Using its proprietary Agora USA insights panel, Accelerant Research polled 1,650 Americans about popular Fall activities and treats.
What better way is there to inform business decisions than to use research designed to understand the entire process that customers go through to obtain something they want from that business? It is exactly that process, starting when a person realizes that something is needed, and ending when he or she has acquired it, that sheds the brightest light on how businesses should develop and improve their products and services, and devise strategies to most effectively communicate with their target population. Nowadays, this research is often called a journey mapping study, but historically, has been known by a number of different names. Nevertheless, journey mapping is an important program of research regardless of what it is called, and yields insights that are foundational and pervade a wide variety of business goals and objectives.
A map of a person’s journeys details the exact steps they take, what stops occur along the way, the amount and types of information that are collected, the importance of various reference sources with which people interact, and the amount of time each step (and the entire process) takes. In addition, studying journeys shows exactly where pain and pleasure points exist, and this helps organizations pinpoint how to win the hearts and minds of customers and prospects.
Journey maps provide a “walk in customers’ shoes” viewpoint for marketers to fully appreciate people’s perspectives on important customer-felt relationship aspects and other matters concerning the relationship between a brand and its customers. Simply put, a journey map enables organizations to empathize with their customers.
Journey mapping may be considered a conceptual framework used to capture respondents’ descriptions of the sequence of events that transpire as consumers interact with brands whose products and services are sought for purchase. This type of research has far-reaching effects in that it can be used to inform business decisions about product development/refinement, advertising/communications testing, and customer experience optimization programs.
However, while journey maps may currently be all the rage in marketing research, in fact, this sort of research has been around for a long time, being known by different names, variations on a theme, and methodologies. One can argue that any kind of research study that centers on revealing processes that people go through in order to accomplish a task or achieve a goal involving the purchase of a product or service, or the use of what was purchased, may be considered a journey map study.
For example, ethnographies entail the study of the culture of a behavior, according to anthropologists. By using a combination of observation, interview, and participation, ethnographers seek to reveal how individuals and groups, formed on the basis of some commonality, interact with other people, places, and things. The ethnographer documents these interactions and postulates cultural themes and collective schemas on how people behave and the attitudinal drivers of that behavior. Indeed, the term “Deep Hanging Out” was coined by anthropologist Clifford Geertz to describe the anthropological research method of immersing oneself in a cultural, group, or social experience on an informal level for the purpose of studying processes that people go through in their interactions with an environment. As a result of this kind of study, journey maps may be delineated.
For that matter, your typical, garden variety shop-alongs, in which participants are recruited to go on some kind of shopping expedition while an interviewer observes and queries the shopper to understand behaviors being witnessed while probing to unveil key attitude-based drivers of those behaviors distinctly resembles journey mapping. In a shopalong, there is a starting point and an ending point, and in between there are various stops along the way that indicate the underlying consumer psychology that is sought by marketers to inform the development of their programs and business initiatives.
Journaling may be considered another close cousin to journey mapping. This kind of research requires participants to compile their relevant experiences in a place that can be reviewed and analyzed by the researcher. Specifically, participants are given incentive to document their experiences in a central site in dealing with an organization’s products and/or services. It has a start and finish line, and everything in between becomes the grist for the mill in devising strategies and tactics that enable an organization to improve its offering to the market and strengthen its position in a competitive landscape.
I, myself, have been closely involved with journey mapping studies, both qualitative and quantitative in nature. Of course, years ago, we called these studies by different names. Sometimes we called them “purchase cycle” studies; other times we called them “path to purchase” studies; other times we called them “purchase process” studies. Regardless of the different monikers, they are all quite similar. They could be qualitative, quantitative, or a hybrid of both methodologies in some way, but all journey mapping studies must have the following characteristics to qualify as one:
For some of the more sophisticated journey mapping studies that provide the luxury of ample quantitative data collected from a survey, the set of items can be used in a series of multivariate statistical techniques to summarize the data (factor analysis, regression analysis) and segment travelers into different groups (k-means cluster analysis, discriminant function analysis) on the basis of the patterns observed in their journeys. In other words, a journey mapping study can be executed with a segmentation analysis overlay.
But complexity of project notwithstanding, journey mapping research may be considered the one study that is uniquely and distinctly designed to imagine the travelers’ journey as a recorded video. The researcher’s job is then to ask the traveler to access that video, rewind it to the beginning, and then hit ‘Play.’ Viewing people’s journey’s this way is an enlightening and advantaged position to be in vis-à-vis the organization’s competitors. So, no matter what the research piece is called, it should be valued as a rose by any other name.
Using its proprietary Agora USA insights panel, Accelerant Research polled 1,170 Americans about their 2021 summer vacation plans.
I Got Your Typing Tool Right Here… A Cautionary Tale About Segmentation Algorithms and Qualitative Research
It should be stated right off the bat that the team at Accelerant Research has enormous appreciation for quantitative segmentation research. We LOVE conducting these sophisticated quantitative research studies for our full-service clients which result in elegant, highly targetable, easily digestible segments of the target customer population. Large-scale segmentation studies have a long shelf life, internally, and provide a ton of strategic value to organizations. However, in our role as white-glove qualitative research recruiters we’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the insights industry when it comes to blindly relying on segmentation algorithms to identify segment members for participating in focus groups or other qualitative research studies.
For those with less experience in such research studies, a segmentation algorithm is a shortened, summary version of the larger-scale segmentation results, which can be inserted into future screening questionnaires to identify customer segmentations among the survey population. The segmentation algorithm is a fantastic, on-the-fly means to identify segment members, which can be used in a plug-and-play fashion for future quantitative surveys. However, using these algorithms for qualitative research is not so simple.
Often, we are handed a segmentation typing tool to use during our recruiting process in order to identify members of a given segment, but if we rely solely on this quantitative type of assessment, clients are often disappointed when individual recruits don’t behave in their interview as a member of their segment is expected to behave. Segmentation output is very elegant and strategically impactful, but the individual data points that comprise your segments are messy. The final segmentation analysis is based on hundreds or even thousands of cases, which is what makes them so powerful. However, when you deconstruct the segmentation and go back to look at individual survey participants, the results are far less clear – sometimes a small shift in a survey response (e.g., selecting 6 instead of 8 on a 10-point survey scale) can jettison a research participant from one segment to another. When recruiting participants for qualitative research, we’re right back to that messy, individual-level assessment of participants’ “fit” with a given segment. As such, relying strictly on a segmentation algorithm or typing tool to definitively define these segment members for qualitative research can be a recipe for disaster.
If we’re not careful, this can lead to an awkward disconnect in the backroom of a focus group facility, where participants are correctly segmented based on the algorithm, but in their interview, they say and do things that make them sound like they should be members of a different segment.
What can be a simple and highly effective tool in bringing your segments to life is sharing the segment profiles with your qualitative recruiters, in addition to the typing tool algorithm. What these profiles do is allow us to focus on recruiting participants that behave like the segment should, rather than blindly recruiting into a segment without the benefit of such context. When we use the segmentation algorithm as a starting point of identifying segment membership, and the segment profile information for refinement, we create a powerful one-two punch that ensures research participants who sit down for qualitative interviews are exactly the right audience. This type of recruiting rigor requires partnership between Accelerant’s recruiting team and the client to make sure these details are communicated properly, but when that partnership is in place, it makes for a fantastic client experience at the end of the day.
The consultative partnership described above is just one example of Accelerant’s approach to service that we take on each qualitative recruiting project (i.e., we sweat the details). We invite you to request a cost estimate from us as a first step and experience the difference that we provide for yourself. Simply give us a call (704-206-8500) or send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).