By Mike D’Abramo

It’s easy to recommend questionnaire research to clients because that’s the type of research you did last week, last month, and last year. But to gain access to insights that don’t respond well to questionnaires, it’s essential to have a tool-kit of both quantitative and qualitative techniques and, preferably, several of each type. What can’t be discovered by questionnaires might be discoverable by focus groups and what can’t be discovered by focus groups, might be discoverable by individual interviews, or something else.

The Research Objective

One of our clients, a large national quick serve restaurant (QSR), needed to deeply understand the overall lifestyle, values, and needs of their target consumer segments. They needed to know the role of QSR in people’s lives including what drove choice and perceptions, assess and build potential executional ideas (e.g., menus, packaging, mobile apps, restaurant design, promotions, ads), identify white space, and immerse the organization in understanding the primary targets. This diverse set of objectives led to a detailed research plan.

  1. Eat and Drink Mobile Diary: Unlike a questionnaire completed at one point in time, using a qualitative diary technique enabled the client to better understand the eating and drinking preferences of each target group in a more natural way – as people ate, throughout the day and throughout the week.

Conducted over five days, (3 week days and 2 weekend days), people recorded every eating and drinking occasion using a mobile app. They shared photos and descriptions of what they ate and drank, information about when, where, and with whom it was consumed, where it was obtained, why they selected those particular items, and their mood and feelings before and after consumption.

  1. Online Bulletin Board: To gauge reactions to new branding ideas, an online bulletin board was used which also allowed the client to hear from a nationally representative group of people. From these data, we learned about lifestyles, values, needs, and how these impacted QSR usage. This technique also enabled us to eliminate language and geography barriers associated with Canada’s large and multicultural geography.

Following the mobile diary, people then participated in a 3-day online bulletin board and visited the QSR during that time. A variety of creative exercises leveraging text, images, and video were used. People described their eating philosophies, gave a virtual tour of their fridge/pantry, described their food and drink behaviour (e.g., role of eating out, take-out vs. home preparation), talked about their favourite QSRs as well as competitive QSR brand personification, and debriefed their visit to the QSR.

  1. Illumination Interviews: This stage involved interviewing and videoing participants to help bring their lifestyle, environment, needs and QSR usage to life for the organization.

Interviews were conducted in five markets across Canada at a location of the participant’s choice (e.g. home, office, park). Interviews were approximately 2.5 hours long and included a visit to the QSR. Participants were asked to elaborate on topics such as their lifestyle, interests, eating philosophy, use of QSR, including feedback on the QSR environment, ordering, menu options, decision triggers, food, pricing, drive-thru, and more. It also allowed for first-hand observation of the consumer in-situ to reveal unconscious elements that might go unreported.

  1. Super Sessions: This stage allowed the client to evaluate executional ideas and build new ones in a highly interactive session with patrons.

Several three-hour SuperSessions were held, each one including 18 participants and up to 6 client stakeholders who worked openly alongside the participants. Each participant group was carefully screened using quantitative segmentation data integrated with the lifestyle learnings from the on-line and interview research. A series of individual and team activities was conducted, facilitated by moderators and a videographer. Participants introduced themselves and spoke about their lifestyles, behaviours, and eating patterns. Then, they focused on experiential stimuli such as design concepts, packaging ideas, and communications. Lastly, participants helped to generate new ideas for the QSR, including ideal menu items and building the ideal QSR of the future. This allowed us to generate the last, most vital, piece of the puzzle: executional ideas that meaningfully motivated these consumer groups.

Despite how extensive the research process was, it was completed within three months. And, the client received several different outputs from detailed written reports to one-page cheatsheets. We also created unique and memorable 3-minute videos about each consumer segment allowing any member of their team to truly understand the unique drivers of each target consumer. Mission. Accomplished.

We loved working on this project. The ability to generate insights using the right tools for the job, rather than trying to force ill-fitting questions into a questionnaire, meant that we generated the most relevant and actionable insights possible. The client gained a plethora of insights that will serve them well for years to come.


Ready to learn more? Download our Sklar Wilton Research Decision Wheel for a template to help you categorize decisions to ensure your research plans are focused on the right big areas. Learn how we helped Sport Check unlock the subtleties of sub-culture and channel marketing to connect emotionally with their target audience and engage customers at all points in the customer decision journey.