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May 7, 2009

Sam Elphinstone:Developing qualitative research to measure events

The Phoenix Research director explains how qualitative research can be taken far beyond the focus group to evaluate the effectiveness of live events.

In an earlier article, I looked at the role qualitative research has to play within experiential evaluation, something traditionally thought to be a purely numbers game. In this piece, I’d like to expand on some of the approaches used by qualitative research, and show that it has moved far beyond the focus group and depth interview in gathering information and consumer response.

That isn’t to say that focus groups and depth interviews don’t still play a large part in what qualitative research is all about. If you want to really understand a person or a group of people, then there is little that can rival sitting down, talking and really getting under their skin during a two-hour chat.

However, as with most things associated with marketing, qualitative research needs to be flexible and offer some truly thought-provoking methodologies to give clients that little bit extra.  Certainly flexibility is something ‘qual’ needs when addressing event evaluation, given that it would be wholly impractical (and of limited use) to conduct a focus group around a piece of experiential activity.

It’s about time
Using focus groups (or depth interviews) in an event evaluation context normally depends on the scope of the activity itself. If the consumer or delegate is quickly turned around, given a leaflet or sample, a brief chat and sent on their way, then focus groups offer nothing. If, however, the experience is more involving and takes longer to complete, such as the sponsorship of a music or sports event, or a conference spanning several days, in which consumers or delegates are exposed to the brand for a greater length of time, then focus groups can be of use.

Typically, between six and eight people are recruited for these groups, which can take place pre-event (if ticket-based) or post-event (recruited on site), or even pre and post-event, involving the same people. 

Shifting opinions
What the focus group seeks to do is identify and understand shifts in opinion that take place before and after the event, digging down to find out exactly what the causes of those positive and/or negative movements actually were. 

A typical area of discussion might focus around expectations of the brand event in the pre-event group, followed up by whether or not those expectations were met and how it reflected on the brand in the post-event group.

It also permits detailed examination of the elements of the activity and their fit (or otherwise) with the brand involved, meaning that an incredibly detailed picture of your activity emerges, painted by the very people who experienced it.

Other techniques
As we have seen, however, focus groups are not always practical or desired, so let’s look at the potential alternatives and what they have to offer:

Telephone follow up interviews
– Not a revolutionary approach by any stretch of the imagination, but something that allows you to leave consumers or delegates to experience the event without any distractions or interruptions. It can be carried out a number of weeks after the activity has finished to see what has truly ‘stuck’.

On-site video interviews
– Not an in-depth method, but something that gives you great top-of-mind, on-the-spot feedback. A good way of showing =first-hand how excited (or underwhelmed) your target audience were by the activity you undertook.

My Life, The Movie
– This is were attendees are tasked with filming the salient parts of the activity as experienced by them and their friends. Fully briefed, this removes the influence of a third-party researcher and allows them to experience the activity as normally as possible.

Observation – Often tied in with video interviewing, a researcher attends as a ‘prosumer’ or ‘prodelegate’ and can report back on the activity having experienced it themselves.

Attendee panel discussion – Led by a moderator (ideally the researcher who attended the experience), this involves a discussion with attendees that takes place live at the debrief. It’s a hugely powerful approach that leads to unparalleled understanding of your key target and the ways in which they interacted with your brand. This is feedback straight from the horse’s mouth.

Learning potential
Qualitative research has lots to offer in the context of event evaluation, whether through focus groups or beyond. it’s flexible, cost effective and truly consumer-focused. 

Just imagine what you could learn!

Sam Elphinstone is a director at Phoenix Research

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