Innovation

Highlights of some of my research innovations, below, were presented at the international conference of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association in Toronto, Oct. 2002

HOW STANISLAVSKY WOULD DO IT; OR,
APPLYING THE "METHOD" TO OUR MADNESS

Adapting the Techniques of Character Interpretation
To Explore Consumer Lifestyles, Motivations and Relationships

Barbara Rugen

Many marketers and advertisers want to push beyond the boundaries of traditional consumer research to investigate consumers' daily routines, norms of behavior, relationships, and deepest feelings. These can reveal how the consumer experiences a product and the personal motives behind product purchase and brand loyalty. One well-known method of such investigation is observational research, which is drawn from anthropology. Another, lesser-known approach is drawn from actor training and offers the advantage that it can often be relatively simple, inexpensive, less intrusive, but still laser-like in reaching key determinants.

In this session we will investigate techniques adapted from actor training that

  1. stimulate respondent relaxation and alert concentration;
  2. help moderator and client to achieve objectivity and listen attentively;
  3. identify the circumstances and conditions of product usage;
  4. help determine the product-related needs that motivate patterns of physical and emotional behavior in consumers, and explore these patterns;
  5. identify how consumers' product-related desires affect their relationships, and transactions they engage in to satisfy these desires; and
  6. stimulate immersion in the emotional responses associated with product use, benefits, or differentiation through immersion in the senses, sounds, breathing, energy flow, and other physical manifestations involved.

Adapting the Techniques of Character Interpretation
To Explore Consumer Lifestyles, Motivations and Relationships

After all, actor training is specifically designed to identify, probe, and communicate personal norms, motivations, relationships, and emotions:

  • As market researchers and clients we try to be objective toward consumers and accept their attitudes regarding the product, and likewise actors learn techniques to help them accept the characters they portray, overcoming ego and bias where these impede empathy.

  • Marketers seek to identify the situation and circumstances where consumer need is sufficiently strong to motivate habitual action to satisfy the need. Product purchase is more likely when the consumer is predisposed to take action to satisfy the product-related need; and the more closely we identify the circumstances and conditions of need and the customary network of physical and emotional responses associated with that need, the more successfully we can induce consumers to incorporate our product solution into their lifestyles. This approach to consumers is analogous to the way actors approach their characters. As part of character interpretation actors learn how to determine the specific desires that their characters try to satisfy through norms of physical and emotional behavior. They learn techniques to trace the influences or "Given Circumstances" affecting their characters.

  • We marketers want to know how consumers' product-related desires affect their relationships and the specific transactions involved in satisfying these desires. To understand, for example, how a rejuvenating cream fits into the consumer's life we may want to learn: "these are the transactions my spouse and I go through in my desire to make him think of me as young." Likewise actors are trained to define character relationships transactionally and learn techniques to identify how characters try to influence each other to achieve their respective desires.

  • Marketers want to discern the consumer's array of spontaneous reactions to products and to pinpoint those reactions that can separate our product from the competition. Analogously, actors are trained to discern the array of sensory cues, tones of voice, and body language by which the emotional life is made visible in order to communicate it to an audience. For actors, emotional depth and physical manifestation mutually evoke and intensify each other.

I don't want to overstate the affinity of the two disciplines - qualitative research and character interpretation - but where the objectives are analogous it makes sense to be aware of the techniques available to achieve the objectives, and where useful, to incorporate and adapt them.

The following acting techniques can be valuable when applied to qualitative research of consumer lifestyles and to achieving an in-depth portrait of the emotional connection to products. These techniques can be conducted in a carpeted multipurpose room of a focus group facility. During recruiting, respondents are told that they may do some creativity exercises and should wear comfortable exercise clothing. The exercises should be preceded by a 5-minute exercise in relaxation and alert concentration, such as the following acting warm-up:

WARM UP AND ALERT CONCENTRATION

  1. Lying on the floor, eyes closed, let your conscious awareness roam at random throughout your body.
  2. Mentally measure the distances within the body from point to point; make all your dimensions as big as they can be without forcing.
  3. Become aware of all kinds of paired relationships within the body; explore the connections between various sensations and parts of the body. What does the stomach do when you breathe, what does your tongue do when you clench your hips, etc?
  4. Finally, breathing very easily and feeling the warm energy of the breath flowing into and out of the body, make a neutral sound without effort or change in your breathing: simply "let" a sound happen for a moment. Identify what bodily activities support that sound. Do you see what a tiny change is required to produce sound? Experience the sound as an aspect of your breath. Experience the breath as an aspect of the wholeness of your mind and body (adapted from Benedetti, p. 20).

SAMPLE RESEARCH TECHNIQUES. In each of the following, the respondents' physical immersion in the remembered experience calls up their specific mental, sensory, and emotional associations. The movement from physical to psychological immersion is the basic process that enables actors to enter into their characters, and is a valuable process for qualitative research purposes.

  1. IDENTIFY THE GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES. Purpose: to call up the circumstances and conditions of product usage and the network of physical and emotional responses associated with that usage. TIME: 10-15 minutes, to be followed by discussion.
    1. Relaxing while you stand, begin to move continuously around your own space, without any specific destination.
    2. When you are moving freely and effortlessly through space, concentrate your attention on the fluidity of your movement. Become aware of the physical actuality of the space itself as you move through it; become aware of the eddies and currents in space that you yourself are making. Feel the resistance of the air as you move through it. Swing yourself freely about, swimming in an ocean of air.
    3. Still moving, recall yourself [in the product category situation]. What comes to mind as you think of yourself [in that situation]? Swinging yourself freely and comfortably, swim toward the positive associations: physical, sensory, and emotional. Swim away from the negative associations.
    4. Now concentrate on the fact that the space is not only outside your skin, but comes inside your skin as well. Each breath takes in space. You are not only swimming through space, but space is swimming through you. Still gliding toward the positive and away from the negative associations, breathe in the associations that you will permit to come inside you and block the ones you don't want to enter you.
    5. Create a protective envelope or bubble around yourself, inside which are the positive things you carry as you glide along (adapted from Benedetti, p. 40).
    6. DISCUSSION. 1) On large sheets of paper, respondents record as quickly and specifically as possible everything that is in their bubble, then everything that they kept out of the bubble, and can go back and forth between the two lists until everything is recorded. The lists may include sketches, icons, and personal nicknames/terms/symbols, or any other expression of what they have seen, heard, and felt in their internal journey. 2) Respondents compare lists and discuss shared elements. Moderator probes nature, context, and impact of shared elements.

    Other Techniques To Be Presented:

  2. Exercise for Moderator and for Clients: ACHIEVING OBJECTIVITY AND LISTENING ATTENTIVELY.

  3. DETERMINE LIFESTYLE MOTIVATIONS. Purpose: to determine the product-related needs that motivate patterns of physical and emotional behavior in consumers; what are these patterns of behavior.

  4. TRANSACTIONS INVOLVED IN SATISFYING NEEDS. Purpose: to learn how consumers' product-related desires affect their relationships, to identify transactions they engage in to satisfy these desires.

  5. MAKING THE EMOTIONAL LIFE VISIBLE. Purpose: Immersion in the emotional responses associated with product use, benefits, or differentiation through immersion in the senses, sounds, breathing, energy flow, and other physical manifestations involved.


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