Decision-Making & Task Scenarios in Qualitative Marketing Research

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  • 0:03 The Affordable Care…
  • 1:17 Task Scenario Research
  • 2:36 Benefits of Customer Feedback
  • 3:09 Qualitative Market Research
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Customers are not always able to accurately articulate their motivations for selecting one product over another. This lesson explores the use of scenario-based research to inform decision-makers about how customers actually behave during the selection and buying process.

The Affordable Care Act Website

When former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act launched, people without insurance were instructed to visit the website healthcare.gov in order to view the options for coverage and enroll in the plan that suits them best. Unfortunately for consumers, the rollout of the system was a disaster. The infrastructure supporting the website was inadequate to handle a substantial amount of web traffic from people signing up for the program. Even after customers were able to login and register, the user interface was so poorly designed that signing up was next to impossible. Instructions were hard to follow, features didn't work or worked differently from what the instructions indicated, and many users gave up attempting to use the website when the problems were not corrected in a timely manner.

This type of rollout disaster is why scenario-based market research is important. Ultimately, the individuals responsible for building the website were not in tune with the market that was going to make use of their product. Scenario-based research is a way to protect against this kind of mistake. In this type of research, potential customer volunteers are asked to use a product or system and allow market researchers to observe and learn from their behaviors.

Task Scenario Research

When a market researcher observes customers using a tangible product, it's called a task scenario. One of the most important elements of scenario-based research is making sure that the individuals testing the product don't have any knowledge that would exceed the scope of knowledge possessed by the average person who would use the product. In other words, to perform a valid scenario-based test on the healthcare.gov website, participants should not have to be technically savvy individuals, only young people, or individuals who are otherwise familiar with how the product should work.

In the case of the healthcare.gov website, scenario-based research would have involved assembling a group of volunteers willing and able to attempt to use the form it would be in when it was deployed. The assembled volunteers would be given instructions similar to those that the public would use, and then be given an opportunity to carry out those tasks without coaching or further information. In the case of a website like healthcare.gov, the scenario should be chosen based on the most common activities that a customer might carry out on the product. For the Affordable Care Act website, this might be things like registering as a new patient, making a selection to purchase a particular brand of insurance, or utilizing the customer support process to receive help using the website.

Benefits of Customer Feedback

Market researchers deploying a scenario like this would receive two critical streams of information from the study. First, they will have been able to see firsthand how consumers behaved. The second important stream of information would come from in-depth discussions with the people who completed the scenarios. The most common method for collecting this type of data is to go through the individual tests in decisions that were made by the person evaluating the product, and asking them to explain the reasoning behind their decision or methodology to complete the scenarios' tasks.

Qualitative Market Research

Imagine for a moment that you are volunteering your marketing expertise for a candidate campaigning for an open Congressional seat in your district. Your candidate has asked you to find the best way for her to present her position that property taxes should be raised to pay for new schools. How would you go about determining the best way to do this?

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