Getting People to Talk About Awkward Topics

By jessicabroome on August 17, 2017 in Qualitative Research, Respondent Experience

imageAfter a three-day conversation with 12 strangers about peeing in their pants, I can now safely say I will talk to anyone about anything.

Let me back up. Last month, I got an email from a new client. She’s coming up with a new adult incontinence product (think Depends) and wanted to do some audience research with women under 65 who have this issue. I proposed an online community to let her dig deep with a dozen women about their lives, their experiences, and what they’re looking for in incontinence products.

I have to admit that I found this project a little giggle worthy at first: people peeing! My inner 8-year-old was cracking up, and the puns flew back and forth: “Incontinence project is a GO!!!” I wrote to my recruiter. A few days later she sank to my level with “We’re whizzing through the recruit!”

Last week, the community started and I was online with these women every day. My attitude quickly went from “ha ha,” to “oh my god,” when I heard about heart-wrenching experiences like these:

“I’m glad I have an hour lunch at work so I can clean myself up if I have an accident.”

“I miss out on so much fun with my daughter because I can’t swim with her.”

Respondents were more open and forthcoming than I see in projects about toothpaste and pizza. With a sensitive topic like this, online qualitative is really my go-to methodology. From behind their computer screens, and with the reassurance that they were completely anonymous, these women were overflowing with thoughts and ideas; I can’t imagine we would have gotten the same richness from in-person research, where people would have to talk about this with a room full of strangers.

In the end, everyone benefitted. My client got a deeper and more nuanced understanding of her target audience than she’d had, giving her invaluable input for how to communicate about her new product.

For respondents, the community served almost a therapeutic purpose. A few more quotes:

“Thank you so much for including me in this study, it gives me hope that there will be a solution to my problem.”

“I don’t talk to anyone about this, even my doctor, so being online with you all has been such a relief.”


What questions does your business need answered? Do you need an in-depth understanding of your audience? Contact me so we can figure out what kind of methodology will work for you.

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All material copyright 2014-2016 | Jessica Broome Research | Portrait photo by Sarah Hodzic, Blink Photography