To truly understand women, it’s best to get them together in a qualitative setting. Letting women talk will provide marketing insights that you never even dreamed of. But sometimes marketers need results that are measurable, and that’s where quantitative research comes in. Trouble is, most quantitative research isn’t designed to accurately capture women’s thoughts and beliefs.
Questioning the Questions
Because research designers don’t know, and haven’t factored in, that women shop and buy differently than men, their questionnaires contain errors and oversights that may look unimportant but can drastically affect the validity of the response.
In an effort to understand the needs and attitudes of their consumers, companies routinely commit hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to large research studies. Based on some of the questionnaires I’ve seen, they’d get a much higher return donating the money to charity. They could at least leverage that investment via publicity to generate some goodwill for the company.
Here are two tips for designing questionnaires that will resonate with women.
1. Make your questions specific, not generic
I recently participated in a phone survey for an apparel chain, and the list of questions was laughable:
- On a scale of 1-10, how important is quality to your choice of retailer?
- How important is fit?
I honestly didn’t know how to answer. What does “quality” mean? Sure, I’d rather have an Armani suit—but it doesn’t mean I’m willing to pay for it. Does that mean I do care about quality (because I want the suit), or that I don’t (because I’m not willing to buy it)? And how about fit? Is it possible for fit to be unimportant? Do some people really not care if their clothes are too small or large?
As a marketer, all I could think about was the thousands of dollars that the retailer spent to get answers that were utterly meaningless. Instead, the questions should have been designed to get at women’s perceptions and decision trade-offs:
- How do you assess quality? Please rank: Fabric, Sewing, Details, Designer Name.
- Do you usually prefer to buy clothes that last a lifetime or a season or two?
Yes, these questions are more complex, making the research more costly to tabulate and challenging to interpret. But unless your research gives you useful information, what’s the point of doing it at all?
2. Capture all the criteria on women’s longer lists, not just the “most important” benefits
For women, details can be the deciding factor in their purchase decisions. Women have a longer list of considerations. If you use the “forced choice” methodology so popular with surveys (asking the consumer to rank the three most important criteria on the list, for instance), you are short-circuiting her decision process. This means that the answers you’re getting don’t really reflect the way she buys.
Your answer choices should show that the sponsoring company understands how women buy apparel in this case and provide some options that really would actually enter into real women’s decisions considerations. Avoid gradations like “very, somewhat or not at all important,” because nothing will emerge as a differentiation factor or focus opportunity.
Instead, structure your questions to give insight into what she means when she talks about criteria like quality. And ask her how she weights her purchase among decision factors when push comes to shove. Here’s an example:
If a jacket costs about 20% more than you want to pay, rank-order the reasons you might buy it anyway:
- Gorgeous – Fell in love with it, had to have it.
- Bargain– 60% markdown, too good to resist.
- Worth it – Higher quality than usual for this price range.
- Sold on it—Friend or salesperson I trust said it looks great on me.
- Need it—Out of time to shop further for upcoming event or trip.
With online or written questionnaires, always provide a few lines for write-in answers. You’ll get criteria you never thought to ask about, and sometimes they’re the ones that will cinch the sale.
If you think about it, the best research study is the one that surprises you—where the consumer tells you something you didn’t already know.