Keep Online Respondents Engaged & Focused with Projective Techniques—#TBT Edition

Variety of respondents

As online market research becomes more prevalent, respondent fatigue and burnout are also becoming more of an issue. In order to ensure you will receive rich, actionable consumer insights, respondents need to be kept engaged and feel encouraged to share their opinions. And while modern methods like mobile surveys will help draw participants, your research design may need a little extra something to keep it fresh and stimulating. So for this Throwback Thursday, we wanted to talk about one of our favorite ways to engross respondents in the research process: projective techniques.

Projective techniques are creative activities that are purposely ambiguous and open-ended 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 enhance study participation, they can also help discern additional information about a respondent’s personality and how they view the world given the topic at hand. This is especially helpful for creating respondent profiles and dividing consumers into segments.

So, How Do Projective Techniques Work?

 When asking your target audience to suggest improvements for a new product, a respondent may simply tell you to change the color or change one word. But incorporating projective techniques, like asking the respondent to write a letter to the CEO explaining what they would change to make this product succeed, the respondent takes more time formulating their answer; tries to think of more impactful, less obvious changes; and ultimately, shares more insight into their personality by writing a letter instead of simply suggesting changes. What could’ve been just a few words or phrases becomes a window into an entire thought process.

There is a diverse collection of projective techniques to choose from, so you’re bound to find one that suits your research needs. 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 adjectives about the brand. This method can be very impactful in helping participants understand important features and differentiators about your stimuli. Apple used this technique in their “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” campaign to highlight the differences between the two technologies in an accessible 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.

With so many options to choose from, the possibilities for making your research more engaging and ultimate more conclusive are almost endless. And to learn more about how to employ these methods effectively, check out the handy eGuide below.

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