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What Does Inclusivity Look Like In Qualitative Research?

Posted by Lauren Simoes

Thu, Feb 11, 2021

In the past year, we’ve been forced to try new things and step outside of our comfort zones. After almost a year of challenging transitions to virtual everything, this year’s annual Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) conference (exclusively virtual) exceeded my expectations. The content was easy to access (and great, as always), and the platform (Pathable) seamlessly replicated the social nature of conferences by enabling a sense of valuable networking. With social justice so prevalent in our minds this year, it’s no surprise that “inclusivity” was a significant topic of discussion.

For the purposes of this roundup, let’s think about inclusivity in two ways: first, as a human, and then as a researcher. As a human, I have some concerns about being exploitative about “inclusivity.” As companies continue to make attempts to raise their consciousness and convey accountability, I fear that inclusivity will only be viewed from a corporate and/or brand health perspective. As researchers, we can play a role in helping companies implement truly inclusive practices, finding meaningful and authentic ways to convey it for their brands. While we cannot control how organizations think about these issues, we can implement our own ethical standards—which is something qualitative research has always sought to do. Here are some of the discussions our industry is having:

INCLUSIVITY IS DIFFERENT THAN DIVERSITY. As Roben Allong expressed during the roundtable discussion “Inclusivity is Messy,” inclusivity is not just checking boxes to make sure that there is a varied set of research participants. It is a responsibility—not a choice—in research. For example, what is “gen pop”? Why does this often mean “mostly white?” Inclusivity is not just about race; and race (many times) is only one factor in our many differences—it is not monolithic. It includes ableness, geography, employment status, gender identity, micro-culture, ageism and more. Our responsibility as researchers to be inclusive also means taking a tailored approach when the topic (or research participants) calls for it vs. using a standard approach across all sessions.

WE MUST CREATE SPACES OF BELONGING. As Jyo Maan shared in her “Inclusive Research for Social Justice” presentation, inclusive research should encompass DEIB: diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. We must find ways to dig deeper so that people of all backgrounds can not only be included, but also feel a sense of belonging in the research community (as colleagues, as research participants, etc.). Researchers must keep aim on the ever-evolving target market and how that informs how we need to conduct research. The more “inclusive” our research is, the more applicable it will be to our clients’ goals and research objectives.

HOW DO WE ACHIEVE THIS? While I don’t claim to have all of the answers (or even close to most of them), there are some things we can start doing now. The most obvious thing is from a recruiting perspective. Perhaps “gen pop” is an outdated term. We need to ask who we are really trying to reach and what, if any, implications social identity has on who that is. A few points to reflect on:

  • With so many unemployed or underemployed, we need to reconsider employment as a terminating qualification
  • Make space for gender identity to be expressed in a non-binary way
  • Consider senior citizens viable parts of the conversation (as they have both technology know-how and buying power)
  • Accommodate people with disabilities in the research environments we create and cultivate

Sometimes these pivots will require consulting those more qualified to respect, understand, and convey the thoughts of a particular culture or micro-culture.

Regarding the research methodology itself, we may need to re-think how we structure our approach. Most qual researchers practice “unconditional positive regard” (as an attempt to dissolve incoming bias and treat research participants with respect) and are purposeful in checking their biases. This is more important than ever. As we attempt to be more inclusive, we must truly listen (and not in ways that simply confirm biases) rather than sticking to a prescribed discussion guide.

It is my belief that the best learning comes from discussion, different points of view and experience. If you have something to say about the ways we can make meaningful changes in the research approach, I would love to hear from you. Reach out to me with any thoughts, ideas, criticisms, etc. at lsimoes@cmbinfo.com.


Lauren is a Senior Moderator at CMB.

Follow CMB on FacebookInstagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: strategy consulting, qualitative research, storytelling, conference recap, brand health and positioning, Market research, professional development, COVID-19, Racial Justice, mrx

Using Design Thinking to Become a More Agile Researcher

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Fri, Oct 09, 2020

Using DT Kathy Blog Opener Oct 2020

Last week, I attended IA’s Design Thinking Workshop, led by Brianna Sylver—a topic we strongly believe in to creatively solve business challenges. The framework came out of engineering and design originally but is smartly being applied to market research.

Consider these 5 steps and decide whether this agile approach, or process, could apply to your issues or needs:

  1. Empathize – market research to deeply know your target audience
  2. Define – an agreed upon narrow definition of your problem, or the questions that need answering
  3. Ideate – solution brainstorming
  4. Prototype – a written or physical build out of your solution(s)
  5. Test – user feedback on your idea/prototype

Design Thinking Graphic 5 Stages-1

As Brianna discussed, some problems require only a linear approach. If the objective is clear, agreed upon, similar to past concerns, and has available sources of data to support a decision, then you needn’t apply Design Thinking. On the other hand, if you require a deeper understanding of your customer and their needs or motivations, or your problem needs narrowing or alignment, there are unknowns that past data doesn’t address, or there is limited relevant past data, then the Design Thinking process should be applied.

