One of the most important skills in moderating any market research discussion is to make sure you’re not “guiding the witness” to tell you something that is not accurate.
I’ve discussed here the importance of asking market research participants open-ended questions such as “can you tell me more about that?” and “is there anything else?” I also written about the importance of getting honest feedback, and suggested ways to make sure you do.
Today I’d like to emphasize the importance of giving the participants permission to NOT know.
Market research participants are smart, competent people who know what is going on in their environments. It’s natural that they’re only human and don’t want to come across as unknowledgeable. Nobody wants to admit, “I don’t know.”
However, YOU need to know the truth. If they don’t know about a product, you need to know about that and adjust your marketing efforts accordingly. It’s just as important for you to uncover that participants are unfamiliar with a product or an idea as it is to know their opinion about it.
The key is to ask questions that allow a participant to tell you the truth without feeling like an idiot.
A question that is in many research guides is an awareness question. “Are you familiar with product X? What do you know about it?” I don’t like asking the question this way. It almost guarantees that some selection of the participants will answer, “Yes, I’ve heard of it. I read about it in a magazine” just so they don’t have to admit they have never heard about the product.
Instead, ask “Are you familiar with product X – and please feel free to say no, that’s just as important for me to know.” This will give the participant permission to not know without feeling stupid.
Another option is to ask, “What do you know about the following product – if anything?” that also leaves the door open for participants to admit they don’t know without worrying about disappointing you.