People love a good story. Over the past few years, a great deal of ink has been devoted to the importance of businesses being able to craft captivating stories. Why? Because stories have the power to persuade, engage, and inspire. A compelling business narrative blends data and emotion. Edelman, one of the world’s largest public relations firms, asserts that“great storytelling today requires a more intimate relationship with our audience, supporting analytics and a strategy that drives the brand narrative.” Qualitative research provides one of the best analytical methods to inform and create this connection with customers.
According to the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, qualitative research helps identify customer needs, clarify positioning and messaging, address market-fit, and gain perspective on how a product, brand, or solution fits into a customer’s lifestyle. It employs methods such as interviews, focus groups, observation, open-ended surveys, and recordings (audio and video) to gain insights into people’s opinions and experiences.
You can use this investigative approach to better understand why people feel, think, or respond in a particular way in a particular situation. Because it captures the voice of the participant it provides what is referred to as the color behind quantitative data. For example, solid quantitative data guides product development. Qualitative data from customers add the emotional context to the story for why customers feel your product is better than the competitors. Compelling and relevant stories weave in this type of information. Stories help people make decisions.
How Answering the “Why” Builds Customer Connections and Fosters Growth
Powerful stories can help your business gain traction, overcome competitors, expand your presence in the market, accelerate product adoption, and retain customers, employees, and partners. A well-developed story for your company communicates your organization’s purpose and articulates your value proposition and your competitive advantage. It serves as an umbrella for your company’s positioning, brand, messaging, and content.
If you ever took a writing or journalism course, you’ve heard of the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. These questions form the structure for every story. Quantitative data can tell us who, what, when, and where. It can answer the question of what people want.
To grow, you need a story that enables you to connect. So, start with why:
- Why your company exists
- Why something is important to an existing or prospective customer, employee, or partner
- Why someone cares about or needs a solution to achieve what they want.
The question “Why?” can rarely be answered with quantitative data. Answering the “Why” takes qualitative data.
Use Qualitative Results to Add Color and Depth to Quantitative Data
Qualitative research clarifies quantitative findings. To use qualitative research to build out the story, you will want to create a discussion guide. Think of a discussion guide as a structured script without creating a bias that will slant the story. Craft your discussion guide to help clarify, illuminate, and expand on learnings from the quantitative data. For example, you may have quantitative data around a customer problem, perhaps even its frequency and magnitude.
The value of conducting a qualitative study is in being able to understand how customers experience the problem, how it makes them feel, how the problem impacts their life, what it might feel like if they could solve it, and how they would feel about someone (a company) who can help them solve it. This becomes the foundation for your discussion guide because this information supports creating the story.
The results of the qualitative research give dimension to your quantitative data. What makes the story relevant and compelling is drawn from qualitative research. The words used by the participants add color and depth to numerical data.
There are many texts that can walk you through the ins and outs of qualitative research. One you may want to check out is Robert E. Stake’s book, Qualitative Research: Studying How Things Work. As you consider conducting this kind of research, keep in mind that the key to success, especially for a qualitative study, depends on asking the right questions in the right format to the right people.
In-depth interviews and focus groups (or a hybrid of these) support the kind of probing that is essential to story building. In both, the questions are typically captured in a tool known as the discussion guide. Its purpose is to help with the flow of conversation.
6 Best Practices for Creating a Discussion Guide
There is a science and expertise to creating discussion guides. Regardless of why you are conducting the qualitative study, best practices include (but are not limited to):
- Avoiding jumping into any questions. Introduce the role of the research (external, internal) and explain the purpose of, and process for, the discussion to participants.
- Setting the tone at the beginning. Aim to establish rapport.
- Starting with broad questions. Asking a participant to describe a typical scenario relevant to the topic can be a great opening question.
- Using the funnel approach so as the conversation progresses, you can delve into more detailed and specific questions. A good qualitative researcher thinks like an investigative reporter who is skilled at asking follow-up questions as needed.
- Allowing time for participants to expand on their answers and to ask questions .
- Thanking participants and inform them of any next steps
Your business exists to create and keep customers. To grow the value of your customers you need to touch your customers’ lives. The more you can construct a narrative that resonates, the better customers, employees, and other key stakeholders can connect with, and relate to your message. Qualitative research provides the means to go beyond facts and weave in the voice of these key stakeholders. In today’s data-to-insights environment, remember to collect and integrate qualitative data into your story to create context, humanize your business, and fuel your growth.