Understanding what drives your consumers may seem like yet another task to check off your to-do list, but it’s a key component to your business’s success. However, unearthing those customer insights requires some effort — unless you employ the right format.
Enter: structured interviews, which help you get to know your customers through strategic interactions. These formal conversations can reveal a wealth of information that’ll improve every layer of your business.
In this guide, I cover the ins and outs of structured interviews — what they are, why they matter, and how you can make the most of them as a savvy product marketer. To help you implement that information in your own business, I’ll also share my best practices for turning insights from structured interviews into killer content.
Table of Contents
- Set your research goals
- Craft your interview questions
- Find interview participants
- Develop an interview procedure
- Conduct your structured interviews
- Analyze and act on interview results
When to embrace structured interviews
These methods aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution; the research approach you choose will depend on a myriad of factors. But, if you want to unlock targeted insights, structured interviews are the way to go.
Structured interviews are especially useful for gathering product feedback or collecting customer-centric data for product development. You can also use them to learn more about the post-purchase experience and how to improve it.
Structured interviews work best when you conduct customer research under the following circumstances.
1) When you understand your research needs and goals
Know exactly what you want to ask your consumers? If you have specific research needs or goals in mind, structured interviews will help you uncover the answers.
You can craft each question to suit your objectives. Whether it’s understanding customer pain points, analyzing their reaction to your latest offering, or wanting to dig deeper into specific user issues, structured interviews can yield these and other unique insights.
2) When you have limited time or resources
Time and resources can often be tight in the fast-paced world of product marketing. During these periods of scarcity, structured interviews can help you gain deep customer insights without exhausting your limited capacity. They give you a streamlined approach to understanding your customers without engaging in long, unstructured conversations. You can cut the fluff and get straight to the core points you’re interested in, making the most of your restricted resources.
3) When you need to analyze data quickly and efficiently
Product development moves fast. When you’re racing against the clock to launch, structured interviews are your secret weapon for gathering valuable insights from consumers at pace.
Rather than sifting through heaps of information or running long, vague interviews, you can use this format to capture the exact data you need, when you need it.
4) When you need to limit biases and collect focused information
Biases can subtly sneak into research without you noticing.
Structured interviews use standardized questions and a systematic approach to cut down on bias. They ensure you collect data that’s laser-focused on your objectives, reducing personal influences for precise and reliable insights.
How to use structured interviews for customer research
Customer research entails more than simply asking questions and organizing responses; it requires asking smart questions in the right way. As such, structured interviews can transform a simple conversation into a strategic tool.
Understanding how to employ structured interviews will help you pluck the most fruitful insights from these conversations. Let’s walk through the steps I use when setting up structured interviews.
1) Set your research goals
Before you pull out your microphone and assume the role of interviewer, you need to set goals for the conversation.
Structured interviews work best when guided by a clear purpose. If your intent is to discover consumer insights, establish your research goals at the start. Without these objectives leading the process, the interview may drift off course and weaken its impact.
Some goals you could set when collecting customer insights through this method include:
- To identify customer pain points that inform their buying behavior
- To understand consumers’ barriers to conversion and how to overcome them
- To evaluate the user experience
- To test the effectiveness of your marketing messaging
- To explore how customers perceive your competitors and the wider market
- To validate new products or features
Remember to make your objectives specific, measurable, achievable, and timely (SMART). Well-defined goals make it easier to run structured interviews with purpose, which ensures you gain the information you need.
2) Craft your interview questions
Structured interviews are designed for hosts to ask specific questions in a set order so you collect data in a standardized way.
Think of your questions as a finely tuned metal detector — they unearth the treasured information you’re after. Well-honed interview questions will elicit informative responses and help you gain the best results from your interview time.
When crafting your structured interview questions, keep these tips in mind:
- Be clear and specific: Develop questions that are easy to understand. Avoid using vague or complex language.
- Use open-ended questions: These types of inquiries give your interviewee the chance to expand on their answer and offer more detailed responses for richer insights.
- Stay neutral and suppress bias: Avoid using loaded or leading questions that could influence the interviewee’s answer. Although you can’t fully eliminate bias, aim to limit assumptions and biases in your inquiries.
- Focus on the goal: Let your goal guide you when creating questions. Trying to explore too many topics or accomplish every objective at once will overwhelm the interviewee and dilute the effectiveness of the conversation.
- Follow a logical order: Arrange your questions logically so they flow naturally from one to the next. For instance, you might start by asking general questions before delving into more specific topics.
- Employ the STAR method: Develop questions that encourage the interviewee to think about the Situation or Task, the Action, and the Result (STAR). This will help you obtain more in-depth information from them.
The questions you ask determine the value of the feedback you extract. Make sure you craft inquiries that are precise, limited in bias, and tailored to your goals. This may take time at first but, the more structured interviews you conduct, the better you’ll become at composing questions.
3) Find interview participants
Grabbing any participant off the street won’t produce fruitful conversations; you need to interview relevant individuals. Your participants should be people whose experiences, opinions, and perspectives will push you toward achieving your goals.
If, for example, you want to know how to improve your running coach app or line of athletic shoes, your interview participants should be runners, both casual and serious.
You should also take diversity into account when sourcing interview participants. Make sure you consult a broad sample of your target audience so you can apply that learning to cater to a wider variety of people and experiences.
You can follow a few routes to find interview participants, depending on your goal and circumstances. If you’re in the research phase of product development, for example, and don’t yet have a customer base, you’ll have to look outside of your network. Conversely, if you have an established following and want to use structured interviews to explore the user experience, you’d most likely look to your existing customers for their opinions.
Here are some helpful places where you can find relevant interview participants:
- Existing customers: Your current followers are a goldmine of feedback. They know who you are, they’ve engaged with your products, and their experience can provide valuable information for improvement.
- Email subscribers:The people on your email list have already shown an interest in your offerings. While they may not be customers yet, they’re familiar with your brand and could provide interesting perspectives on user behavior, motivations, and pain points.
- Survey or market research platforms: Go outside of your network to acquire a diverse pool of participants. Online surveys and market research platforms let you filter participants based on demographics and preferences so they more closely reflect your target audience.
- Organic and paid social media: Leverage your social media channels to locate interview participants. You can share organic posts inviting your existing followers to take part in interviews. Alternatively, launch paid social media ad campaigns with well-defined targeting to attract the right people.
- Industry events or conferences: Choose events that your target audience is likely to attend and invite them in person to take part in your structured interviews.
- Networking groups: Networking remains a powerful way to connect with people. From online forums to in-person networking events, engaging in different communities can help you find potential participants that fit your niche.
Your participants fuel your research. Their experiences and opinions will shape your marketing and product strategies, so be picky when making your selection and choose those who are representative of your target audience.
4) Develop an interview procedure
Everything in your structured interview should be standardized, as a set process supports consistency and reliability. Make sure all variables are the same for every participant — including the location, interviewer, and tools you use — so you draw accurate conclusions from the insights gathered.
When deciding how to conduct structured interviews, think about:
- The interview delivery method: Decide whether you’ll interview in person or remotely over the phone or via video call. Face-to-face interviews offer the benefit of building rapport and observing body language and other social cues that are missed in virtual interviews. On the other hand, virtual interviews bring the advantage of flexibility and accessibility, which help you reach a wider audience pool.
- The interviewer: The person conducting the interview is crucial because they steer the conversation, so make sure they’re skilled listeners with strong communication skills. They should be able to lead the interview with neutrality while helping the interviewee feel at ease. You can employ someone from your marketing team or an external interviewer who’s experienced in customer research.
- The collection method: Plan how you’ll capture interview data. If you intend to use the traditional pen-and-paper method, make sure you have an interview template you can fill out easily and accurately. This route is more time-consuming when it comes time to analyze and organize the data. It also has a higher risk of human error. A better way to collect insights is to adopt data collection software that records, organizes, and analyzes the information gleaned from the interview.
