How Millennials and Gen Z Speak Volumes Through Visuals

Have you ever been in a situation where you were viewing an image or photograph, and the image that you were looking at held your gaze for what felt like an eternity – so much so that you experienced that visceral emotion that no spoken word or phrase could create within you? It’s powerful. Incredibly powerful.

Recently, we had this experience conducting a digital, online qualitative study where we were looking to uncover how students’ motivations and inspirations provide perspective when they observed an institution’s website and current TV ad.

Without much prompting, this group was easily able to connect visuals with messages. One of the best ways to engage Millennials and their younger counterparts, Gen Zs, who prefer transmedia consumption and engage with up to three to five different technological platforms during the day, is to speak their language (visual) and meet them where they live (digital).Using a digital online methodology, we were able to probe and guide, and also watch how participants interacted with one another organically in the digital space. They moved so fluidly and comfortably—I could tell they were having fun, and, more importantly, they were completely invested! And we know when participants are more than warm bodies in a room and have a personal stake, their responses are more likely to be valid.

Because we were able to set up activities where the participants were responding individually, and then have them move into spaces where they were interacting with one another, we could account for biases and what
is known as “social desirability.” This was particularly useful during the data analysis process, where we were able to create checks and balances with the data. We could compare their images, individual responses, and free flowing group discussions to ensure the trustworthiness and consistency across all mediums.

This provided another advantage that you can’t necessarily get in a focus group. What we know about focus groups and some of the reasons they can be ineffective is, participants try to position themselves in positive or socially desirable ways among peers in a group, and they might tell me or the people around them what they think we want to hear instead of what is most true for them. While this isn’t completely inevitable in the digital space, we could control for some of that social desirability to get more authentic and credible data so that our clients can feel confident in making the right decisions moving forward.

The use of visual, digital, and ethnographic data can provide amazing insight into uncovering what your customer’s desires and needs are. Whether it’s responding to images of how food is packaged, or obtaining digital ethnographic data of how a cancer patient experiences their hospital environment, the usefulness of digital qualitative market research can be limitless.