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Top 10 benefits of using projective techniques in online research

Anthony Shephard-Williams, director, explains how and why projective techniques can supercharge your online communities (and how online communities can supercharge your projective techniques).

For reasons we’re all fully aware of (not going to say the C word), 2020 and 2021 were stellar years for conducting research online (Online Qualitative Research to the Rescue!). Alongside the increasing numbers of pop-up communities delivered for clients, we have also had more opportunity to get creative, and have been using more projective techniques online than ever before.

What is a projective technique?

Projective techniques are creative and indirect methods used in qualitative research. These techniques allow researchers to tap into consumers’ deep motivations, beliefs, attitudes and values. They are useful because psychology theories have proven that much of what drives behaviour can be emotional and irrational in nature. These techniques allow us to delve deeper into the human psyche. If you want to get a feel for some of the techniques we can use, my colleague Richard Walker wrote a blog with some examples a while back, all of these can (and have) been conducted online too, albeit with some adaptation!

What are the top 10 benefits of using projective techniques online?

Since we have been designing and using more projective techniques for online research, we wanted to report back on some of the big successes. With that in mind, here are the top 10 benefits of using projective techniques in an online setting:

1. It’s more fun for respondents, which means you get the most out of them! A lot of online respondents are used to tick box surveys with closed questions or open-ended questions that allow for shorter verbatim responses. With projective techniques, it really is chance to rip up the rule book and write questions in a fun and thought-provoking way. Human nature is that people will engage more with enjoyable “tasks”.

2. There is less pressure for respondents. Unlike a traditional in-person group setting, when online our respondents have time to respond when they choose to. They are not put on the spot or rushed. This means they can consider and construct their response, ensuring they clearly get across what they really want to say.

3. The respondents can reply on their own terms. Respondents reply at a time and place that is convenient to them. They are more relaxed in their own environment, their natural setting where many of their consumer decisions are made.

4. It may reduce group bias – All respondents have the chance to get their opinions across and they are less likely to be swayed by others. Furthermore, sometimes in a group situation, despite our best efforts to get the most out of them, sometimes respondents can be shy or embarrassed or worried about making themselves look silly. We need people to feel confident in saying “silly” things when using projective techniques, so this element of relative anonymity is very useful.

5. The volume of feedback is undoubtedly higher. To prove this point, I actually reviewed the transcripts from a recent focus group with 8 respondents and the responses from 8 respondents in a two-week online pop-up community where we used the same projective techniques. The numbers have been counted and verified and the word count is in: focus group = 586 words vs. online forum 1451 words. That’s a massive three-fold increase!

6. Online discussions can snowball. Respondents can see and read each other’s responses. We have found this leads to less duplication with responses as respondents want to bring fresh ideas to the table. They can also be inspired to build on other’s ideas which can take the discussion down a completely different route. Moderators and clients can also see the responses unfold and develop over the duration of the forum / community.

7. Creative questions are easier to digest in written format. It allows respondents to take their time and read through all instructions and questions and absorb them fully. This is great for all respondents but especially so for international respondents who might not always be responding in their native language.

8. You can really push creative boundaries by using multiple projective techniques. Typically, in a focus group or depth interview you would use one or two projective techniques at most. We’ve recently completed a 2-week pop-up community in which we had included 8 different topics and activities, and half of these were based around different projective techniques.

9. It can be more interactive – respondents can vote for their favourite responses or like other respondents’ ideas. Moderators, clients and respondents can all be involved in the technique to make sure we all get the most out of it.

10. Being online and having the benefit of more time provides us with greater flexibility with any given projective technique. As new comments are put forward moderators are able to adapt and change the scope of the techniques along the way. We can change or add to the questions or ask respondents to re-visit particular ideas and suggestions.

I love using projective techniques as they can be so much fun, and getting people to think in different ways has proven to deliver some real nuggets of insights for our clients. They’re also fun to design – we can take inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. But that’s just my opinion…

So what do respondents think about taking part in online research with projective techniques?

At the end of our online pop-up communities, we always ask respondents to provide feedback on the experience, and here are just some of the recent comments we have received:

If you want to talk about projective techniques or online qualitative research or have anything to add contact Anthony.shephard-williams@mustard-research.com or call 0161 235 5270.

Written by Anthony Shepard-Williams
Posted on 27th Jul, 2022