September 29, 2022
Messaging

How to use qualitative insights to create messaging that resonates with your audience

Gathering and utilizing qualitative insights allows you to communicate effectively with your audience. Here’s how to do it.

In 2013, the Cosmopolitan Hotel of Las Vegas had an empty showroom. To help draw in customers and create a unique experience, they hired qualitative researcher Jesse Caesar.

Caesar conducted one-on-one interviews with frequent Vegas visitors to gain qualitative consumer insights like what motivated their trips, what they felt was missing, and what might be interesting and novel to them. 

Those insightful interviews led to the concept of Rose. Rabbit. Lie., a restaurant that saw great success during its time with its electrifying and intimate atmosphere.

Qualitative insights gleaned from customer interviews help fill the gap between what your customers need right now and how you can provide it to them. 

In this article, we’ll review what qualitative insights are and two common qualitative approaches to gather those insights: one-on-one customer interviews and focus groups. 

What are qualitative insights?

Qualitative insights reveal the motivations behind customer behaviors, opinions, desires, and expectations. Unlike its data-driven counterpart, quantitative insights, qualitative insights use loose frameworks with open-ended questions that allow respondents to talk freely about various issues. 

Both qualitative and quantitative insights reveal important details about customer behavior but have key differences. 

Qualitative data measures the quality of your customer’s opinions and feelings. It answers the why and how of decision-making. Researchers gather qualitative data through open-ended questions in:

  • One-on-one interviews where an interviewer meets with one respondent at a time and asks questions about their experience, beliefs, or opinions; 
  • In-person and online focus groups, typically conducted with small groups of people trying out the same product or service;
  • Lifestyle immersion, where a researcher attends an event to observe the habits and behaviors of those attending;
  • Ethnographic observation, where a researcher immerses themselves in the environment and interviews and observes customer behavior. 

Quantitative data quantifies the opinions and feelings, revealing the proportion of respondents who feel a certain way. It answers the what, where, when, and who of decision-making. Researchers gather quantitative data through close-ended questions in: 

  • Multiple-choice format that asks a respondent to select the best answer out of a set of options;
  • The Likert scale, a multiple-choice questionnaire that uses a rating system where respondents score responses from 1 to 5;
  • Multi-select surveys that allow participants to select more than one answer from a set of possible answers.

Qualitative data relies on non-directive, open-ended questions, allowing respondents to use their own language to answer questions on a given subject. For example, an open-ended question might look like, “How would you describe your daily routine?” Respondents then answer freely, describing their routine in their own words. 

Quantitative data uses closed-ended questions that limit how respondents can answer. For example, if you want to quantify a respondent’s daily routine, you might ask, “do you start your day with a cup of coffee?” Then, the respondents must answer “yes” or “no,” with no prompt for additional information. 

Combined with quantitative insights, qualitative insights can lead to clear conclusions that help businesses improve their product messaging. 

How qualitative research improves your marketing messaging

You can use qualitative research at any point during your market research to better inform your brand’s marketing, customer support, and product development strategies. 

Depending on the data you need to collect, you can research:

  • At the beginning of a customer study to determine what to measure for quantitative research;
  • After your quantitative research to clarify what the numbers reveal about customer behavior;
  • At any time as an isolated study, you want to understand the nuances of your customer’s behavior to gauge how customers feel about your checkout process or to refine how you talk about a certain feature.

Qualitative insights get you in the customer's mind, filling the gap between your offer and your customers’ needs and desires. Insights like how customers describe your product, communicate their needs, or their ideal product can be useful for crafting your message.

For example, if you’re responsible for generating more users for PandaDoc, an online document creation software, and you conduct a one-on-one interview with your target customer, a salesperson. You probe them about what they need most from document creation software, what they like about it, why it makes them feel a certain way, and more.

During your research, you find that a common frustration is how long it takes to create a document. So, you use this insight to inform your messaging and come up with “create, manage, and e-Sign docs with ease.” You’ve taken a common frustration from a one-on-one interview and spoken directly to that in your messaging:

Screenshot of PandaDoc Homepage
PandaDoc’s homepage copy aligns with user’s needs

Where to use qualitative insights in your strategy planning

Qualitative insights can be used throughout your marketing strategy planning whenever you want to hear from your customers in their own words. 

