Understand Why in Qualitative Market Research

Getting to ‘Why’ by Asking ‘What’ in Qualitative Market Research

In Market Research Blog by admin

One of the reasons companies hire qualitative research firms is to better understand what drives consumer behavior. Knowing more intimately how a target audience acts and reacts and the reasons why are often discovered during focus group or in-depth interview sessions.

But simply putting a group of people together in a room and asking them a series of questions won’t necessarily yield the type of information that is relevant or helpful to companies. A qualitative research consultant knows that understanding why requires asking what.

Why Not Ask ‘Why’ in Qualitative Market Research?

Experienced moderators were either trained, or perhaps have learned the hard way, that asking ‘why’ in focus group settings doesn’t always illicit the responses they’re hoping for from participants. Why? Simply put, asking ‘why’ directly sometimes triggers defensive reactions. When confronted with ‘why’ participants may feel confronted and not be as open and forthcoming. Another reason to avoid asking ‘why’ questions directly, is the answers tend to be curt and less thought through. The exact opposite effect a moderator is hoping for during a conversation with study participants!

Think back to the many different ‘why’ questions you’ve been asked throughout your life and you can see why many people feel triggered.

“Why did you do that?”

“Why don’t you do this?”

“Why did you buy that?”

“Why can’t you be like….”

You get the idea.

During in-depth interviews or focus groups, a moderator works hard to get participants to relax. You want them to feel comfortable enough to be candid and explain the myriad reasons that influence their decision-making processes. It’s no secret that when participants feel comfortable and relaxed, they talk more.

Focus groups and in-depth interviews aren’t an interrogation and participants shouldn’t feel antagonized.

Seeking to Understand Why

The goal of qualitative research is to better understand why. So how do moderators get to why if they can’t ask it directly. Experienced moderators know to ask indirectly. Instead of asking “Why did you…” they ask “What are the reasons for…?”

Other good examples of asking why in a round-about way include:

“I don’t understand…can you help me out.”

“What are some of the reasons that made you do that?”

“What really happened?”


“Can you tell me more?”

Trained moderators or qualitative research consultants listen for why in the conversation and can identify when participants are answering why, without being directly asked.

When you seek why you’ll get more information.

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