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As with most sectors and professions today, consumer insights and marketing professionals are under pressure to reinvent their solutions and drive brand innovation – as well as longevity.

For those within the consumer insights sphere, there is a growing need to discover ways to unlock the more unexpected or surprising insights, and hence provide brands and businesses with much needed competitive advantages. Often, surprising insights are found when consumers feel comfortable to express themselves, and from probes or questions that researchers may not have originally planned to ask. But can the profession rely simply on bouts of spontaneity – and the occasional moment of inspiration – to uncover these insights? Additionally, how can we ensure that research yields surprising insights every time?

In a highly competitive business environment, we most certainly need to bring structure and a more organised framework to our process – which can arguably be found in bold qualitative research that takes a creative, multi-modal approach.

Building rich data sets

In essence, a multi-modal approach refers to a multi-method and multi-source framework. So, using numerous methods (for example, an online community and ethnographies) allows the researcher to access the respondent in a variety of ways. Moreover, the triangulation of data means that we can overlay data from multiple sources – so we don’t miss anything, and also build a highly rich data set. Importantly, multi-methods build richer data than single-methods – and thus more scope to uncover unexpected insights.

With regards to drawing on multiple sources, this means that researchers should also access pre-existing or secondary data. So, while it may be considered old or stale, information that already exists provides great hindsight to understand the consumer landscape and how the brand/product/service performed historically. This may supplement the primary data, especially to land insights and progress them into a more ‘surprising’ and even disrupting space.

Designing the research

Naturally, the research tool or discussion guide is how researchers can gain access to the inner workings of the consumer’s heart and mind. In our view, the research tool needs to enable professionals to unpack customers’ current and underlying needs. By using projective techniques and building trust and rapport with consumers, we can unearth these critical insights. As a result, we also build empathy with the consumer, putting ourselves in their shoes and getting closer to their ‘real’ lives.

Curious and creative

Today, researchers seldom start their process looking for something surprising. Yet that’s precisely what the analyst should do: Analyse with a curious and creative mindset, with the hopes of finding something that will offer surprise (and even disruption).

Then, a systematic approach to the data analysis is key – researchers must unpack the detail to build a full and complete picture as well as answer the research objectives. Here, a theoretical framework can guide the process and turn the broad, rich data into strategic and tactical insights.

While a systematic approach should be taken to the data analysis, analysts must think beyond the research objectives to explore data that moves into adjacent categories or even data that is far beyond the category in question.

By implementing this more open-minded and curious approach, qualitative research has the potential to unearth surprising insights – which, in turn, have greater potential to help brands stand out – and also offer enhanced longitudinal relevance within a business.

A new lens

While brands and businesses are gaining more access to consumer data than ever before, the real winners in this equation will be the brands that can delve deeper – and creatively (and systemically) uncover the unexpected consumer insights. It is qualitative research applied with a new lens of curiosity and authentic interest.