Here are some additional applications of qualitative insights. 

Inform your branding decisions

Your brand is your identity but also a reflection of your customers’ identities: what they need and want, how it makes them feel, and how it solves their problems. 

Qualitative insights allow customers to share their perspectives in their own words rather than with predetermined responses. These insights make it easier to solve branding and awareness problems—like in the PandaDoc example—by helping you understand how customers perceive your brand.

You can also use this gathered qualitative data as social proof to drive customer acquisition for your company through testimonials, case studies, and customer stories. 

Check if your messages resonate

Your messages help customers understand why your offer is useful to them. Qualitative insights reveal the language customers use when talking about your products, which directly reflects what they need and their values.

You can use this language in all your company’s internal and external communications to target your customers: in your marketing copy, sales pitches, knowledge base, emails, and more. 

A comparison of your customers’ insights and your company’s messaging will reveal whether or not your communications align with customers’ needs. Good alignment means that your message will resonate with your audience.

Discover areas for product development

Qualitative research gathers new and existing ideas and unveils opportunities to create new products. The unrestricted nature of qualitative research draws out customers’ lifestyle habits, needs, annoyances, and preferences, all of which can inform your next product or software feature. 

Identify areas for product improvement

Just as qualitative insights surface opportunities for product development, they also uncover opportunities for product improvements. Drawing out customer frustrations can help you solve them. This can mean a reduction in support call volume, an increase in your NPS (Net Promoter Score), and an increase in overall conversions. 

How to gather qualitative insights to ensure your messages resonate

Gathering qualitative insights depends on your research’s subject and objectives. We’ll review the two most common methodologies—one-on-one interviews and focus groups—and how you can apply them to your messaging research. 

One-on-one interviews

In a one-on-one interview, the interviewer asks a customer a series of open-ended questions about human behavior, values, motivations, preferences, attitudes, and experiences with the company or company’s offering. 

These intimate interviews gather data to build customer personas, map customer journeys and improve customer acquisition and experience. 

They’re best suited for:

  • Exploring sensitive, embarrassing, controversial, or more personal topics because customers feel more comfortable sharing privately rather than in a group environment;
  • Studying many different customer segments or types;
  • Gaining a detailed understanding of an individual customer.

One-on-one interviews grant the interviewee more time to discuss topics in detail and can remove the biases from focus groups. 

Before you conduct your customer interview, there’s prep work involved in setting it up. 

1. Set a clear intention for your interview

What do you need to get out of your interview? Your objective could be broad, like “I want to know how my messaging resonates,” or specific, like “I want to know if customers trust my shopping cart because we placed a ‘Google Trusted Store’ certificate under the Checkout button.” 

Defining your interview objective informs which questions you will ask the customers.

2. Get your team together

Next, determine who will be present for your interviews. Typically, the team that benefits from the intended interview objective should be present. Your qualitative research session should have both a note-taker and a moderator, but it’s okay if you don’t have a note-taker because you can record the interview.

At the beginning of new product efforts, the conversational marketing platform Drift uses a kickoff meeting called Story Time. They gather product managers, designers, marketers, and anyone else working on the product effort. In Story Time, they set their effort’s goals, a research plan, and a roadmap for how to build the new product or feature. 

You don’t need an entire team to conduct a one-on-one interview. As long as you have one moderator and a set of questions, you can record your interview.

3. Write your questions

This is the most challenging part of the research process because the questions you ask directly influence the interview’s outcome. Ask the wrong questions, and you’ve wasted your time (and the customer’s). 

All of your questions must be open-ended to allow for nuance. You also want your questions to be as specific as possible to draw out as many details from the customer as possible. 

Let’s compare close-ended versus open-ended questions. 

Interviewee: Are you satisfied with our product?
Customer:
Yes.

This is an example of a close-ended question because the customer will either answer “yes” or “no,” but no more.

