September 30, 2013

Even when GPS can’t find it, the Entira team can

By Allen Sewell, Senior Associate, Entira

First in 2-part series: Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research

Several years ago, three members of the Entira team ventured out to the most remote areas of Montana to do market research—a trip they now refer to as the “Great Montana Expedition.” They spent a week meeting with more than 100 growers to collect input on a client’s planned product development initiative. This certainly was not the most convenient destination for a business trip, but camelina farmers are an important part of the client’s target market, and Montana is where a huge percentage of them live and work. So that’s where they went.

Our team’s GPS devices certainly have been put to the test over the years--we go to places that literally are not on the map. The directions we follow to a farmer’s field might rely less on satellite tracking and more on “turning left after the third grain bin, then right at the tree that looks like an eagle.”

To conduct the most effective research you can’t focus solely on the farmers who are within reach or easy to access. We don’t rely on phone calls to procure this highly valuable qualitative insight…we meet face-to-face. And we don’t make them come to us…we meet on their turf whenever possible, when and where it works best for the farmer—even if that means meeting at the farm before the rooster crows, or conducting the interview while sitting on a not-so-comfortable milk crate. You can find the Entira team in the machine shed, at the kitchen table, in the coffee shop, even riding along in the combine if we have to. We trek to chemical warehouses in the bayou of Louisiana; and we visit vegetable farms in remote pockets of California—because that’s where farmers are and where they’re likely to be the most open and honest.

Research providers are a dime a dozen. What sets Entira apart is that when you partner with us, you have bright minds with real agriculture experience leading the research. Farmers are comfortable talking to us, because we can relate to them, and they are more open with people who can speak their language. One Delmarva-area farmer was so comfortable that he made us a huge, homemade breakfast spread for our 6 a.m. meeting. So we sat around his kitchen counter eating omelets and croissants, and talked about his crop operation and growing contracts.

Qualitative Research

Good consulting comes from solid research. At Entira, we improve the value of our consultative capabilities by adding high quality research on the front end. We form our strategic counsel after doing the homework necessary to uncover results that are actionable. We gain an immense amount of insight from these visits with farmers, then we synthesize that insight with our own on-farm knowledge and experience in food and agriculture to create strategies that work—clear-cut direction you can employ to make the right decisions for your business.

When you consider qualitative research, think less structure and more open-ended questioning. Qualitative research is generally used to understand the “why” and “how,” and the underlying reasons or motivations behind certain feelings or behaviors. It’s a great methodology for testing ideas and gauging reactions, whether it’s for new product concepts, messaging themes, or for exploring challenges and what keeps folks up at night. Oftentimes qualitative research is paired with quantitative methods, which result in specific metrics to whatever hypotheses, trends or concepts you’re evaluating. It’s how you find numbers to validate your qualitative findings and confidently project results over an entire universe. We’ll talk more on that in the next issue.

Entira has long been known for our high quality, in-depth qualitative research methods. Whoever our subject is, we meet on their turf—in the fields, on the tractor/combine, or to the retailer's office to conduct our in-depth qualitative interviews. We accomplish this through one-on-one interviews, diads (groups of two), triads (groups of three) and focus groups (three or more participants). In recent years we have enhanced our focus group capabilities, realizing the importance and increased insight gained by having farmers discuss topics with their peers. Focus groups can be tremendously useful in gathering several opinions at the same time, plus participants react to one another’s comments, often bringing up new issues the client hadn’t thought about.

Whether a business proposition is best suited to a qualitative or quantitative research methodology—or if the plan is best served by speaking to farmers/ retailers/equipment manufacturers one-on-one, in twos or threes, or in small groups—Entira is poised to offer the highest quality work plan to provide actionable insights to our clients. And, we know to always bring boots, because you never know what you might be walking through.

If you would like to explore how effective research can help your business strategy, please contact me at 919.817.1015 or asewell@entira.net.