DOI: 10.1177/14707853231219927 ISSN: 1470-7853

Three little words: A pragmatic qualitative method to understand modern markets

Ruffin Relja, Philippa Ward, Anita Lifen Zhao
  • Marketing
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Business and International Management

This paper explores a rapid and low-intensity qualitative method that yields deep and rich insights into Generation Z and Millennials, who constitute the largest consumer group in history. This group favours frictionless digital solutions and their engagement with ‘elaborate’ qualitative techniques is unlikely, requiring researchers to marshal efficient technology-facilitated methods that render comparable insight. We assess the capacity of a ‘simple’ projective technique – online word association, accompanied by a few supporting questions – to offer as fine-grained insight into this consumer group against a more involved story stem completion method. The UK buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) context provides a complex novel market for this examination. Results suggest strong conceptual interconnection between the word association and the story stem completion task. Word associations generated similar resonance and tonality to that of the story stem but in a more compact manner, which liberates researchers and participants alike. The word association task focuses and delineates attention on a narrower set of words, not often done in the context of more traditional qualitative techniques, including story stem completion. Young consumers’ vocabularies reveal their most salient perceptions of the phenomenon. The word association task also facilitates Generation Z and Millennials’ active and positive online engagement, removing resistance and withdrawal from the research. This improves marketing response through immediacy, relevancy, and potency.

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