Who Really Makes The Decisions? A Closer Look at Market Research With Couples

Cathy Whitehead McIntyre, on

Market research provides valuable insights into the behaviour, motivations and attitudes of customers and prospective customers. But what happens when those customers aren’t doing their shopping alone?

Many purchase decisions – especially high-value purchases such as real estate, home furnishings and financial services – are made by couples. Other examples might include vacations, vehicles or mortgages.

Luckily, there are market research methodologies that can accommodate instances where there is more than one decision-maker.

No matter what the methodology, the purpose of the research remains the same: to understand the decision-making process (and what influences it) when both parties have a vested interest in a high value purchase.

The Down-low on Dyads

A “dyad” is a dual interview – basically an in-depth interview involving two respondents rather than just one. Where purchase decision-making is shared, hearing from both participants in the process can be especially illuminating. The secret is in the interviewing – ensuring each person feels comfortable providing their point of view, and that each half of the duo gets equal “air time”.

There is lots to learn from dyads. They are effective on their own, but they can also be combined with individual in-depth interviews (“one-on-ones”). It might be worthwhile to conduct about a two-phased process: individual one-on-one interviews with each half of the couple to gather each person’s thoughts independently, followed by a dyad with the two of them to delve into how the couple interacted as a team.

The Power of Pairs

There are especially rich insights to be gained from market research with couples. Just think how marketing strategy could be enhanced with a deeper understanding of:

  • Who makes the final call? Does one of the decision-makers have a greater/lesser influence? Why? How do they overcome differences of opinion?
  • How does the couple set the criteria to help them sort through the options? What factors, features and benefits are highest priority? How do they determine what are the “need-to-haves” and the “nice-to-haves”?
  • How do they feel about their “negotiations” – what is the process of give and take like for them?
  • What things got put to the side during the process? Is there an opportunity to follow up with add-ons or future brand extensions?

Focus Groups or Dyads?

Typically, focus groups include 8 to 10 participants. The discussion among the participants adds richness to the research findings, as those in the group build off each other’s thoughts and ideas. A lot can be learned from listening to a moderated discussion where a number of individuals defend their points of view in conversation with their peers. Dyads share some of these advantages, although on a smaller scale.

The decision about which is the better methodology for a given study really comes down to the research objectives, and whether more value will be gained from a roundtable discussion, group exercises or brainstorming, or whether a deeper, more intimate and more personal look into an individual couple’s attitudes and motivations will provide more actionable insights.

1 + 1 = More

Dyads are a powerful, and often underutilized, market research methodology. For many big ticket items, having the “couple’s” perspective can be extremely valuable. A market research partner with proven experience with qualitative methodologies can help you determine if dyads will lead to deeper insights to inform your marketing decision-making.

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Cathy Whitehead McIntyre

Cathy Whitehead McIntyre, Principal of Strategic Initiatives Inc, is a marketing research consultant specializing in qualitative research. She was one of the first in Canada to use online qualitative methodologies.

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