As former brand marketers, we all know the researcher’s job can be a hard one; especially when consumers give out surface-level thinking to complex issues that need solutions. We have learned at Mission Field that there are times when we need to act like an unbiased classic researcher, but there are also times when we need to dig, push and challenge consumers in order to get to the heart of the matter… more like an investigative journalist.


The classic research approach would suggest that tightly scripted discussion guides should provide all of our required answers, but the inherent problem with listing out questions for every potential hypothesis is that the consumer never gets to reflect on the unasked question. Of course any good researcher will know how to probe when they see an insight opportunity, but they never really have the time to go on a tangent and uncover hidden truths. This effect takes place in both group settings as well as individual interviews.


Rethinking consumer and shopper research as a form of investigative journalism turns the classic approach to new product research on its head. A good investigative journalist thinks more about how they have to dig through a chaotic mass of consumer’s statements of behaviors, beliefs and circumstances that obscure our understanding of why people behave a certain way and desire certain things. They have to shift between a passive and active approach to keep consumers engaged, but also reflective. As M. Hunter accurately stated about investigative journalism: “the why becomes the how in investigation, the who is not just a name [and demographic] it’s a personality with character traits and a style… The what is not merely a [behavior] but a phenomenon with causes and consequences.”


Outcomes between the two approaches differ as well. While classic research seeks to accept what consumers tell us and reflect the world as stated, an investigative approach refuses to accept the initial response preferring to penetrate and expose a deeper meaning or a hidden truth. While classic research prefers to remain objective and not introduce bias, the investigative approach seeks to be fair and scrupulous but identify unstated situations and offer a judgment on the findings. In classic research the structures of the insights are less important because they capture the ebbs and flow of consumer reactions, but the investigative approach requires building narratives; structured stories that evolve to a clear and precise conclusion.  At Mission Field we pride ourselves on our ability to leverage the right approach for the right situation… and this is just the tip of the iceberg in how we collect big insights that create big innovation opportunities. Contact us to learn more: