and you can be they’ll come back for more, seek you out on social media, open and read your emails, and share your information with others.

Think Outside the Internet.

While we’ve focused on the usual digital suspects, we also encourage you to get creative. After all, SMBs are used to being resourceful and inventive when it comes to reaching their prospective customers. Look for opportunities on- as well as offline that will help build your digital presence.

Say yes to a podcast interview. Volunteer to be a guest blog post writer on another site. Offer yourself up as a subject matter expert for print and online publications within your industry. Present at conferences (virtual and in-person), and host your own webinars. The prospects who see you on these venues will also come find you online.

Just Do It.

Building your digital presence require daily vigilance — and activity. The digital world is dynamic, after all, so you must be as well. That means adding new and fresh content to your website on a regular basis, posting on your social media pages and engaging on others daily, scrubbing that list monthly, sending out emails with a sustained cadence, keeping up with your paid digital campaigns — you get the picture. Create a schedule for these activities to keep you accountable and on track. And, in the words of one brand with a mighty digital presence, just do it.

Thus concludes our series on getting seen as a small to medium-sized business. But we’re hoping the conversation is just getting started. Feel free to reach out to discuss in more detail, and let us know your thoughts.

The SMB’s Unofficial Guide to Un-Invisibility

For small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), getting seen in a crowded digital landscape can be quite the challenge. As an SMB ourselves, we know this only too well. We also know that there are practical steps you can take to get on the path to un-invisibility. In our last blog post, we explored the advantages of niche marketing for SMBs seeking to break through the competitive clutter to connect with their ideal target audience. Now let’s take a look at some other strategies SMBs can employ to increase visibility.

As a qualitative research team that specializes in B2B, technology, healthcare, and financial industries, we have the privilege and joy of engaging with SMBs on a daily basis. In that work, we’ve seen just how hard-working, passionate, and scrappy smaller companies can be. We also know that despite those admirable qualities, SMBs face a number of common barriers that keep them out of view of their prospective audiences. The good news is, there are strategies to help you scale these barriers and be seen on the other side.

Barrier: Money (Or Lack Thereof)
As far as barriers goes, this is a big one for small to midsize enterprises. SMBs tend to have limited resources, including money, to throw at marketing campaigns. The smaller your marketing budget, the more strategic and inventive you need to be with how you spend it.

Strategy: Low Cost, High Impact
Look for the most cost-effective way to reach the most high-yield audience. One affordable marketing tool at your disposal are those satisfied clients who sing your praises and refer you to their colleagues. All you have to do is ask them. Add digital marketing and relevant, value-added content creation to your strategy, and you’ll see a greater return on your efforts and investment than wide-reaching expensive campaigns (we’re looking at you, Super Bowl ad).

Barrier: Data, Data, Everywhere
In this digital age, information overload overwhelms us all — including your audience. Getting your prospects to open your email (let alone read it) or click on your social media post can feel like an impossible task — especially when inboxes and feeds are flooded with content clamoring for attention.

Solution: Notch Your Niche
Identify, find, and connect with your niche audience — those targeted prospects who align most perfectly with your products or services — on the platforms they frequent. This laser-focused approach allows you to conserve your limited resources and direct them to efforts that will have the greatest impact. By reaching out to an audience who shares your passion and truly values what you have to offer, you’ll make genuine connections built on trust. You’ll also see your word-of-mouth grow. Read more about the power of niche marketing here.

Barrier: Who Are You?
The credibility struggle for SMBs is real. You’re out there in a crowded marketplace competing with bigger brands that have spent years (decades, even) building awareness, recognition, and loyalty. Without that name recognition, prospects are more likely to question not only who you are, but why they should trust you.

Solution: Get on the Brand Wagon
Brands aren’t just for Nike anymore. SMBs deserve — and benefit greatly — from having a strong, memorable, professionally crafted, and consistently supported brand. Along with attracting eyeballs, a compelling, uniquely-yours brand will go a long way to building visibility, trust, and loyalty.

Barrier: The Digital Marketing Maze
Cookies and algorithms and quality scores — oh my! For SMBs going it alone, navigating the digital marketing landscape is no easy matter. Digital media may not be rocket science, but it can certainly feel like it. As a result, many SMBs shy away from digital or give up on it after seeing dismal results (and a lot of wasted money and effort).

Solution: Content Is King
One cost-effective place to start your digital marketing strategy is with content generation. Bolster your website with relevant, meaningful content such as blog posts, articles, and case studies that position you as an industry authority while also boosting your search engine rankings. This content can also be repurposed for email and social media marketing, giving you something of value to email and post about. A small investment in paid social media can help increase visibility of this content as well and expand your audience.

Barrier: The Unbudging Customer Base
Small businesses typically have a small customer base — hey, you gotta start somewhere, right? Growing that base, along with customer loyalty, is hard. But it’s also essential for your organic growth. After all, the more happy customers you have, the more word will get out, and the more new prospects will find you.

Solution: Leverage Your Champions
Chances are, among your small customer base you’ll find passionate champions who are more than willing to advocate for your company. Encourage your satisfied customers to share testimonials, write reviews, and create user-generated content about their positive experience using your products or services. Cultivate your own early adopters and influencers, and let them get the word out. And of course, continue providing the exceptional level of personalized service that your customers rave about.

Invisibility Is Highly Overrated

When it comes to superpowers, invisibility doesn’t do SMBs much good. Becoming un-invisible — now that takes talent, skill, and no small amount of patience. Speaking from first-hand experience, we know it’s possible for smaller enterprises to make a big impression on their audience without spending a fortune — using a strategy that ombines word-of-mouth, niche marketing, optimized content development, and customer advocacy.

And though it may not seem like it, as a SMB you do have advantages over your larger, big-budgeted, and overly confident competitors (just ask Goliath). Your nimble size allows you to connect with your target audience on a more personalized level with greater authenticity. All you need is the right slingshot, and watch out giants.

As you can tell, small to midsized businesses are a particular passion of ours. We’d love to discuss SMB strategies for becoming un-invisible in more detail, so feel free to reach out anytime.

The Invisible SMB: Getting Seen in Today’s Crowded Digital World

With all the hoopla around artificial intelligence, today’s most precious commodity remains human attention. And it’s become a rare commodity indeed. Given the deluge of information from disparate sources, our lives have become inundated with content — all vying for our increasingly limited attention. The technology that was meant to bring us together has inadvertently driven us into information silos where we stay isolated and closed off from outside messages.

This information overload compounded by a crowded digital landscape has an especially large impact on small to medium businesses (SMBs) and the way they reach their audiences. We know: Thinkpiece is one of them.

Once upon a time, traditional TV ads were considered the best way to capture eyeballs and lots of them. While still an effective medium for some demographics, TV ads in today’s streaming and on-demand world can be easily ignored or bypassed with the tap of a finger or press of a button. Print advertising isn’t fairing much better, as digital media expands and magazine readership declines. Email — once a bastion of SMB marketing — has also lost effectiveness amid overflowing inboxes and overly aggressive spam filters.

But not to worry: there’s always social media, right? Heralded as a game-changer for SMBs, social media marketing was supposed to level the playing field for small businesses without the big-brand budgets. And maybe for a while that proved true(ish). But as the social media landscape evolved, algorithms grew increasingly cryptic, and third-party cookies appear to be on their last legs, social media has now become a pay-to-play model. And the more you pay, the more likely your target audience will see your ads. Organic reach is ostensibly gone, leaving many SMBs struggling to gain visibility without blowing up their ad budgets.

So What’s an SMB to Do?

In a word, or rather two: niche marketing. Instead of casting a wide (and often expensive) net hoping to snag a few prospects, in the process getting lost in the sea of other businesses doing exactly the same thing, savvy SMBs focus on reaching and engaging a specific, passionate audience that aligns perfectly with the products or services they offer. In the case of niche marketing, less really can be more — more targeted, more receptive, more reachable, and more likely to make the leap from prospect to paying customer.

To be effective, niche marketing requires knowing your target audience, as well as how and where to connect with them. We’ve broken it down into the following five-step guidelines.

1. Know your niche.
SMB, know thy audience. Understanding the specific interests, needs, and pain points of your target prospects is the first step. Through diligent research and analysis of current and potential customers, SMBs can pinpoint the specific niche that resonates most with their offerings.

2. Create targeted content.
Once you’ve defined your niche, now comes the task of creating content that directly caters to the interests and concerns of this specialized audience. Whether it’s insightful blog posts, engaging videos, or captivating social media content, providing value is key to winning the hearts of niche consumers.

3. Get personal with your email.
The more personalized the emails you send, the more likely you are to get a response. Start by segmenting your email list based on different niches or interests, then craft personalized email campaigns that speak directly to each segment’s specific needs. This approach leads to higher open rates, engagement, and ultimately, conversions.

4. Meet them on social media.
Instead of waiting for your target audience to come to you on social media, go out and find them there. Participating actively in social media groups and forums related to your niche can foster authentic connections. By sharing valuable insights and being genuinely helpful (rather than blowing your own horn), you’ll build relationships and grow organically within these niche communities.

5. Host niche events and webinars.
You’re an expert in your niche. So let your target prospects know it. Organizing virtual events or webinars tailored to your niche audience’s interests establishes you as an authority in your field while delivering value to those who attend. This approach also offers an excellent opportunity to engage directly with potential customers and create trust in a non-salesy environment.

Be Targeted, and Be Seen

For small enterprises with great products and services, breaking through the digital clutter can be daunting. By adopting niche marketing strategies, embracing authenticity, and delivering tailored content that leads to meaningful connections, SMBs can claim their deserved spot as industry leaders, defy the odds, and thrive in the competitive digital realm. With a niche approach, SMBs can unveil themselves from the shadows and go from invisible to indispensable.

