Another dynamic duo – how our ‘Soulmate™’ duo interviewing approach worked wonders on a recent project

Who doesn’t love a great duo? Holmes and Watson, the White Stripes, two GPs discussing product choice for effective asthma treatment…… Ok, the last one is pretty specific to healthcare market research, but I’m going somewhere with this. Through this article I want to highlight HRW’s Soulmate™ Duo interviewing technique and tell you about how it can turn a ‘good duo’ into a ‘great duo’.

The thing about a great, well matched, duo is that they just ‘get’ each other. They have had similar lived experiences, or they might do the same kind of work, and they know what the important issues are in their own areas of interest. Their points of reference are in sync. As healthcare market researchers we are aspiring to learn about these issues via respondents, however sometimes we have to step back and acknowledge that, as ‘outsiders’, what we think we need to know about a topic, may not fully encompass what we actually need to know.

Soulmate™ duo interviewing attempts to address this very issue by adapting the ‘typical’ duo interview and giving respondents the chance to talk about things together, privately (well…maybe an illusion of privacy thanks to the miracle of central location one-way viewing mirrors!). In Soulmate™ interviewing, the two respondents discuss the topic both with the moderator in a structured discussion as well as together without the moderator present.

The concept itself is pretty simple, but the beauty is in that simplicity. As duo respondents are matched on some kind of common ground, it will be easy for them to build rapport throughout the interview. With the moderator absent they have the chance to a) ask each other questions that the moderator may not have thought to ask, or b) discuss emotive topics that they may have been too embarrassed, or found too difficult, to discuss with the moderator present. It can be easier to open up to someone who gets what you’re going through. You know the old saying “two’s company, three’s a crowd”? Sometimes there is truth in that.

Recently, I saw first-hand evidence of this when a colleague was interviewing two people who were carers for a parent who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. During early stages of the interview I felt that they were struggling to verbalise their feelings to the moderator and give a clear description of what they would want a treatment for Alzheimer’s to actually provide for their parent.

However, when the moderator left the room, the two respondents started sharing stories about their parents, not only the difficulties they have in caring for them, but what makes them happy and what they see as a ‘good day’. One carer gave a really vivid description of how all he could ask for would be to have something that could help “keep his mum on a level playing field” – nothing miraculous, just something to help him have more ‘good days’ with her. We thought that that was a really emotive and valuable insight for the research and it was something that the respondent hadn’t mentioned until he started ‘opening up’ during the more casual conversation with the other respondent.

Obviously Soulmate™ will not suit every research scenario and there can be drawbacks. You do have to provide some sort of structure to the ‘free discussion’ section and perhaps provide an outline to keep respondents on topic. It is also important to screen respondents thoroughly and think about how you match them. If you end up with two respondents who are both very negative on a product or concept (and you do get them!) then the conversation can become unfocused and veer off in a tangent that won’t let you answer your objectives. However, if you have an advocate and a detractor, then letting them debate an issue one-on-one one can be very proactive and help you access the reality of what they consider to be the key drivers and barriers – at HRW that’s exactly what we aim for.


By John Maher

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