3 Ways to Get More Out of Your Online Research

Is it possible to truly connect with my target audience through online research?

When we say “connect,” we mean truly hear and understand the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes of your key customers. We believe the answer is yes! You can get in-touch with your customers and gather deep understanding by using creative assignments to allow your consumer to take you into their world.

Creative assignments also make the experience more fun for participants. When respondents are engaged, they provide you with more information and are more willing to share more of their lives with you during the research, thus helping you gain deeper insight.

Three types of creative exercises we like to use when conducting online research are:

Visual Exercises – a picture is worth a thousand words!
In-the-Moment Experiences – let them show you!
Hear It In Their Own Words – let them tell you!

In this newsletter we will explore these three types of exercises and ways we have used them in research projects.

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

We really like to use visuals to go deeper with participants because visuals tap into a different part of the brain than direct questions.  When asked a direct question, we want to sound rational and logical, but when asked to collect pictures that capture your thoughts and feelings about a topic, we access the limbic portion of our brains that deals with emotions and memories.  Also, people think and communicate using metaphors, so asking people to collect pictures to convey their thoughts and feelings helps to elicit metaphors related to a given context (e.g., when one has a cold, shopping for groceries).
When creating these exercises, I like to design a centering question that focuses respondents on what I want them to do.  For example, I would like for you to collect three pictures that capture your thoughts and feelings about drinking juice.
In addition, I may also give them some additional thought starters to help in finding pictures such as:

  • How do you feel when drinking juice?
  • What are your feelings before, during and after drinking juice?

In an online study, respondents can then easily upload the pictures they have collected to the platform and discuss their reasons for selecting the picture.  Additional probing on aspects of the image or reasons for selecting that specific image can provide a deeper understanding of the idea they are trying to create.

The picture above came from a previous study where a person talked about juice being refreshing and yet also a product that may be used in their mixed drinks.  The tropical scene reminded her of these two aspects of drinking juice.

In-the-Moment Experiences

Online research does not have to be just text based. During the planning phase of the research, consider some in-the-moment exercises that allow participants to show you and tell you what they do.  The video capability of smart phones and tablets can allow them to capture video while they are in-the-moment of activities that are of interest to you.  Be creative!  We have created assignments where participants took us:


  • Into their pantries and refrigerators
  • Into their closets
  • Shopping with them
  • Into their kitchens as they cooked and baked
  • Into their bathrooms as they unclogged their sinks and toilets.

These types of assignments allow you to “be there” even though you are not there. Participants share their thoughts and feelings in the moment.  Their videos can even allow you to pick up on non-verbal cues such as their facial expressions and body language.

One may argue that these experiences are not quite as rich as being there in-person. However, online research and platforms allow for conducting 20 – 30 of these types of interviews at one time without having to jump on a plane.  In addition, participants can be asked questions to follow-up on the experiences they have recorded and uploaded.

Hear It In Their Words

Instead of text-based introductions, have participants record a short video introducing themselves.  This literally allows you to put a face and voice to the person answering the questions.

We also like to create assignments where participants engage in storytelling via video instead of answering direct questions.  For example, tell us a story about the last time you used product X.  Please make sure your story has a beginning, middle and an end. Stories have been used since the beginning of time for communicating information. They often provide more richness than the direct questions as they include context, characters and emotions.  Also, collecting this information via video allows us to create highlight reels that we can give to our client to more easily share the “voice of their customers” with their internal teams.

In summary, online research, when thoughtfully and creatively designed with engaging exercises, can provide a way for uncovering deep, rich, business-building insights about your target audience.