Grounded Analysis



For Discovering Guidelines that Work


If you want to develop creative guidelines with real substance, here is a way to get them.  Grounded Theory procedure makes it possible to find out the underlying attributes that consumers actually respond to.  You can project from how they react to existing materials to how they will respond to new ones, even before they are made.

A revolutionary new technique.  The traditional technique of the social sciences has been to build theories by testing  pre-existing hypotheses that came from somewhere else.  Grounded Theory development procedures use data in a new way:  to stimulate, and then to shape, the inductive thought processes of the researcher.  It is a systematic approach to hypothesis building and theory testing.   And it has proven to be very powerful.

History. In 1967, two academic sociologists, Barney Glaser & Anselm Strauss at UC-San Francisco put forth Grounded Theory Development as a systematic approach to generating new conceptualizations of what is going on in newly emerging areas of study. Their seminal work, "The Development of Grounded Theory" (1967), moved researchers past the hypothesis-testing uses of raw data into the hypothesis-generating potential of their observations. The approach has been steadily expanding its reach within academia - through sociology and social anthropology and, more recently into applied disciplines like educational research.

Applications.  Grounded Theory methodology has led me, working in consumer behavior, to some very useful findings with an amazing degree of generality.  I have used it to find out about:

bulletKids TV.  Grounded theory analyses discovered the attention-getting attributes of Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Captain Kangaroo, and assorted government-funded instructional series.
bulletAdult TV.  We were able to discover, and validate, the attributes of CBS sitcoms that get positive ratings from pretest audiences.
bulletShopping behavior.  We fount the attributes of parent-child interactions in stores that most differentiate preschoolers versus older children.
bulletKids toys.  We defined the attributes of preschoolers toys with differential appeal to boys or girls.
bulletPsychographic profiles.  In several studies we have used Grounded Theory to uncover the underlying characteristics of behaviorally distinct consumer segments:  cereal buyers, the music-buying families, teen smokers and park-using families. 
bulletWord usage. Different types of park-users used different words when they talked about the benefits of the outdoors in response to an open-ended question on a national telephone survey.  Simply counting word frequencies only gave hints about how these people's perceptions differed. There were just too many words, too many synonyms and too many words used only once or twice to use standard statistical techniques to make sense out of such data. Grounded Theory provided us with a way to get at the underlying qualities of these different people, and it did so in a way that stood up to quantitative testing.

Validity. Time after time, the attributes that have been uncovered by this analytical process have proved to have a high level generality, as attested by their predictive power: 

bulletThe attributes of scenes found to get attention to the  Electric Company pilot shows turned out to correctly predict the attention of children to the scenes in new episodes.
bulletThe attributes of scenes that got high "liking" scores in one set of CBS comedy pilots correctly predicted the scores in another set. 
bulletThe attributes of toys that girls were determined to prefer in preschool classrooms correctly predicted how they would react to new toys that were put in the classrooms later.
bulletThe segment profiles of park-using families derived from a national survey in 1995 accurately predicted nature-center visiting rates when applied to surveys conducted in 2000. 

Future applications. We are just beginning to explore the potential applications of Grounded Theory methodology for studying consumers.  It has already shown itself to be a powerful way to get at the consumer-critical attributes of complex stimuli like toys and TV material.  Other applications, just waiting for an opportunity, include other product categories, other media (like print, radio, interactive or outdoor), and package design, displays, or promotions, too. 

If you want to know the attributes of products or media that your consumers react to,   Grounded Theory Development, coupled with the right data set, can find them out. I have a paper that summarizes most of these studies. 

Computer platform under development. I have written a computer-based platform for conducting grounded analyses of several kinds of data sets (including word-use-frequency data to open-ended questions and answer-frequency scores to closed-end questions),  This platform is still being readied for market and is probably not yet fully bug-free.  But if you'd like to look it over go to the Downloads page on FieldKit website to download the  most recent edition.

Please e-mail me for more information.