At the start of Shelter-In-Place, I heard a lot of people talking about how they would spend this time: learn a language, get fit, flex cooking skills. Within a few weeks, the conversation switched from potential productivity to confusion: Why can’t I focus? What have I done all day? And at the root of it? Emotions. Anxiety, confusion, frustration, fear – just a smattering of emotions people feel these days. They take a lot of energy and impact behaviors.
Now, I’m highly emotional. Apparently, there are times when it’s a bit too much, so my husband cuts me off, “Don’t read into it, it’s just a minor event/exchange/TV show.” Or my kids will say, “You’d make a great therapist, but that’s not what we need right now.” Yikes. Mostly, though, I see it as a superpower and lead with it. As a researcher, online qualitative is an incredibly valuable tool to dig into emotionality and give people a chance to explore their own emotions. While bringing people catharsis is not my primary goal, it’s a highly rewarding ancillary benefit, and it really helps ground the insights.
Let me walk you through two cases where online, emotion-based activities gleaned key insights that fed into nuanced product development.
1. The Next New in …lenses?
CLIENT OBJECTIVE: A lens manufacturer tapped out on near term product ideas (i.e., smudge-proof, shatterproof, etc.) was seeking transformational innovation opportunities. In other words, BIG thinking.
WHAT WE DID: Deprivation study + self-portrait.
WHAT THIS LOOKED LIKE: In discussing glasses annoyances with be-spectacled friends/colleagues, we quickly realized that talking pain points yielded too practical and superficial ideas (often, already existing). We sought latent needs – what people don’t fully realize bothers them. So, we launched a 1-week online community (followed by some ethnographies) with a key deprivation activity acting as the connective thread: We asked our participants to abstain from wearing glasses for one regular, life activity a day, and document the experience.
OUTCOME: We watched people struggle through folding laundry, cooking, helping kids do homework, exercising, manipulating technology, etc. and saw the flurry of accompanying emotions. Yes, some scenarios were boring and played out per expectations, but others were GOLD. We observed a young woman – short-sighted – struggle through her daily eye makeup routine. Because she couldn’t see from far without her glasses, and couldn’t put on eye makeup with them, she hacked a process: Leaning in super close to her bathroom mirror, while holding a hand mirror to her side with her weaker hand to get in even closer, and using her dominant hand to do both eyes. It was time-consuming and awkward, imperfect, and frustrating – yet, it was her every day. In another exercise, we asked her to create a [simple] self-portrait representing a time when she felt most vulnerable because of glasses and speak to that moment. Her portrait and story revolved around puberty and how the physical and emotional tumult PLUS the addition of glasses made her feel ugly and separate from the crowd. Because we had seen her persevere through her daily makeup to look and feel beautiful, her story felt even more poignant. We needed to see her doing her life, and giving her time to reflect on it thoughtfully, to fully comprehend the emotional impact of the glasses.
Ultimately, we used her makeup struggle as inspiration for a product idea, and her film and self-portrait in our storytelling to remind designers and marketers that glasses represent more to people than just a tool to sharpen vision.
2. How to Quit Smoking. Again.
CLIENT OBJECTIVE: A smoking cessation product team, armed with the science of nicotine addiction, didn’t fully understand the emotional dimensions of smoking and barriers to quitting.
WHAT WE DID: 2-week daily diary, asking respondents for multiple daily entries capturing ‘smoking moments’ – when they were tempted to reach for cigarettes and to talk briefly about what led to that moment, and what they felt like after.
WHAT THIS LOOKED LIKE: Among our broad sample – representing the spectrum of quitters (new to quit, mid quit, post quit), we collected tons of imagery – video, and photo – reflecting triggers to smoking, reactions to succumbing to temptations, pride in holding off, etc. Imagine: 14 days x 70 participants x average 4 entries/day.
OUTCOME: We pulled out various Need States around smoking, which helped the team pinpoint when to intercept a smoker. But perhaps, more importantly, through the daily diary experience, we gave these smokers an opportunity to explore their needs, feelings, and behaviors and look at them objectively. On their own time, in their own worlds. Few had ever had this non-judgmental, quasi therapy experience for smoking. Few would have ever made the time for it. In Western society, smoking has become a highly shameful activity: Each cigarette smoked, each time a smoker is banished from a room, each failed quit attempt just deepens the shame and the division between smoker and non-smoker. As one woman confided in me – people just tell her that she shouldn’t smoke, or that she should stop smoking, as if it’s that easy. Few ever ask her why she smokes and listens with compassion to the rambling, conflicting, emotional response. But we did. And in so doing, gave the smoker the permission for personal exploration, and helped them shed some light on the complex web of smoking motivations and needs. As the brand team, we recognized that a smoking cessation product would have no sustainable success – the goal: a sustained quit – without some system of non-judgmental accountability. With that insight, the client set off to design a program for the product that included a therapy-like journal and other digital aids that would help quitters keep track of their processes – without judgment – and encourage them to continue despite inevitable missteps.
Unquestionably, in both these situations, if we had not been able to meet people in their space and given them time and respect to reflect on their actions and emotions, we would not have been able to conceive of such lateral solutions.