Q&A with Nielsen Research Director Fiesta Parinas on Insighting

Maria Aileen “Fiesta” Parinas is the Qualitative Research Director of The Nielsen Company Philippines. Qualitative market research employs keen observation in the process as it aims to understand consumer profile, which includes opinion, behavior and motivation. In this interview, Fiesta shares her expertise about insighting

Q1: What are the best qualifications to look for an insight master?

A1: Self-awareness. Open-mindedness. Empathy.  Sensitivity. Clarity.  And, the ability to connect the dots.

Personally, being a “master” requires a good interaction of the heart and the mind…of one’s emotional + analytical intelligence. As a qualitative researcher, I believe that good insight starts from being able to make your consumers talk to you about what they think, how they feel, and why they behave the way they do. Some of these things are not necessarily expressed so it is up to the researcher to be able to sense what they really mean. However, to be able to fully understand what the people are saying, it is important that the researcher is self-aware of her own vulnerabilities, so that she can easily listen, empathize, explore and expound whatever it is they are expressing. After which, the challenge for the researcher is to make sense of all that were gathered by clearly making the connections and finding the patterns in the motivations, behavior and choices to create the “aha” insight/s.

Q2: What tools and questions do you use to train people to get good insights?

A2: In Nielsen, I train my team in Qual the same way I was honed by my former boss. I start by making them become self-aware of their strengths, vulnerabilities and weaknesses through our HR-initiated tests like Strengthsfinder or other personality tests. This will help heighten their empathy towards the consumers they talk to and confidence /comfort to probe deeply. Once able to generate vast information from consumers, I look at how they do insighting or building the story — of how they connect the disposition of the respondents, to their behavior, to their usage of the category, to their preferences, up to the concepts they resonate to. I usually do laddering questions to make my team derive on potential insights. Then, I challenge their insights and thought process by playing devil’s advocate on the connections they are making or not making. I always encourage them to allow their insight to be challenged so they would know if it stands or not, and more importantly to help remove any personal biases affecting formed insight.

Q3: What are your criteria in choosing which among many insights is the right one to use?

A3: For me, there are no specific and strict criteria. As long as the insight is able to stand fundamentally, meaning there is clear alignment of the consumers’ mindset, needs, behavior and preferences, of the expressed and the underlying context. But more importantly, here in Nielsen, we build and chose the insight that shows a deep discovery about the consumers that are differentiating yet relevant… that is unexpected or “aha” yet makes sense.

Q4: How can confirmation bias be avoided while hunting for insight?

A4: Being open-minded combined with having strong empathy will allow one to be more attuned to the consumers than to one self.  Being able to know one’s own vulnerabilities will allow one to differentiate one’s own beliefs and biases from what the consumers are expressing.  Lastly, I think being able to allow own formed insight to be challenged and questioned by others will help prevent confirmation bias. Having someone look at it or discuss it on a different perspective will allow one to reassess the insight if it is fundamentally right.

Q5: How do you determine or validate if an insight is applicable nationwide or just for a particular geography or situation?

A5: Normally if the insight is fundamental or core of a lifestage, demographic or segment, it will apply wherever they are located. So it is important to get insights on the core needs or values. For instance, a new mom would probably be intrinsically anxious of the new role/responsibility, hence, regardless whether she is a new mom in Manila or a new Mom in a rural area, she would need guidance on how to rightfully fulfill her role. However, the new mom in Manila might seek immediate information from the internet  since she has good access while the new mom in a rural area might still depend on her own mom or neighboring moms for guidance.  Different coping mechanism yet same disposition.

Q6: How can great insights be converted into a great strategy? Can you cite examples?

A6: For a strategy to be relevant or “strategic”, it should anchor or align with the premise of the insight, specifically the underlying “tension” that the consumers are experiencing that will make them rethink their choices or reconsider other options.  

Taking the new mom example, developing a strategy anchoring on the deep-seated anxiety could make your messaging, positioning, product innovation resonate on a more emotional level. Either your strategy will make her feel appeased or make her feel confident or validated that she is doing the right thing.

Q7: How can SMEs get good insight at a low budget?

A7: Personal immersions. They just need to personally connect with their target consumers, have conversations with them, observe the way they behave and decide when they purchase their products or avail of their services. Now it’s easier for people to talk and express their opinions online, start reading reviews, join forums on the category or something related to their business so they could have a sense of how people think or feel. Good if they can do even a backyard research (smaller sample) that would at least give indications of consumer needs rather than working on mere assumptions.

Q8: Any pitfalls to avoid in hunting for insights?

A8: Watch out for personal and confirmation bias. Try not to be close-minded due to personal insecurities…tendency to not pursue an insight if it personally hits the person.  Avoid trying to get all collected information turned into insights that instead of having focus and clarity, things become even more confusing. Steer clear of either too vague or too specific insight as this might not be actionable.  Lastly, align insights with business goals or objectives…what is the point of pursuing insights if they will not be relevant to the business…not unless it is a breakthrough insight that is worth pursuing as it branches into a possible new business goal.

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