I recently understood that qualitative study of your customer can be powerful for your marketing and product development. I also saw why it’s so few people do it. Because it’s hard and requires different skillset.
Some time ago I tried to learn about Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) framework. Unfortunately I hit rocks with the vague descriptions and few good materials available. Suffice to say that after many years this method doesn’t even have it’s own Wikipedia article…? (so it doesn’t exist, right?) There’s this fame of the method being powerful but no good place to learn it.
Last week I met a practitioner with some successes in using JTBD. Listening to his presentation and talking to him I realised why it’s so hard. Because it involves doing interviews with clients. Recording their private and sometimes intimate thoughts and actions. It requires intuition, sensitivity, empathy and knowledge of human nature.
Compare that with the world of online analytics. The whole user tracking, click-through rates, conversion rates, time spent on pages, funnel dropout and such. None of these requires the difficult work of sitting with someone face-to-face and trying to understand them.
This is the reason why all the analytical tools are so well developed. Starting from Google Analytics, through AdWords up to Unbounce landing pages and million others. That’s because they’re easy to roll out. The data is there and we can play with it from behind our screen. There’s also plenty of tech an analytical talent involved in building those tools. Those are the skills abundantly available in the world of online technology. So you have this kind of environment:
analytical skills & mindset ->
The reason for all the A/B testing and experiments is that we don’t know what will work. We don’t know our users and we try to figure it out by putting something in front of them and observing what will happen. It’s like throwing a bunch of stuff against a wall and seeing what sticks.
In the qualitative approach you set out to discover something by talking to a group of users or clients. Then you go out and do interviews with them, follow them in their daily life, offices and homes. This results in a lot of data that’s seemingly random. You have a small sample and information all over the place. This is why you need to interpret that, build connections, fill the gaps in what they don’t say or show. Sometimes it requires a lot of sensitivity for even the tiniest clues. You observe the body language and energy they show when talking about something. All the while you need to be cautious not to over interpret what’s happening and not to see what you want to see.
This is the kind of work that’s best done by people with background in anthropology, psychology and human sciences. Those are not the kind of skills one easily finds (or appreciates) in the tech community. I would go as far as saying that those sets of skills are mutually exclusive. I never met someone who’s very good in crunching numbers and gaining insights from statistical data, while being an empathetic and intuition-driven humanist. Perhaps they exist, but I haven’t seen them.
In the end the analytical approach and qualitative approach are trying to discover the same: what works. We are trying to build products and messages that will resonate with people. The quantitative, analytical approach does it through lots of experiments, done on big numbers of users. The qualitative approach of JTBD and others does a few experiments compared to the data-driven approach. What you end up with is obviously different in both approaches.
The JTBD practitioner I met told a story of one user. He interviewed a woman who was using a food delivery website. Upon closer examination it turned out that the reason she was doing it was because she didn’t want her kids to see her in the kitchen all the time. Now that’s something you’ll never find out by looking into Google Analytics or even Kiss Metrics. Knowing that motivation you can shape your messaging and product to appeal to those deep anxieties and ambitions of her and similar people.
So the qualitative research environment is as follows:
humanistic skills & mindset ->
Opportunity: don’t go the easy path
An interesting consequence of that is that there has been a lot more done in the are of data analysis. The tools are very advanced, methods described and the data crunchers experienced. Now the “soft” approach is much more vague and hard to apply, so it’s not as explored by technology people. Insights you gain examining users directly are much more powerful. You can discover deep insecurities, motivations and hidden goals. After all marketing and purchasing decisions is something irrational and hidden even from the buyers’ own awareness.
When you compete on data-driven approach you are competing with a lot of people who do the same. They use the readily-available tools and try similar experiments to yours. When you go deep you can build knowledge which will be your competitive advantage. There’s fewer people trying and you can discover different things than they do. This way you build your unique knowledge that will give you an edge against your competitors.
In all of that I’m biased toward the qualitative, humanistic approach. Perhaps it’s because I admittedly don’t like crunching numbers. Or perhaps because I want to see people in users and not traffic or eyeballs. Now I need to go and use it in practice.