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In the world of research, there are various types of methodologies and approaches that can be used to answer burning questions. Among retailers, in particular, research methodologies that make creative use of photos and imagery can form an important part of your research repertoire.

Photos often tell a story in a visceral way that words simply can't. Images can be crucial for understanding how a customer feels about your brand, your store experience, or even how they go about using your product or service in their daily lives.

Using photos and images in research can help you address the following 10 questions:

Questions about your brand

1. How do customers see your brand?

2. How do customers relate to your brand?

3. What are the selling points of your brand?

4. What, if any, are the pain points about your brand?

Tactic: Ask your customers to create a collage to paint a picture of your brand with images. (You can do this with the collage builder tool in Sparq community panels.) Use the results of that collage to inform a deeper dive into your customers' current perceptions by recruiting and running an online discussion with a select group of customers. (You can use VC's Discussions tool for this.) Keep track of your brand performance by running a brand health tracking program, or a regular tracking study on your community panel.

Benefit: A clear perspective on how customers see your brand now, with the potential to track changes over time.

Questions about your customers' shopping experience - including your store experience:

5. What are your customers doing while they are shopping? (e.g. what happens on a 'girls' shopping day out'?)

6. What is their perspective about your store experience? What is and isn't appealing?

7. What about the competition? What is and isn't appealing and their store experience(s)?

Tactic: Recruit a group of customers to go into your store and your competitors' stores and take photos of what they like and what they don't like. This can include types of signage or promotional materials, the way things are merchandised, or even the associates' uniforms. Have customers explain their feelings and thoughts alongside their photos. Mobile is particularly suitable for this type of research experience, as it is immediate, and the camera is usually built-in easing the photo-sharing process. VC's Sparq platform is also optimized for mobile research, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable research experience for the participant.

Benefit: In-store signage/promotions and retail design can be informed by the insights from participants' photos and comments. Move ahead of the competition in understand what works and what doesn't with real-world proof.

Questions about your customers' daily lives:

8. What do your customers do with your merchandise once it leaves your store?

9. How does the merchandise play a role in their day-to-day life?

10. How do they use/store your merchandise?

Tactic: Consider asking your customers to submit photos or videos of their closet (apparel/footwear), their toolbox/garage (home improvement), their make-up drawer (beauty/cosmetics), their kitchen (home goods), or wherever else is relevant to your product category.

Benefit: Better understand the relationship between your brand's product and the customer. Potentially identify new opportunities for product development or marketing strategies based on a clear picture of how your customer interacts with your brand (e.g. is your product being used in a way you hadn't considered? Can this be marketed somehow?).

These 10 questions and tactics are just a start; there are many more ways you can use photos to connect with your customers. If used in community panel research, these approaches are not only powerful from an insights perspective, they can help keep the community panel experience fresh and engaging for panel members.

In an ever-more-fragmented retail environment, it's more critical than ever to get a picture of your customers' needs. Get a clearer picture by using just that - a picture.

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