- The environment: You want to create a space that encourages people to speak candidly. Whether you hold interviews in person or virtually, think about how you can make the environment more inviting and comfortable. For face-to-face interviews, that entails considering the room brightness and temperature and choosing a comfortable seating arrangement. For virtual interviews, you may want to set up in a place with minimal background noise or distractions.
However you decide to conduct your interviews, make sure you follow the same process for each one. Consistency is key to ensure accuracy with all interviewees.
5) Conduct your structured interviews
With the prep work completed, you’re ready to begin holding interviews (following your established process).
To help you gather valuable insights from your structured interviews, I recommend following these steps:
- Send reminder emails: Before the interview, send a friendly reminder to the participant to confirm the date, time, and method of interview. This helps make sure they show up for the session while also putting them at ease by letting them know what to expect.
- Maintain consistent conditions: Remember to keep things uniform for every participant. From delivering interviews in the same location to minimizing background noise, consider how you can make the interview conditions consistently comfortable for all interviewees.
- Build a welcoming environment: Start the interview by greeting the participant warmly. Give them time to familiarize themselves with the situation and ease them in with some friendly inquiries.
- Ask questions in order: Follow your interview structure, asking questions in the same order for every participant. A consistent structure will ensure you draw fair and accurate comparisons between different participants’ answers.
- Moderate your responses: Your reactions can influence how participants answer. Be mindful of your responses by maintaining a neutral expression and avoiding leading questions or biased wording. Actively listen and allow the participant to answer candidly without judgment.
- Set (and stick to) time limits: Every participant should receive the same amount of time for every stage of the interview. Let them know up front how long the entire session will be and how long they have to answer each question.
- Organize answers: As you progress through the questions, make sure you keep answers well ordered. You can organize them via note-taking, digital recording, or software. Systematic collection will make it easier for you to analyze the data post-interview.
- Capture other details: Although the interview is structured, you should leave space to capture other details you notice during the conversation. You may want to take note of any nonverbal cues you pick up on, such as facial expressions, gestures, or body language, that may offer additional insights alongside their verbal responses.
- End with appreciation: At the interview’s conclusion, express gratitude and appreciation for the participant. Thank them for taking the time to share their insights with you and let them know what the next steps will be. That positive, lasting impression will go a long way toward nurturing your relationship with the interviewee.
Every structured interview can reveal insights and strategies you might not have considered before, so take time to make the session itself as inviting as possible for participants to yield the most fruitful responses.
6) Analyze and act on interview results
After you finish running interviews, it’s time to delve into the data gathered and turn those responses into valuable insights that drive change.
Structured interviews give you a glimpse into the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of your customers. Analyzing their responses can help you discover patterns, behaviors, and unexpected revelations that you can use to transform your marketing, products, or broader business strategies.
How to analyze interview results
Your data analysis will depend on the method you used to capture it. If you recorded the interviews, you’ll need to start by transcribing recordings into written text that’s easier to review. Additionally, a structured format such as tables or spreadsheets makes it easier to organize and visualize your data.
During the analysis, scan the responses and note any recurring themes that arise. This lets you identify recurring “coding” words, patterns, or themes. Group these together for a deeper, more robust analysis that increases data validity and transparency while reducing bias.
Conduct both qualitative and quantitative analyses, capturing as much information as you can from interview responses. Qualitative analysis will help you understand the context or emotion behind responses while quantitative allows you to capture the frequency at which certain responses appear.
Next, compare the data against your original interview objective. Measure the findings against your initial goal or hypothesis to see whether the interview insights meet your expectations or reveal new considerations. This helps you validate your research and can reveal actionable outcomes.
Most importantly, hone in on responses that could have a significant impact on your marketing strategy or product development process.
How to synthesize interview results
After you’ve analyzed the interview data, you need to turn those findings into actionable next steps.