Interviewee: What aspects of the product most affect your satisfaction with our product?
Customer:
Unfortunately, your “Notify when available” button doesn’t always work when customers click it, and I miss out on quite a few recovered carts.

The open-ended nature of this question forces the customer to answer in a focused way on all of the aspects of how the product affects their satisfaction.

There’s always a chance that a customer may only give a one or two-word response to an open-ended question. In this case, you’ll need to probe them further by continuing to ask subsequent questions. Many interviewers use a method called the 5 Whys to uncover specific answers. 

This might look like,

Interviewee: Do you use our productivity app often?
Customer:
Yes, once a week.
Interviewee:
Why do you use it only once a week?
Customer:
Because that’s when I remember to use it.
Interviewee:
Why do you forget to use it? 
Customer:
Because I’m pretty busy, and I’m someone who needs constant reminders like push notifications to get me to open the app.

As we can see, the 5 whys method revealed the specific reason the customer only uses the app once a week. Now we know that we need to develop a push notification system for our app to remind our customers to use it. When crafting open-ended questions, allow opportunities to uncover deeper meanings behind simple answers. 

4. Assemble your customers

Now, whom can you interview to gain these valuable qualitative insights? It depends on your objective. 

For example, if you want to learn why a customer abandoned their cart, interview customers who recently abandoned their cart on your site. Want to find out why a customer left your product for another? Interview those customers. 

Ideally, you’ll want to interview at least 5 customers one-on-one to reveal trends, although you can interview up to ten. 

Once you determine your target interview group, email them and ask if they’d like to participate in your study. In your email, include key pieces of information, including:

  • Date and time. If conducting an online group, always write the time and date in the participant’s time zone;
  • Location. Include the full address or a link to a video call with joining instructions;
  • Research topic. Tell customers what the research is about; 

Also, any human-based research requires informed consent. Explain to participants that you will record and collect data during the interview and how you will use it. You’ll also want to send along a document to sign to confirm their consent. Repeat this at the outset of an interview to verify that everyone agrees to the terms and conditions. 

When customers accept your email invitation, you can set up a meeting with them through your calendar app, typically in a 30-45 minute block. While you can meet customers in person, this may be less convenient for some. Instead try virtual options like Zoom, Google Meet, another meeting application, or the phone. 

Once you’ve conducted the in-depth interviews, you can share the results with your team, including video clips, recordings, and direct quotes from your interviews. This allows other team members to view the interview and can help revoke a potential bias in the analysis of the responses. 

After sharing these insights, you’ll want to distill what you learned from the interviews into 3-10 key actionable insights. You can store this data for future use in apps like Dovetail, productboard, Airtable, or a simple spreadsheet. 

In-person and online focus groups

A focus group is a moderated discussion with 5 to 10 participants about a specific subject, in which the moderator asks a series of questions. Like one-on-one interviews, they allow you to learn about customer attitudes, beliefs, desires, and reactions to new products or features. Focus group sessions last 1-2 hours.

Because focus groups emphasize a social dimension, they can be more effective than one-on-one interviews at uncovering raw reactions. However, there’s always the risk that interview participants can influence each other’s reactions or feedback. 

Focus groups are best for:

  • Discovering new markets and concepts by discussing disagreements between different customers and how they view the product or industry;
  • Getting an overview of how people view your product;
  • Exploring a consensus or lack of consensus on why customers do or don’t like your product;
  • Gaining insights into how people talk about a problem, your product, or a shared experience; 
  • Uncovering commonalities and differences within customer segments.

The process of conducting focus group interviews is similar to conducting one-on-one interviews. When conducting these interviews, you want to record both video, audio, and also include a transcript. This way, you can capture non-verbal communication and eliminate confusion over who said what. You’ll also use these notes when you analyze the data. 

Just like one-on-one interviews, you’ll need to:

  1. Determine your research goals

What do you want to get out of the discussion? Do you want to identify problems customers are facing in the checkout process? Find out how your customers talk about your product’s new feature? Setting your goal will inform the rest of the focus group planning. 