Know, too, that Design Thinking is an agile process (i.e. a test and learn approach). It doesn’t end at Step 5: Testing. Results dictate what comes next. Do you realize now that you do not know enough about your consumer? Does the problem need restating? Should you ideate further based on what you’ve learned? Are you ready for, or do you need, a different or more detailed/tangible prototype? Revisiting prior steps is part of the process. Though you do eventually converge on the best solution!

You may be asking yourself…what if I’m not starting at Step 1: Empathize? Can I still apply Design Thinking? Of course, you can! For example, research on your target may be abundant and just in need of updating or organizing. Or perhaps the problem is already well-defined and agreed to by all stakeholders (and customers). Some clients have come to us at the Ideate stage, where they need to get creative, think differently, and add consumers to their brainstorming. Others have gotten as far as Prototyping (e.g. concepts, storyboarding), and are ready to test. In all cases, we will remind you that this is non-linear. You may think you’re done after testing, and perhaps you will be. But more likely, you will learn from that test and need to re-think something, such as the target, problem, solutions or prototype.

It may feel circular, but you are making progress!

Design Think Cartoon

With anything that involves art and science, this approach and way of thinking is a craft that requires creative application. At CMB, we have applied Design Thinking in multiple ways:

  • For a large investment firm, we began at Step 2, first bringing internal stakeholders together to align on what was in scope and out of scope, narrowing the problem to an agreed upon solvable need
  • For a theme park we began at Stage 3, bringing together consumers and engineers to build out a vision for an updated park
  • A hotel chain brought us in at Stage 4, once they’d already ideated scores of new ideas for their loyalty program

Ask how we can help you! We are trained and experienced in Design Thinking, Creative Problem Solving, Innovation, Improvisation and more. We welcome the opportunity to apply this to your problem solving.


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun, VP, Qualitative Strategy + Innovation

Follow CMB on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: qualitative research, Market research, agile research

Should I Be Innovating Now?

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Fri, Apr 17, 2020

If Jimmy Kimmel can do it, so can we!

Stuck at home, it’s easy to understand why so many marketers and insights professionals feel like the world is paused. How can we move forward amid so much uncertainty? I understand the impulse, but through conversations with my CMB, and industry colleagues and clients I strongly believe that this is a time to be bold, not to sit back and wait.

This advice is part of an evolution. We have seen client mindsets shift from an early “wait-and-see” approach (early- to mid-March) to “let’s not waste this moment to understand what our customers are thinking and doing” (late-March to early-April). Given the disruption, you need to know which old habits will recede, and which new habits will stick. What new products and services will define the new normal? For consumer insights professionals, this is your opportunity to shine.

An article from Bain speaks to this very well: Decide where to be bold and build a roadmap to get there. Companies that win in downturns don’t just play defense—they play offense as well. Determine the products, customers and underlying capabilities where doubling down now can accelerate growth during and after whatever lies ahead.

If you’re wondering whether your company should be innovating during this pandemic, I ask you to consider the following:

  • If you think your competition is continuing to innovate, then YES
  • If you think the COVID environment will shape how your customer will think going forward, then YES

And importantly, innovation can happen in a quarantined world. If Jimmy Kimmel can do it, so can we!

Jimmy Kimmel

Using digital/virtual tools, we can, of course, see and hear each other, and additionally 1) screenshare 2) whiteboard collaboratively 3) work in plenary and break out groups and 4) perform exercises, quick polls and other methods for ideating and prioritizing. To combat the obvious barriers at play, we recommend accomplishing this in multiple 90-minute virtual workshops. Ideally, about 15 people, including stakeholders and consumers, would e-meet twice in one day to ideate on your topic.

At CMB, we apply a Design Thinking framework to innovation, with #3 being the collaborative ideation:

Design Thinking-2

Related to our February blog on empathy, it’s important to stay connected to your customer. Continue to talk to your consumers throughout this pandemic, because they want to be included in conversations. Nine out of ten surveyed during the shutdowns and quarantines say they want to continue doing research. Researching/innovating fulfills several needs for consumers: a feeling of normalcy, a sense of control over things they can affect, and some (needed) cash.

COVID Innovation Kathy Blog Research Micrographic

CMB is talking directly to consumers now, successfully moving all research online, including workshops. We can help you stay connected, build empathy and importantly, continue to innovate with your customers at this critical time.


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun, VP Qualitative + Innovation

For more insights, please follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Topics: technology solutions, qualitative research, growth and innovation, co-creation, COVID-19

Build Customer Intuition and Empathy to Expand Your Brand

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, Feb 18, 2020

Customize, personalize, localize, humanize – these are the elements of a customer-centric program that is designed to expand brand reach, and to cement relationships with existing users. A deep commitment to customer-centricity at every level of the organization is the key to customer engagement and brand expansion.

