Action research in an everyday context

Dirk Ziems

In the market research process, qualitative research is repeatedly called on to look deeply into what motivates consumers, how they use products and the contexts of their use habits. Within the framework of this basic research, the focus of interest is on everyday consumption, as products and brands must root themselves in everyday consumption to be successful. What brands and products communicate in advertising refers to facets of everyday consumption – even in the form of promises of ideal transformations which take consumers out of the grey reality of daily life up to this point. Examples of concrete questions in qualitative research into daily life: What’s for breakfast these days – and what role do breakfast cereals play? What habits, frequencies, rituals are there these days in household cleaning – and how do consumers decide how much convenience cleaning products deliver? What moods develop in the current difficult state of mobility on typical car trips – and how do specific types of car address these?

As these examples show, consumers’ daily lives are strongly influenced by cultural and social trends and transformation processes. To some extent, research into daily life is always trend and cultural research.

Fertile fundamental concepts of morphological research into daily life

Morphological psychology has for decades been deeply involved with research into daily life from the depth psychological perspective, and has come up with a number of very valuable and fertile basic approaches.

Everyday life is the actual subject, the agent in the consumer activity.

Consumers themselves don’t know exactly what determines their actions in daily life. Everyday forms like cleaning, driving, using a smartphone, are autonomously regulated constructs with their own dynamic, bringing their own motivations and experiences with them. The individual consumer moves within the field of action of the various everyday forms, where a sort of autopilot kicks in, beyond all conscious control, and determines the forms of action. Morphological psychology registers these implicit connections. By firmly refocusing attention on the perspective of the everyday forms, it gains a more comprehensive grasp of the wealth of phenomena in the object of the research.

The significance of everyday forms

Everyday forms are the canvas on which every conceivable type of passion and mental mechanism present themselves. On the surface, products seem to meet functional motivations, such as eating (food products), moving (cars) and acquiring information (media). At the same time, there is always a depth psychological video playing within the everyday forms. Depth psychological core complexes are activated whenever consumers use products and brands. Utility products such as energy or telecommunications networks are the stage for consumers to play out the drama of dependency and autonomy. Cosmetic products serve fragile, idealising drafts of the self-image. And this is the value of morphological psychology research into daily life. The depth psychological perspective on everyday consumption brings to light insights which would otherwise be hidden, and which make products and brands function psychologically.

Everyday forms represent rich cultures. They are the folklore of life, have their own aesthetic and language of forms, and are constantly reinventing themselves. Morphological psychology develops a structural view of the gestalt and transformative trends which the everyday forms follow. What, for example, is expressed in the spirit of the countryside which runs through the modern daily culture of cooking and baking? What aesthetic attaches to organics and a sense of home?

Research into daily life as action research, using observation and depth psychological interviewing to generate insights.

The consumer’s everyday life is moving in the direction of flexibility, increasing pace and proliferation of different designs. Qualitative market research very often faces the problem that consumers have difficulty reproducing in their descriptions what exactly they are doing in the individual everyday acts they have experienced, which specifically occurs to them, moves them and happens to them. Many descriptions – without any such intent on the part of respondents – are only rough approximations, or inventions influenced by the desire to appear in a positive light.

This makes it all the more important in researching everyday consumption to start with a picture of actual everyday consumption which is as accurate and concrete as possible. The ideal approach is to observe everyday behaviour as directly as possible. To do this, subjects are given pre-tasks before the interviews, asked e.g. to take photos of household objects or videos of their own activities. Precisely selected online panels are also useful in this connection, as a source of collections of material from everyday life which is as normal as possible. In the context of a study of cleaning agents, you can use such videos and photos e.g. to see how specific target groups – without being consciously aware of it – develop specific cleaning strategies which they use specific products and brands for.

However, participative methods of observation taken from the traditions of ethnographic research do not provide sufficient information on what motivates consumers, and what insights are ultimately relevant for products and brands. Observation can tell us what happens in detail in the everyday forms, but additional depth psychological analysis is needed to identify insights as to why a specific experience or behaviour emerges.

