Personification in China - The great wall of unanimity

Chinese consumers are famous for their reluctance to openly disagree with others in group discussions – which presents problems for those of us doing qualitative research

Running focus groups among Chinese consumers is not a straightforward task.

In a society in which “saving face” and looking your best in front of others is particularly valued, it’s perhaps inevitable that an awareness of the views of others will be apparent in group discussions.

Clearly, this is not ideal for the kind of research carried out by Wine Intelligence. In any market, putting together a programme that allows us to see the full diversity of opinions among our respondents is important, and achieving this often in China requires extra thought and consideration.

Personification in China 300x300 - The great wall of unanimity


In some cases, getting an honest answer is best achieved by taking the question from public to private. For some research topics, this can mean choosing one-on-one interviews rather than group discussions, or creating a series of smaller groups.

Tried-and-tested techniques such as asking respondents to write down their responses before discussing with the group can also help to “anchor” individual opinions, and provide an extra data point that can be compared to the findings from the group discussion at the analysis stage.

Label sorting in China 224x300 - The great wall of unanimity

Respondent sorting labels into categories in Shanghai, April 2012

In other cases, the group dynamic can be positive and should be harnessed. Creative group exercises, such as brand personification exercises, often benefit from this group dynamic. Consumers who have less experience with wine, and who may not feel confident enough in their “rational” opinions to contradict others when talking about more objective characteristics of a brand, can tap into their creative side and build on the energy and ideas of others around the table. With these types of exercises, the fact that respondents listen and build on what those around them are saying becomes an asset rather than a hindrance.

Regardless of the research topic, the key to getting good results from qualitative research is knowing your market – and finding the right approach to get the most out of the group.