  1. Gather your interview team

Assemble the interview panel most affected by the outcome. Most importantly, find a moderator with strong interviewing skills and the ability to keep the group focused. Good moderators have:

  1. Background knowledge of the subject;
  2. A knack for remembering customers’ names;
  3. Experience interviewing groups;
  4. The ability to rein in intense personalities;
  5. Enthusiasm for getting to know participants.

3. Write your discussion questions

Writing focus group questions is similar to writing one-on-one interview questions. Multiple customers will answer these questions in one session and hopefully inspire additional conversations. 

The discussion questions should act as a guide, not a script. Good things to keep in mind when writing these questions:

  1. Always keep your questions open-ended;
  2. Avoid leading questions that hint at a right or wrong answer;
  3. Focus on real-life scenarios, not hypotheticals.

Start with warm-up questions like,

- What is your job title?
- What’s your favorite day of the week?
- Did you go anywhere over the summer?

These seemingly frivolous questions warm your interviewees up for the challenging questions you’ll ask later.

Next, explore discovery questions to understand customer motivations and needs better.

- Tell us about the last time you did X.
- Think about the last time you did X. How did it make you feel?
- What is your favorite part about being a [persona attribute]?

If you’re gathering feedback on a product or software, ask open-ended questions like,

- What is your checkout experience like with our product?
- What was the best part about your onboarding experience?
- Were there any hang-ups in our onboarding experience? 

If you want to gain customer opinions about a design or experience, ask questions like,

- What changes would make our product better appeal to you?
- How do you describe our product?
- How does our product compare to similar products you’ve used in the past?

Other than questions, focus groups can involve activities like fill-in-the-blank worksheets, list-making, card sorting, role-playing, and word associations. 

4. Find your customers

Choose participants based on your customer personas, or if you’re in earlier development stages, choose a highly diverse population in your product’s target market. 

Recruit around 3 to 6 focus groups with 5-10 participants in each group. However, you can conduct a group with as few as 3 customers. We don’t recommend going over ten as this can place stress on the interviewee, and some participants may be overlooked in the interview. So, overall, budget for 24 participants. 

Groups can meet online through a video conference application, or you can meet in person. Meeting in person requires a larger planning timeline, a desirable location for all participants, and a comfortable room free of distractions. 

Location can affect group dynamics in some cases as different people feel comfortable in different places. For example, some individuals prefer a conference room, whereas others might be intimidated by the sterile atmosphere. 

5. Analyze the data

Analyzing focus group data is challenging because of the content volume. It involves detailed meta-analysis, analyzing each session and analyzing those reports again to glean key insights and themes. 

Common themes encountered include problems or issues, ideas or opportunities, likes and dislikes, emotive language, and common motivations. 

When analyzing the data, think about:

  • The language participants used to talk about the product or experience;
  • How the participants were feeling: were they angry, happy, or sad? How intense were the feelings?;
  • Any words or phrases that were used frequently;
  • How often the individual participants spoke;
  • The context for particular responses; 

You can then use this data to refine your messaging. For example, if in the interview participants kept referring to your team as “efficient, professional, speedy, and courteous,” you can use these words to craft your support page copy, “Our quick-response support team is available 24/7.”

From 2008-2018, Starbucks used a My Starbucks Idea platform to collect ideas from customers around the world and used this to improve its products and messaging. Over the decade, Starbucks implemented over 275 consumer ideas like new product offerings and methods to improve the customer experience.

Screenshot of Starbucks Idea Platform

One-on-one interviews and focus groups provide the unique opportunity to speak directly to your target market. Through these qualitative studies, you can gather rich data about your target audience's needs, wants, and pain points. Then, use this data to create messaging that speaks directly to your audience's needs.

Conclusion

Qualitative insights reveal the motivations behind customer behaviors. 

Unlike quantitative insights, which use data-driven frameworks and close-ended questions to elicit specific responses, qualitative insights rely on loose frameworks and open-ended questions to allow respondents talk freely about a variety of issues. 

This is essential to understand and analyze the underlying emotions and attitudes that influence customer decisions. By using both qualitative and quantitative methods, businesses can develop messaging that resonates with customers’ wants and needs. 

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