For this, morphological market research has developed techniques of action research which combine observation of daily life with subsequent description and analysis of the behaviour just displayed. Unlike participative observation, which mingles observation and analysis, subjects are left alone in the first phase (observation) to follow their typical everyday behaviour, undisturbed and uninterrupted by questions. The behaviour is filmed, and subsequently the video sequences are used in an in-depth interview setting to reconstruct in detail which relationships motivated the behaviour, and what importance brands and products have.

Example: research into kitchen aid products in the AlltagsStudio

The target group of ambitious hobby cooks face the question what kitchen aids, with their promise of convenience and even success, should do and also be allowed to do. Hobby cooks may be quick to anger if a kitchen aid product suggests that this is the only way for the drippings from the roast to get the perfect consistency, or the pan juices to be the basis for a great soup. Under some circumstances, they are competing with the kitchen aid products, and want to see themselves as the creator of the brilliant culinary success. By contrast, the aid should only be a small and legitimate short cut or labour-saving device.

Individually, these relationships are difficult to elucidate in standard interviews. However, in the course of action research in the AlltagsStudio setting, a friendship group can be used to help understand more exactly what signals kitchen aid products should send.

Established setting of the AlltagsStudio

To explain, the AlltagsStudio is a research home which is set up on the lines of an average home for respondents. It has a kitchen and dining room, living room, children’s room and bathroom. As a result, various FMCG issues and media topics can be reproduced in the studio in a setting which is close to daily life. For the research, 3-5 hobby cooks who are friends are invited for each session, and they cook for each other as they do at home. The respondents bring their recipes, ingredients and kitchen appliances, while also drawing on the rich variety of resources in the AlltagsStudio kitchen. A session takes 4-5 hours, and reproduces the evening as a whole.

Following the cooking and dining session, interviews are held with video support, in which the team of moderators interviews respondents individually and in the group situation.

The advantages of the AlltagsStudio setting

Action research in the AlltagsStudio makes it possible to reconstruct the internal dynamic of everyday forms and consumption situations with particular precision. For example, the ambitious culinary events develop creative flows which are associated with specific habits, rituals, rhythms of the events and social group effects. Based on understanding how exactly the kitchen aid products are integrated into the action interrelationships, the AlltagsStudio setting also makes it possible to bring to light a deeper and more relevant level of consumer insights into the products and brands, e.g. insights on product handling, packaging and communicated messages.

The AlltagsStudio setting is entirely comparable with the home setting, but offers a range of genuine advantages in comparison. For example, research experience in the AlltagsStudio shows that respondents feel more protected in a foreign setting which is similar to a vacation home than if researchers visited them at home, intruding into their privacy. With the one-way mirror and remote video observation option, the AlltagsStudio also means that respondents in most cases feel unobserved after a short time, and behave naturally as they would in their own home. (Authors: Thomas Ebenfeld, Rochus Winkler, Dirk Ziems)

(The article first appeared as an article in the file “Alltagsforschung: Branchenspecial FMCG” on the portal

Dirk Ziems
Dirk Ziems ist Experte für tiefenpsychologisches Marketing und berät auf Basis von Markt-, Medien- und Kulturforschung weltweit Unternehmen und Konzerne in zahlreichen Branchen und Ländern. Als Mitbegründer der Global Research Boutique Concept M und der Marketingberatung Flying Elephant begleitet er Themen wie die Adaption von Erfolgsprodukten in neuen kulturellen Kontexten, das tiefe Verständnis neuer Konsumgenerationen in China und USA, die Transformation der Werbekommunikation in der neuen digitalen Medienwelt oder die Neuorientierung der Brands in Post-Corona-Zeiten. Dirk Ziems ist auch als Gastdozent an verschiedenen Universitäten tätig.

Kontaktieren Sie uns!

envelopephone-handsetConsent Management Platform von Real Cookie Banner