We’d love to hear about your approach to being seen by your audience, from one SMB to another. Reach out to us anytime.

Interviewer vs. Moderator in Qualitative Research – What’s the difference and does it matter? (Spoiler: It does)

If you’re a client seeking the insights that qualitative research can provide, you probably know that having a “good moderator” is essential for your project. But what exactly makes a moderator good? What should you expect from them, and what’s the role they’ll play in your research journey? More than semantics or industry jargon, a “good moderator” can significantly impact the success of your qualitative research endeavor.

In the world of qualitative research, there are two essential roles at play: the “interviewer” and the “moderator.” Their distinction may seem subtle, but it carries profound implications for the quality and depth of insights you’ll gain. The choice between these roles isn’t just a technicality; it’s a strategic decision that shapes the entire research process and, more importantly, the value you receive as a client.

An interviewer is a research professional responsible for conducting structured interviews with participants. They follow a predetermined script, asking predefined questions to gather specific information or opinions. Interviewers often aim to obtain clear and concise responses that directly address the research objectives.

In contrast, a moderator is a facilitator of group discussions or in-depth interviews in qualitative research settings. Their role is more dynamic and flexible compared to that of an interviewer. Moderators guide conversations, encourage participant interaction, and adapt to the flow of the discussion, allowing for exploration of unanticipated insights and perspectives.

Let’s dive deeper into why understanding this distinction matters. When you engage with a qualitative research team, you trust them to guide you through a complex process and deliver meaningful insights. You expect them to possess the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the intricacies of your project. However, the heart of the matter lies in whether they choose to wear the interviewer hat or the moderator hat for your specific needs.

So how do you know which one you need: interviewer or moderator? Here are a few guidelines to help you decide.

1. The Nature of Your Research Objectives

Your research objectives are the compass that guides the qualitative research journey. Sometimes, you need concrete answers to specific questions—answers that can be neatly summarized and acted upon. This is where an interviewer excels. They follow a structured script, ensuring that predefined questions are answered in a clear and concise manner. If your objectives involve A/B testing, concept validation, or other bounded inquiries, the interviewer’s approach may be the most effective.

On the other hand, if your research objectives are more exploratory, with a wide range of possible outcomes, a moderator may be your best choice. They are skilled in navigating uncharted territory, encouraging open-ended discussions, and uncovering insights that might not have been apparent at the outset. When you’re seeking to understand emerging trends, consumer behaviors, or the nuances of complex topics, the moderator’s approach shines.

2. The Complexity of Your Research Topic

Consider the complexity of your research topic. Some topics are straightforward, and your goal may be to gain quick insights or “color” around how people respond to a simple stimulus. In such cases, an interviewer’s structured approach can efficiently collect the data you need.

However, if your research topic is multifaceted, intricate, and requires a deep understanding of expert input or intricate reasoning, a moderator becomes invaluable. They can navigate these complexities, facilitating discussions that dig deep into the heart of the matter. Whether it’s understanding expert opinions, exploring nuanced perspectives, or unraveling intricate decision-making processes, the moderator’s expertise is geared for complex terrain.

3. The Depth of Understanding You Seek

Consider the depth of understanding you require from your qualitative research. Are you looking for practical, surface-level insights, or do you need a profound understanding of the “why” behind preferences and attitudes? If your research primarily involves making practical, immediate decisions with just a skimming interest in the “why,” an interviewer can efficiently gather the necessary data.

But if you’re after foundational insights, seeking to shape a comprehensive understanding of customer experiences and beliefs, a moderator becomes indispensable. They have the skills to engage participants in reflective, insightful discussions that delve deep into the “why” of preferences and attitudes.

Knowing the Difference Makes All the Difference

Understanding the difference between interviewers and moderators in qualitative research is about setting the stage for success, ensuring that your research objectives are met effectively, and maximizing the value you receive.

In the realm of qualitative research, recognizing the distinction between being an interviewer and being a moderator is essential. Both roles are valuable and serve different purposes. An experienced and skilled qualitative researcher understands when, why, and how to operate in one vein or the other, ensuring that the research objectives are met effectively.

Whether your research question is bounded or exploratory, straightforward or complex, practical or foundational, choosing the right approach and the appropriate guide can make all the difference in the quality and depth of insights gained. By acknowledging this subtle yet significant distinction, researchers can unlock the full potential of qualitative research, providing invaluable insights to drive decision-making and shape a better understanding of the world around us.

So, as a client, when you engage with a qualitative research team, remember that you’re not just hiring a “moderator” or an “interviewer.” You’re selecting a guide for your research journey, someone who will navigate the complexities of your project and uncover insights that drive your business forward. Understand what each role entails, consider the nature of your research objectives, the complexity of your topic, and the depth of understanding you seek. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to collaborate effectively and ensure that every interview counts towards achieving your goals.

In our next blog post, we’ll dive deeper into the role (or should we say “roles,” because indeed there are many) of the moderator. Our quest for clarity continues…