Your goal should be to go beyond mere understanding of your customer, and to instead build your company’s empathy for and intuition about your customer. When marketers and senior executives have built their intuition of their customers, product development, and messaging are more successful. We need only look at the Peloton disaster to be reminded that failed intuition for your customer can lead to public embarrassment, or shaming. Conversely, think of the Volkswagen Darth Vader commercial years ago (9!). Still relevant today. They totally get their family consumer.

Pelaton Commercial

Volkswagen Darth Vader Commercial

How do you build empathy, and ultimately intuition about your customers? In Qualitative research we apply new methods, and tell vivid stories:

  • Leverage technology that meets consumers where they are. For example, Gen Z are digital natives, so we advise methods that utilize apps and employ mobile-first for capturing their in-the-moment reactions
  • Agile techniques embed your customer in every stage of development, allowing for continuous refinement of your concept or prototype
  • By building compelling narratives, critical insights will resonate throughout your organization, and become everyone’s stories about your customer
  • Cement those stories by socializing them throughout your organization in vivid, creative ways such as live panels or immersion spaces

Without discarding traditional qualitative methods, we’re constantly seeking, and trying new tools. One incredibly effective example of this is the use of agile pop-up communities. We’ve worked with groups of consumers over 6, 8 and 12 weeks to react to, brainstorm and iterate on ideas, bringing them from good to great, and from brand-centric to customer-centric. Through this approach, we’ve seen tremendous success using pop-ups for loyalty ideation, understanding insurance decision making, choosing a senior community for your loved one, communicating with Gen Z about financial topics, and more.

If you’re wondering how to make this happen, join the club! This is an exciting time in qualitative research to challenge ourselves, experiment, and innovate. Try social media to recruit participants. Social media can engender strong connections quickly, and shorten the time needed for finding great participants. For UX/CX testing, consider eye tracking. We’re using this method to share and talk to consumers about their own behavior. Using another agile method, especially for concept development, we have evolved traditional focus groups into iterative focus groups. Rather than rinse and repeat across multiple groups and cities, we begin with initial concepts, and optimize them with target customers over an intensive 2 days.

We’re also extending these iterative and agile methods to socialization workshops that spread the word in lively, engaging ways, and activation sessions that bring diverse teams together in a creative space to collaborate on tangible ways of implementing action steps.

Brand relevance and expansion don’t come easily. The good news is that we’re living in a time with an abundance of creative ways to connect, to engage and build empathy and intuition, thereby achieving meaningful relationships with your target customers.

What are ways that you’ve been able to build empathy and customer intuition to expand your brand? Have you tried any of the methods above? Please continue the conversation by leaving a comment below!


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun leads CMB’s Qualitative + Innovation practices.

Favorite vacation: Cambodia / Favorite class: Philosophy / Free time: Triathlete and Volunteers for the homeless of Boston

Follow CMB on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: qualitative research, brand health and positioning, BrandFx

Socialize your Segments to Inspire Action

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Wed, Aug 28, 2019

Blog_Ofsthun

My segments are defined, my typing tool is working, and my personas are created … and you’re telling me I’m not done yet?!

Yes, the end of the research is really the beginning of your segmentation. Once you’ve landed on an excellent model and algorithm for defining and distinguishing your new segments, you need everyone to know them!

At CMB, a standard part of our Segmentation program is to workshop with our client’s internal teams to obsess over the persona behind each segment, e.g. understand more deeply what can motivate “Defensive Donna” or how to pin down the “Explorer”. For B2B and B2C segmentations, the process is very similar, though all workshops are customized to account for the uniqueness of your segments and the needs of your stakeholders.

Typically, we plan and facilitate workshops of 2-4 hours, depending on the needs of the participants. The goal of the workshops is always the same: socialize the key insights about each segment, then apply that learning to real business needs.

For one large client, we brought the entire 100+ Marketing staff through an interactive 2-hour workshop (four workshops of 25-30 people each, over two days). After a discussion of the pre-work (there is always a creative homework assignment to inspire participants), the groups were split into diverse functional teams who rotated through stations focused on one segment each. The stations included video that brought the personas to life, infographic-style banners depicting the key elements defining the segment, take away “baseball cards” with key stats and insights, and more.

Once everyone has had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the archetypes for each segment, small group breakouts focus on one segment each. They are tasked with developing messaging for this person, choosing or developing fitting products for them, as well as tackling other business issues. Often, we will look to adjacent industries to examine how they appeal to this target. As appropriate, we may fill backpacks or briefcases with products fitting the persona. We then look across all breakout groups to see how distinct the segments are in vivid detail.

There are myriad exercises that we can and do engage in—from in-person workshops to VR experiences. All of them deepen and hone your understanding of the segments and compel you to apply your learning to critical business issues. Our clients solve for their targeting needs, including and especially for messaging and product development, but also for perfecting pitches for your sales team.

Participants walk away from the workshop with memorable and actionable insights, and as enthusiastic evangelists.


Kathy OfsthunKathy Ofsthun is CMB's VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation.

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Topics: qualitative research, market strategy and segmentation