Validating Empathy

By Ilene Lanin-Kettering & Andrea Joss

One of our defining principles at Quester is our deep belief in radical consumer empathy. Stories are the foundation of our work, and our tools are built to both help people tell their authentic stories and to then effectively and empathically analyze their language.

As researchers, we don’t live in a world of quantitative and qualitative research. Instead, we seamlessly utilize them together to assist consumers in creating their narratives.

To be fair, this is how it should be. We believe in the power of story, and we believe that qualitative input should serve as much more than anecdotal color. Rather, when collected in large numbers, it should be the basis of rigorous analysis. And we believe that quantitative analytics are powerful and necessary to serve as its strategic foundation, as they aid in identifying major themes and connections present across respondents’ stories.

So, we’ve spent a lot of time developing and perfecting ways to make radical consumer empathy even more powerful, by advancing methods that give consumers’ qualitative stories quantitative depth.

Here’s what our technique is based on:

  • Gathering as much rich, fully-explored language as we possibly can by collecting detailed consumer stories
  • Effectively codifying linguistic themes into quantitative variables
  • Using these variables as the foundation for higher-order statistical analysis to further aid in finding patterns in consumers’ collective stories

Here’s what it’s not based on – word counts.

There is nothing dry or mundane about our linguistic process, and it’s not borne of rote work – it captures the depth and spirit of the stories it’s based on.

For example, our segmentation process is based in storytelling, typically among thousands of respondents. These respondents can freely discuss their desires, perspectives, and needs, without being constrained by a pre-coded list of needs previously collected from a small base of consumers. We code their needs into themes and then apply a cluster analysis from which segments emerge – fully realized and already brought to life through their stories.

Another capability is using associative tools, like chi-square to determine the joint presence of two themes. For instance, among those who talk about eating healthy, do they more frequently talk about protein, calories, nutrition, or no additives when discussing it? This allows us to define what “healthy” organically means to consumers as well as what is not associated with it. This can be used to create labeling and messaging that really speaks to consumers’ psyches.

Similarly, this method can be used to pinpoint what emotions are generated in the context of a given topic, and marketing can then be used to address that emotion in advertising and communication.

It should not be the consumers’ job to tell us how they fit into a reality we’ve created and “pre-listed” for them. The job of our consumers should be to share and represent their reality in their own words. Ours is to empathetically understand and advocate for their reality by applying techniques to their language that best bring their reality to life!


  • Andrea Joss

    Andrea loves Quester – and not just like she loves ice cream – real love, in her heart. To AJ, Quester is special because it’s full of people with giant brains who care deeply about their work and each other. Every day is different, there’s always something going on and there are always big ideas. AJ also feels it’s important to note that the people of Quester are - individually and collectively - hilarious.As Senior Vice President of Research, she makes sure that the work we do is great, that we stay creative in our designs and tools, that our approaches are top notch, and that we have all of the fun (and also snacks. Including ice cream).AJ’s fun fact is that she has four kids who are seventeen years apart in age – she finds them unique, inspiring and amazing and she will absolutely tell you all about them whenever she sees you (glad you asked!). She also has a fantastic husband who lets her pretend to be the nice one but is really the most patient man in the Greater Metro Area. She secretly aspires to write a novel in her free time, but watches Property Brothers instead.

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