The fact that selecting the right moderator for a market research campaign is of the utmost importance is nothing new. In fact, some believe that this is one of the most important considerations when designing market research. However, lately I’ve been thinking more about what selecting the “right” moderator really means.
The market research that we do at Six Degrees is primarily in the health care space (pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, etc.). So most clients think of moderators in terms of overall experience, clinical expertise and style in determining whether he or she will be a good fit. In the past few months, though, it’s become increasingly apparent to me how differently respondents react to different, equally qualified moderators.
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Recently, we concluded two studies with very similar constituents: male patients, generally in a relatively young demographic, as well as mothers (caregivers) of children with a particular medical condition. Each study was moderated by an experienced and knowledgeable moderator on the subject matter in question. The key difference: one male moderator and one female moderator.
As I listened to these interviews, we joked in the office that the male moderator was the most likely to have participants use extremely NSFW (not suitable for work) language in their interviews, while the female moderator was most likely to have a mother cry on the phone with her. While we spoke about this lightly, it represents a very true and real issue that needs to be considered – namely, how well your participants will connect with the moderator on a personal, more social level. While the feedback that each moderator received was extremely valuable, it begs the question of how the gender of the moderator colors the research results.
In another example that came up recently, we showed creative concepts for a drug to physicians. One of the concepts included a female as the focal point. A number of male physicians remarked specifically about her looks, saying that she wasn’t pretty enough, or they would prefer to see a model in the picture who was “a bit less chubby.” I think you can probably guess the gender of the moderator with whom they shared these opinions. Again, these are valuable insights in that they reveal what the target audience of the concepts really thinks. I wonder how likely it is that these comments would have been brought to light with a female moderator.
Six Degrees has also conducted research with males about an erectile dysfunction medication using a female moderator. She opened up the interviews by sharing something personal, and letting the participants know that “nothing you say here today is going to shock me.” Using an approach like this, the men were willing to open up about very personal issues, and the research that we did was used to help launch an extremely successful product.
Overall, selecting the right moderator to fit a project is something of an art. One must consider experience, subject knowledge, personality and interview design in such a way that you can elicit honest, true responses in a comfortable setting. By assembling a diverse team of moderators with extremely varied skill sets and backgrounds, we are able to tailor research approaches to fit with a range of objectives, no matter how sensitive the material may be for consumers or how clinical for health care professionals.