Consumer Research and Focus Groups: How to Listen Empathically
If you’ve ever been in the back room observing consumer research focus group discussions or individual interviews you’re familiar with the scene: laptops open, everyone typing or writing. And we won’t even mention the email they’re replying to and conversations they’re having. Are they paying attention to what’s going on out there? Maybe. But even if they are they may not be really hearing anything because they’re not listening empathically.
It’s a consumer research technique you can learn.
Next time you’re in the back room, set aside all thoughts of the next round of research you have to do, the meetings and commitments you have coming up, and figuring out what time you have to leave to catch your flight. Free your mind of everything else but what you’re here to do: understand these people. Close your laptop, drop your pen, just sit and listen. Let hearing, feeling and connecting with the people you’ve gone there to understand be your goal, not writing anything down right now.
As you hear what they say, let your mind go there. Yep, if you hear something that sparks a memory or feeling of your own notice that, and then bring your focus back. You’re noticing ways you might relate to that person out there.
“I feel you”
Try to feel what it’s like to be that person. It requires being open and accepting. Later when you debrief, resist the urge to ridicule them and point out their faults. Instead, talk about what stood out to you and ways you can understand what they’re about. You may even learn something about yourself.
Of course, empathic listening is particularly valuable when the conversations you’re listening to are meaningful. Try to make sure you’re encouraging people tell their stories and reveal their belief systems. Have “human conversations” not “researcher-asks-respondent” interrogations. Don’t waste valuable qualitative research opportunities making people answer questions about things they don’t know or care about. Focus on what’s near and dear to their hearts: them. Understanding your customers on a deep level will provide you important insights into the potential for your brand to be relevant to them in a powerful way.
Let me know what you think.
Marketing Research Consultant