They say that laughter is cheap medicine, but it may also greatly benefit healthcare market researchers by helping to uncover true emotional drivers of behavior.

Qualitative research is often designed to reveal elusive, subliminal drivers to behavior. Over time, we have experimented and successfully adapted a variety of approaches inspired by psychology and behavioral science, but despite some success in this area approaches available to us usually require an element of rationalization by the respondent either in the elicitation or in the post-analysis phase. As a result, we often find ourselves asking overly contrived questions and expecting people to respond enthusiastically to very dry stimulus. It’s no surprise that we end up wondering why their answers are not enlightening or fail to provide any new understanding as to who they are as people and how they relate to the subject matter.

These limitations prompted us to explore how we could use emotion to elicit emotion. For people to be fully immersed in what they feel, we need to create a setting where their guard is down and their instinctive thoughts and feelings are more readily exhibited without an engaged, cognitive filter. We’ve found that qualitative researchers can create this lower-stress, engaging atmosphere through the creative influence of improvisational comedy.

The Power of Improv in Healthcare Market Research

Laughter is a nonverbal, universal communicator. Of the six universal emotions, it has been shown to be the most easily recognizable across cultures as an indicator of happiness, and can open the doors to personal disclosure and expression of instinctive response in a way that may surprise even the respondents themselves.

The stimulus of improvisational comedy can create an environment where researchers enable people to connect with themselves and others and respond to what they are seeing and hearing at an emotional level. This, in turn, enables us to probe deeper into feelings without the associated trappings of traditional qualitative research.

One way this can be achieved is by using improv performers to act out a number of scenes relating to a specific aspect of the subject matter and then examine with participants what they connected within these scenes and how they connected, or not. Participating in his exercise over a period of a couple of hours enables researchers to build rapport between improv performers and participants and explore areas in increasing depth and focus.

The success we see in working with improv actors resides fundamentally in the creation of a safe environment in which people feel they can be free to express their thoughts and emotions in a heartfelt and visceral way, often with highly personal characterizations. The atmosphere created by the actors is highly stimulating and emotive, encouraging people to respond in emotional ways. Through improv, it’s immediately clear what makes them laugh, but what we really need to understand is what is it about these people and their lives that created the empathy from which this response is generated. To do this, we ask them to tell us stories about their own lives prompted by the improvisation that they have just seen.

Using improv in custom qualitative research provides a powerful platform. It —

    • Enables people to rapidly engage at a deeply emotional level on any subject matter.
    • Leads to personal stories and emotional territories that, in turn, can stimulate discussion of needs, drivers and experiences and generates insights into disease or brand experience.t.
    • Rapidly delivers holistic results and next steps because actions are built around the real-time use of a client and agency multidisciplinary team with all agendas addressed concurrently.

Translating Insights into a Meaningful Brand Optimization Strategy

Laughter helps us to better understand people. When used in conjunction with skill, artistry and sensitivity it can be a key facilitator to deep insights. As a tool for research, improv facilitates the connection of people with their inner most thoughts and feelings and provides a safe environment to express them spontaneously and free from judgement. This sheds new light on issues and provides additional layers of understanding about our target audience and how they relate to the subject matter.  As researchers, we then translate and apply these unique customer insights to develop meaningful brand optimization strategy.

Jeanette_HodgsonJeanette Hodgson

Global Head of Qualitative Strategy, Kantar Health





Steve_HalesSteve Hales

MD Firefly, Kantar Millward Brown