Keep questioning for more impactful insights

The point of market research is to get answers to questions that will help your business. But how do you know you’re getting to the real answer? Any parent knows that it takes more than one question to get the real answer when you’re dealing with kids. And sometimes it takes more than one method to get there. The same applies when you’re digging into a topic to get people’s answers about their choices, behaviors, and usage of products or services. If you’re trying to understand something, it helps to keep questioning. Here are some techniques you can use to drive at the real insights you’re looking for.

Don’t settle: the Five Whys

The Five Whys is a technique used for root cause analysis. The premise is that if you keep asking “why” each time you get an answer, you’ll get to the real underlying reason after about five times. The Five Whys is fantastic for people to explore why they do things and get them to think through their behaviors. This will capture the larger insights that you can better capitalize on. The Five Whys technique is best used with one-to-one interviews or focus groups. These instances give you more time to probe after each question.

Play dumb and play back

This one takes tact and finesse, but it works really well when you master it. When engaging in research with someone, position them as the expert and you as the learner. As they explain things to help you out, you’ll find that you get more information and insights out of them. You should also play back what you’ve heard and learned from them so they can correct you. As you reinforce them as the expert, you’ll get richer insights from them. As a frame or reference, the fictional TV character Colombo used this tactic to his advantage. Though he knew more than he let on, he got more out of his questioning because he treated everyone else like they knew everything. This works best with one-on-one interviews.


Reframing is a technique that can yield insights by coming at questions sideways. When you reframe you ask a respondent to put themselves in “someone else’s shoes”. It’s a similar question that you may have asked earlier, but you’re coming at it from an adjacent or different point of view. This will help yield insights that may go deeper and broader than the respondent’s original thoughts.

Question what “everyone knows”

The best way to describe this is through the “analogy of the pot roast”. A young married couple is making a pot roast together for Sunday dinner. One of them takes the pot roast and starts to cut the ends off. The other asks, “Why are you cutting off both ends” to which he replies, “I don’t know. That’s what my mom did.” So he calls his mom to ask why she cuts the ends off the pot roast. Mom says, “I don’t know. That’s what my mother did.” So he calls his grandmother and asks why she cuts the ends off the pot roast. “To fit it in the pot,” she replies.

People often do things because that’s what has always been done. Sometimes we don’t question if products have changed, technology has changed, trends are different, or timing is better. Don’t assume. Question “the given” and find out if there’s a better way.

Question through observation

Want to understand people’s choices better? Watch them in action. Ethnography immerses you inside of a world to observe the culture and behaviors that people engage in. This is popular in anthropology to understand culture or people. Market researchers use an abbreviated method called ethnographic research. It’s used to understand how people interact with products or services, how they shop, or how they behave in certain situations. There are many ways to do ethnographic research. You can observe people in various habitats (work, home, shopping), use eye-tracking or journals, or social media analytics.


Have you ever had a conversation with someone only to realize an hour later that you forgot to tell them something? The same thing can happen with those that you interact with for market research. But if you have the ability to go back and talk to them, they may have extra insights after they’ve had more time to think. Requestioning can breed more fruitful insights. Don’t be afraid to go back to your respondents and engage in a more detailed conversation. Just make sure you keep that door open with the first interaction.

Keep questioning

The path to understanding isn’t a short one. It takes a lot of steps to get there. By continuing to question and using many tactics you can find the answers you’re looking for. And those answers will help you get to your desired destination.