Group together interview results as outcomes based on priority or a specific theme so the insights are put to good use, rather than left to gather dust. You might, for example, want to categorize all customer pain points and create a priority order of actions that need to be taken to address them. Having a list of recommendations makes it easier to synthesize insights.
Organize a meeting with key stakeholders or affected teams to discuss the implications of the research, the importance of the findings, and how they can use them to improve performance. This meeting is great for gaining buy-in from key team members so they understand the value of customer interviews and how that feedback impacts them.
Monitor implementation to make sure the insights are put into practice, and track their effects. Keep a close eye on performance before and after their incorporation and iterate as needed.
Structured interviews push ongoing improvement. Make sure they’re a recurring part of marketing research to help you better understand your customers and how to improve performance. These types of interviews have the power to transform your marketing performance, refining strategies and setting your marketing activities up for greater success.
Leverage structured interview results to enrich your content
Understanding what makes your target audience tick is crucial for creating content that appeals to their needs and encourages them to take action. By tapping into the results of your structured interviews, you can optimize your content for more lucrative results.
From gaining clarity over customer pain points and goals and finding new topic angles to learning how to write like your customers and showcasing testimonials, here’s how you can leverage structured interview data to improve content marketing performance.
Identify customer pain points and goals
Interviews give you a direct line of communication with your customers, and structured ones are particularly advantageous because they’re tailored to your specific interests.
You can ask questions that purposefully explore customer pain points and goals. Even without asking about pain points or goals directly, structured interviews can unearth customer challenges or motivations. Then, when analyzing responses, you’re able to identify recurring themes and incorporate them to optimize your content marketing.
That’s especially useful for crafting content that directly addresses consumer pain points and positions your product or service as the solution to them. These answers are also helpful for improving post-purchase content such as demo videos or product guides.
Find new topics to discuss
Structured interviews are a great source of inspiration for new content ideas. As you talk to interviewees, you might notice recurring topics, interests, or experiences. That’s why it’s important to pull from a pool of participants who align with your target audience; you’ll be able to dive deeper into the topics that matter to your most valued prospects.
Note any discussion points that repeat and categorize them by topic. Then, compare the themes to the topics discussed in your existing content. Be sure to highlight any content gaps where you can use the newly discovered topics to craft something fresh. You can also use the new topics to improve underperforming content and make it more relevant to your audience.
Learn how to write like your customer
Besides the words themselves, interview insights can also be gleaned from the way they’re expressed.
Use structured interviews to understand how to write like your customers and, in turn, create content that relates to them on a more personal level. This is helpful when analyzing qualitative data, where customers are able to answer more freely.
Review the tone of voice in interviewee responses. Pay attention to how they say things, highlighting noticeable features such as syntax, slang words, or sentence length.
Incorporate this information into your customer personas and content marketing guidelines so your content mirrors your audience’s voice, making it more relatable and engaging for them. Remember to review and update your old content too.
Turn interviews into testimonials
Obtain permission from your interview participants to apply their answers to your marketing communications. That way, you can turn positive customer feedback into a testimonial for your content.
If you want to use structured interviews to collect testimonials, make sure you ask about their customer experience. Questions like, “How has your life changed since using our product?” or “What made you choose our product?” can yield valuable quotes you can use in your content marketing.
You can also mine structured interviews to collate quantitative data. For example, you could ask interviewees to rate their customer experience on a scale of 1-10, then analyze the answers to create a statistic showing consumer satisfaction.
Some insights may appear naturally, giving you plenty of source material to transform into compelling social proof for your products or services.
Wrapping up — Uncover customer insights and boost content marketing performance with structured interviews
Weave structured interviews into your content marketing strategy to unlock powerful consumer insights and elevate your content’s performance.
By tapping into the minds of your customers and prospects, you can shape product development, refine your messaging, and strengthen your brand’s connection with its target audience. Take advantage of structured interviews and capitalize on this rich opportunity to hone your content marketing for maximum impact.