Friday, November 25, 2016
Author: John Patterson

Study on Canada Post

Patterson, Langlois Consultants and its partners Ad Hoc Research, Laroche Recherche, the Parriag Group and Qualbox recently completed a major study titled "Canada Post Review: Research with Canadians"...

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Although we are qualitative research specialists, we have extensive expertise across the spectrum of research methodologies. We have learned (the hard way) that “objectives first” – focusing on the core issues and thinking in play – is key. We also come at the choice of method with a keen awareness that all of our options are flawed to some degree, and that the key is to be clear and transparent about the trade-offs. Clearly articulated questions can generally be addressed with more than one methodological approach. Committing to a method before the questions are clear is a recipe for problems.

Traditional qualitative

We have over three decades of moderating expereince in both English and French, and supervised qualitative across the globe in many different languages.  

To us, “traditional” qualitative happens face-to-face, in some form of a controlled environment, usually focus groups and in-depth personal interviews. We have extensive experience with both.

There is still a place for the traditional focus group – particularly when group dynamics and collective decoding mechanisms and patterns are germane to the issue. In-depth interviews -- with the right individuals – are particularly useful for revealing the subjective.

There’s a lot of talk lately about the challenges facing the qualitative industry – some of the well-founded. To us, however, qualitative isn’t only a passion – it’s a discipline in its own right, still fully valued among the tools of the trade. It remains the only methodological discipline for discovering the "unknown unknowns".

Hybrid Quant-Qual

Many of the issues and complaints about marketing research these days stem from the over-reliance on one method. It would seem that projects are most often defined as exclusively “qualitative” or “quantitative”, if only because researchers are usually versed in one, but not both. We’ve long resisted this way of thinking, and invested heavily in tools and techniques that allow for the bridging of the two lenses.

Work that illustrates this capacity was our part in the development of the Canadian Forces’ “Fight” recruiting campaign, in which we were involved from positioning to final copy testing. At the time, this campaign was both highly necessary and controversial, and our work helped bring it into the light of day. A reference from the DND’s report on public opinion research puts it in their words:

"The Department also focused on gaining an understanding of the perceptions of young Canadians about the labour market, particularly in terms of their expectations concerning a career in the Canadian Forces. Several market research projects on this topic assisted DND in developing a new recruitment advertising campaign. Substantial resources were allocated to pre-testing the advertising concept and the recruitment ads. The use of perception analyzers in the studies greatly facilitated DND's understanding of the issues and helped it address some of the inherent sensitivities involved in portraying the Forces' combat roles."

The following is an illustration of work we did for the Department of National Defense on the development of their “Fight” campaign. This video highlights our capacity to do “moment-to-moment” evaluation of communications. The moving line graph super-imposed over the TV ad illustrates how the audience – and relevant subgroups – are decoding what they see. There is also segmentation (link to /expertise/segmentation) at work here:

  • “offtarget” – those uninterested in a career in the Forces;
  • “not combat” – those with interest in the Forces but not for combat roles;
  • “combat maybe” – those with interest in the Forces and open to combat roles;
  • And finally “Combat Ready” – the key target audience with a clear interest in combat roles.

This segmentation made it possible to substantiate the key finding – that while the ad was generally received as provocative and even somewhat controversial, it was nonetheless highly effective in reaching – and motivating exactly the target audience necessary to the Forces’ enrolment needs.

The following front-page article from the Globe and Mail provides more detail:



These days, it’s hard to feel like we can do our job with only qualitative or only quantitative. Using both is necessary to get a complete picture.

Although we don’t actually field quantitative projects, we are well versed in quantitative methods. We have partnerships with quantitative firms and experts big and small. This enables us to do “right-sized” quantitative, choosing partners and configuring the work so that our clients get the most “bang for the buck”.


Do you feel a need for deep, penetrating and unframed observation of research subjects in their natural milieu? Are you excited about the prospect of truly exploratory research? Why not? What’s not to love? Well, it’s time-consuming, expensive, and so highly pixelated that the strategic implications of findings can seem obscure. We’re fans of and committed believers in the ethnographic mode of enquiry, but we’ve seen a lot of it that is both fascinating and patently useless.

The trick is to borrow the right tools and applications from the tradition, but maintain a disciplined focus on the areas and questions that can actually influence strategies and execution. Ethnography is done in many ways these days, and it’s not necessary to go live in the village to get a rich understanding of the natives (or how they take their tea.)


There’s some irony in this age of social media that people are often more willing to expose their lives and inner selves digitally than they are in conversation. What once had to learn by exhaustive face-to-face interviewing can now be had simply, cheaply and effectively by exploiting the interfaces and protocols of social media.  Thank you Facebook for encouraging people to expose themselves!  So, want to know what drives consumer’s choices, or what social values are most important to them?   Amazingly, provide the right frame, and they will show us!


Are certain kinds of questions more easily, cheaply and widely addressed on a digital platform? Absolutely! Can smartphones show us things that are otherwise inaccessible? Unequivocally.

Is an on-line focus group or a bulletin board as good as, or always an acceptable substitute for face to face research? Not always. We are believers in online methodology, but our instincts about this interface are guided by some strong beliefs, among them Objectives first. Methodological trade-offs follow.