How to Keep Online Respondents Engaged and Focused: Projective Techniques

Jul 21, 2015

As online research becomes more prevalent, respondent fatigue and burnout are also becoming more of an issue. In order to ensure you will receive rich, accurate feedback, respondents need to be kept engaged and feel encouraged to share their opinions.

One way to engross respondents in the research is to use creative projective techniques to add excitement to the study and topic. Projective techniques are exercises or activities that are purposely ambiguous and unstructured in nature so that beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and motivations, which may otherwise be hard for consumers to articulate, can be uncovered. They are fun, imaginative ways to talk about brands, products, and/or marketing materials. Not only do projective techniques add to respondent involvement, but they can also help discern additional information about a respondent’s personality and how he or she views the world and the topic at hand. This is especially helpful for creating respondent profiles and dividing consumers into segments.

So, How Do Projective Techniques Work?

By asking someone to suggest improvements for a new product, a respondent may simply tell you to change the color or change one word. If you used projective techniques and asked the respondent to write a letter to the CEO explaining what he or she would change to make this product succeed, the respondent takes more time formulating his or her answer, tries to think of more impactful, less obvious changes, and ultimately, shares more insights into his or her personality by writing a letter instead of simply suggesting changes. What could’ve just been an answer with a few words or phrases becomes a window into an entire thought process.

There is a diverse collection of projective techniques that one could use for multiple types of research. My personal favorite? Personifying a brand or product. For instance, by asking respondents to attribute human characteristics and qualities to a brand or product, the researcher is able to uncover even more valuable insights than they would by simply asking respondents to provide a few adjectives about the brand. When speaking to consumers about different technologies, this method can be very impactful in helping them understand important features and differentiators. Apple used this technique in their “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” commercial to highlight the differences between the two technologies in an easy-to-relate and illustrative way. Market research can use the same techniques to assign less obvious, more symbolic meanings to brands and products.

Here is a list of projective techniques you may want to consider using in your future research projects:



Attributing human characteristics and qualities to a brand or product.


Product/Image Sort

Respondents are presented with a sample of products or images that are to be sorted into categories that make sense to them.



A scenario (related to the product or brand) is described, and then respondents are asked to tell a story related to that.



Respondents are presented with a stimulus and asked to respond with the first word, image, or thoughts elicited.


Projective Drawing

Respondents are asked to draw a specific concept, situation, or association.



An incomplete sentence, story, argument, or conversation is given to a respondent, and they are asked to finish it in their own words.


Third-Party Projections

Respondents are asked to describe what other people feel, believe, think, do, etc., as opposed to the respondent answering it about themselves.


Role Playing

Respondents are asked to assume a role (i.e. the CEO or product manager) and then asked to respond to a situation from the standpoint of their role.


Creative Innovation – Role Playing

Similar to above, respondents are asked to assume a role, but one that’s specifically related to innovation (scientist, for example); they’re encouraged to create something (a product, messaging, or package design for example) themselves and describe it in full detail.

Next month, we will be sharing results of some upcoming research using the activities/exercises we’ve mentioned. Stay tuned by subscribing to our blog, so you can learn about how we leveraged our Instant Research Groups to explore some of the use cases for projective techniques.

If you’d like to hear more about how the GutCheck team can help you use these types of techniques and answer any research questions you may have, request a demo today!

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