By Mike D’Abramo, Meredith Morino, Barb Paszyn, Gloria Watson

2018 flew past quicker than Elon Musk’s hyperloop but we still found time to appreciate the things we learned or rediscovered this year.

1. Pretest Your Research

For complex topics, there is tremendous value in making time to pretest and plan your research. This might mean conducting qualitative research to help design more effective quantitative questionnaires. But it could also mean pretesting discussion guides with a small sample of participants before fielding with a larger sample. This allows you to establish baseline learnings, build hypotheses, and optimize the guide for better interviewing. As a moderator, you will be able to approach the second round of interviews with some familiarity and expertise allowing you to quickly build credibility with the participants and get right to the meaty questions.

2. The Power of One

This year, we conducted more 1:1 interviews than ever before. This method allows you to understand participants deeply especially when the focus is less on “interviewing” and more on having an intimate conversation. Knowing what you need to get out of the interview is key because the most effective conversation won’t necessarily follow the guide. A great moderator tailors their approach and questions for each individual. Typically, this methodology is more time consuming to field and analyze but the richness of the learnings are worth it. And for sensitive subjects or high profile participants, 1:1 interviews are the ideal method.

3. Don’t Ignore the Bartender

B2B research can be oversimplified—professional to professional, where everyone knows the content really well. But it is a trap if you don’t widen the lens. If our work in travel, restaurants and bars, and customer service taught us anything this year, it’s that researchers need to widen their scope. If you want to understand one part of a business, you must understand its relationship to other parts of the business from the inside out. Don’t ask the manager what the bartender is supposed to do, just ask the bartender. All of those intermediaries in a business process—whether inside or outside the business—matter.

4. SuperSessions Are Super

SuperSessions (think of it as several focus groups happening in one room at the same time) are a difference maker. They allow the client to be in the same room as the customer, all types of customers, in an unfiltered way. The research impacts all levels of the organization including high-level strategic research, for instance brand purpose, as well as lower-level tactical research, for instance product optimization. This means you can build an insights-driven action plan, from the big picture to the small details, that is cohesive and thoughtful. Supersessions are fun, powerful, and highly informative.

5. Illuminating Segments

Illuminating segments requires a unique skillset and passion for people because consumers are not just data points. They’re people with stories and interesting quirks. By using a variety of methods, and we love using multiple methods, you can uncover deep truths about segments. While quantitative segmentation studies give us a strong outline, qualitative segmentation illuminates that work just like watercolours to fill in the colour, and add depth, shading, and contrast to present the complete picture of the target segment.

6. Two Heads Are Better Than One

Sometimes you need more than one person to work on a project, especially when it’s a project that involves many participants, whether online communities, focus groups, or in-depth interviews. Working together, moderators can manage participants more effectively, and maintain high energy levels to bring the project home. Multiple perspectives also help with developing better insights and a more powerful story. After all, two heads are better than one!

7. Instead of No

Given that we are in the business of helping others succeed, we consciously approach our work with a “Yes, and” attitude just like Second City comedians are trained to do. For example, upon discovering an insight that rejects a preferred hypothesis, we aim to avoid a closed “no”, and instead flip the “no” into something that will add value. Or, instead of saying “no” to a preferred but less than optimal methodology, consider how that methodology could be used to solve a related problem as part of Phase II. The client might not have asked for this, but it’s important to honour their choices and add value to the time already put into a project.

8. Video Is Worth More Than 1000 Words

Last year, we discovered our skills as filmmakers. We produced many different kinds of videos that complimented both research and non-research projects. No matter what the project, our objectives were always clear: create a powerful, immersive story that clearly communicates messages using the voice of the consumer. 

Well, those are our 8 learnings from 2018. We’d love to hear what’s on your list!

(By the way, the proposed Hyperloop will run at 1200 km/h, and take you from Toronto to Vancouver in 3 hours. In case you were wondering!)


Ready to learn more? See how we used our Research Decision Wheel to help Sport Chek identify insight needs and come up with a winning strategy. Or, learn how we helped our CPG client clear define customer decision journeys to optimize their in-store communication materials and present retailers with a compelling strategy to increase sales of their product.