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Five tips for conducting guerrilla research

By: Pete Chamberlain
Date: September, 2016
File under: Articles

At U1 Group we’re dedicated to gathering evidence that enables our clients to clearly achieve their customer experience goals in the digital world and beyond. Speaking to the right users is a crucial part of this evidence gathering process, but finding the right participants isn’t always an easy task.

A recent project required us to talk in person to a certain audience that was impossible to recruit through a qualitative recruitment agency. To meet our client’s objectives we needed to speak with visitors to Melbourne to explore their behaviours, motivations and influences when thinking about things to do and places to visit during their stay.

We decided to use the guerrilla style of research to recruit our participants. The ‘guerilla’ style of recruiting research participants involves going to the locations where you are most likely to find your target audience and approaching people to ask if they would like to take part. It’s a simple and cost effective way of finding the people you need to speak with. Here are some tips that Chris and I picked up on after a day of guerrilla research in Melbourne.

Location will influence your target audience

Think carefully about who it is that you need to speak to and consider where you are most likely to find these people. We only wanted to talk to people visiting Melbourne, so approaching people at random in Bourke Street Mall may have been a bit hit and miss. The Visitor Centre and the Bourke Street Information Kiosk, however, proved to be an ideal place for finding international and interstate visitors to Melbourne. Just make sure you have the appropriate permissions to conduct research in the location you have chosen. Remember, the location will have an impact on your findings. For example, we found that the visitors we spoke to did not do any research on Melbourne prior to arriving, but the people who did do research might be less likely to go to the Visitor Centre!

Offer an incentive to improve your strike rate

While offering an incentive isn’t necessary it will certainly help your strike rate and reduce the amount of time you need to spend in the field. When considering an incentive make sure it is relevant to the audience you are targeting and the location they are in. We decided to offer participants a $20 voucher for a shopping centre in Melbourne’s CBD, not far from our research locations. Be sure to mention the incentive when you introduce yourself and the research! Even so, you should be prepared for people to decline taking part, which you should immediately accept. We found that around 75% of the people we approached decided to take part, although our natural charm and charisma may have impacted our success.

Use cold reading techniques

A major limitation of guerilla research is that you know very little about your potential participant before you actually speak to them. Try employing ‘cold reading’ techniques to form a picture of who your potential participant is before approaching them. We took note of clothing and the items people were carrying before we approached them. ‘Warm reading’ techniques such a listening out for different languages and accents also helped us to get a spread of different people in our sample.

Quickly screen your participants

Once you’re talking to a potential participant you need to quickly screen them to make sure they are suited to the research. Our criteria was far from stringent – we just needed our participants to be international or interstate visitors. If your potential recruit doesn’t fit the bill, politely inform them of the type of people you are hoping to speak to. Remember, it’s fine to talk to more than one person at once in some cases – just make sure everyone you speak to meets the required specifications.

Keep a focus on your objectives

Make sure you have a discussion guide or questionnaire for the research. This will take on a different form depending on your objectives. For example, if you are seeking both qualitative and quantitative insights you may want to design an interview questionnaire. If you know what some common answers to closed questions might be, you should consider coding them into your questionnaire. This will mean you only have to tick a box rather that writing down everything. We were seeking qualitative insights in our research, so a simple discussion guide sufficed. Encouraging participants to tell their own stories about their trip to Melbourne yielded the most valuable insights.

We found guerilla research to be an enjoyable, cost effective and insightful method for gathering the evidence needed to achieve our client’s objectives. Just remember that if you’re carrying a clipboard people will assume that you’re an employee of the venue! Our research was sound, but the directions we provided to tourists may have been somewhat questionable.

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