The Eye Of The Beholder by Clay Dethloff

  • The Eye Of The Beholder

    Throughout my career in marketing research, I’m constantly reminded of the importance of stepping back and seeing the world through the eyes of the consumer.

    A while back (prior to COVID and what seems like an eternity now), we were briefing our client after a series of ethnographic interviews for a particular product. She mentioned something that several of the respondents had talked about something during their shopping journeys that really surprised her; this was an “aha” moment for her, as she saw (and heard) something unexpected from the consumer’s standpoint—something that appeared to be new to consumer shopping habits for her category. This helped her look at their line of products a little differently—and because of that moment and the subsequent research, several changes were made on retailers’ shelves with regards to that product line.

To better understand the consumer perspective, and make sure that we do understand the world from the “eye of the beholder” (i.e., consumer), we at Decision Analyst have found an overall approach of going in-depth and in-the-moment in our qualitative research endeavors often provides richer insights and a better understanding of the consumer. More than ever, we are using hybrid or multi-method qualitative engagements to really “peel the onion” when the situation warrants. This multi-method approach is helping us and our clients to better see the world from the consumer’s standpoint, and to sort through the complexities of the purchasing world they live in.

Looking at the chart below, you can see a few of the methods, both in-depth and in-the-moment, that we utilize to gain that deeper understanding.

Qualitative Methods To Get The Most From Every Respondent

The exact combination of techniques can vary, depending on the goals of the research and the types of respondents, among other considerations. Additionally, the hybrid approach can be more seamless or can happen in two or more distinct phases of research. For example, we’ve conducted in-depth webcam interviews combined with virtual shop-alongs; online bulletin boards followed by usability exercises with select respondents; and traditional focus groups combined with a diary exercise. Each approach allows us to dive deep into consumer perceptions and thinking and to observe and understand their behaviors in a more real-time way.

The power of gaining these deeper insights was really brought home in a recent project where we talked to respondents about an appliance in their home. The interview was online and was roughly 1.5 hours in length. The first part of the interview lasted 30-40 minutes and allowed a deep dive to the way they feel and think about their current products and competitive products, as well as how they purchased these products. In this way, we felt that we were gaining a good understanding of the product and overall category. That being said, it was during the second part of the interview when things got interesting. For the second part of the interview, we had respondents use their appliance while we watched remotely via webcam. We had them set up the cameras on a tripod that we had sent prior to the interview. We watched them interacting with the appliances, using them as they normally would and, at the same time, talking us through what they were doing, what they liked, etc. Though we had just talked to them for about 40 minutes, almost roughly 20%-30% of the appliance likes and dislikes were revealed during the second (or interaction) phase, while they were using the appliances. It was utilizing both in-depth and in-the-moment research, that truly gave us a more comprehensive view into the consumer’s world; without both methods, our insights would not have been complete.

Hybrid approaches are not for every research endeavor, and we by no means want to “overkill” the research (or the budget). However, there are distinct times and opportunities where a hybrid or multi-method approach is needed to better understand what is going on in the consumers’ world. By strategically employing these techniques, we can sometimes truly see through the eyes of the beholder.

About the Author

Clay Dethloff ( is Senior Vice President, Director of Qualitative Research at Decision Analyst. He may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.


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