The best digital campaigns are built on data, and one of the best ways to gather in-depth data related to your brand is through a qualitative interview of your audience. Though qualitative interviews generally take time, that does not mean that the fast paced and dynamic world of digital marketing cannot benefit from the use of these interviews. And as much as qualitative interviews are a valuable tool for market research, they are also a skill that needs to be learned in order to maximize their potential. There is a large amount of preparation that needs to occur prior to conducting the first interview, the first of which is developing the interview guide.

What Is an Interview Guide?

The interview guide is a list of questions you will ask your participants during the interview. The order of the questions and the level of degree to which you diverge from your set defined list of questions will vary based on the type of interview you choose to conduct. There are three standard types of interviews one can choose to conduct: structured, unstructured or semi-structured.

With a structured interview, each participant is asked the exact same question in the same order. While this can be effective, many would argue that the same thing can be achieved through administering a survey. Unstructured interviews are more like conversations; there are no prearranged questions which allows questions to be generated by what the interviewee says. When conducting a full research study, unstructured interviews make it difficult to draw parallels between interview participants because they are not asked the same questions. Semi-structured interviews provide the best of both worlds. Under this format, the researcher prepares an interview guide, but also allows the conversation to flow naturally, meaning that questions do not necessarily have to be asked in order. Additionally, there is an opportunity for the researcher to go “off-script” and ask additional questions of the participant to gain greater detail in their responses.

Interview Guide Best Practices

Creating an interview guide is a crucial step in the qualitative interview process. The wording of your questions is key in that it is important to develop questions that are open ended and not leading. You do not want to use suggestive language, you instead want the participant is be able to share their experiences or ideas with you without feeling as though you want to hear a specific answer. Questions should be succinct, straightforward and free of jargon. Make the questions easy for the participant to understand so that they feel comfortable throughout the interview process.

When creating the interview guide, write questions ranging from basic demographic information to specifics about the experience you are interested in the participant sharing with you. Start with the basic demographic information you will need to know for your analysis, as a way to break the ice and make the participant feel comfortable. Additionally, this demographic information will help you in creating a customer profile to aid for in your marketing campaigns. Then move into broader questions regarding the topic at hand. Avoid “yes” or “no” questions, if possible. For example, start the statement with language such as “tell me about” or “describe.” Using this type of language when preparing your interview guide will help to ensure you are asking questions that will elicit more in depth responses from the participant. If the participants’ answers are still short in nature, have probing questions ready in your interview guide to help you get as detailed a response as possible. Phrasing for these probing questions might resemble the following: “Tell me more about X” or “You said X, can you elaborate on what you mean?” The final question in your interview guide should be something to the effect of, “Is there anything you would like to add?” Asking this will allow the participant to share something that you may not have directly asked in an earlier question or to share a thought that was relevant to an earlier question that just dawned on them.

All of the questions created should be focused around one specific research question, topic or even specific digital marketing campaign. This will help to ensure that the data gathered is useful to you and not a waste of time. Not having a narrow focus for an interview study can cause the data gathered to be too general; therefore, it will be less effective in optimizing digital campaigns. Creating and editing the interview guide will help to ensure that your questions lead to rich answers from your participants, which will in turn lead to more effective digital marketing campaigns for your business. Campaigns will be optimized through the demographic data, as well as insights gained from the responses the participants share in relation to your brand and by understanding the language used by the consumers when discussing the product or brand. Being aware of the language used by the consumer is key to developing an effective digital marketing strategy.

Pilot the Questions

As with any digital marketing initiative, testing is a key step in your process and this is no different for interview guides. It is important when you are creating your interview questions to develop enough useful questions to ensure that you gather enough thorough responses from each participant. Conduct a pilot study to practice asking the questions and having someone answer them. Pilot testing allows you a chance to see what questions work and which do not. Don’t be afraid to throw a question away when pilot testing your interview questions. This will also provide an opportunity to see if you have enough questions prepared to gain an in depth insight into the topic being researched. You may be surprised at how many questions you will need to create in order to conduct a thorough and substantial interview.

Now that you have your interview guide ready to go, it is time to interview your first participant! Remember to keep your interview questions focused on the specific digital marketing campaign or brand at hand to ensure optimal results from your data collection.