There is discussion within the research industry about whether or not the traditional way of conducting in-person qualitative research is outdated e.g. focus groups, IDIs, and ethnographic research. Qualitative research has long been one of the most important tools in a researcher's tool kit. It provides the deeper insights that quantitative research typically cannot provide - from discovering consumers attitudes and opinions about your products and services to uncovering deep cultural beliefs and attitudes.
With technological advancements across all types of research, one never have to actually come face-to-face with a consumer. All of these options give companies the flexibility to test a larger audience and theoretically spend less time and money on research. The possibilities seem endless with technology, but is it all that meets the eye?
Why Are Online Methods So Popular?
There is a perception that these methods are faster but what it comes down to is where is the time being spent? There may be more upfront planning and programming needs, which can eliminate some of the timing advantages. There is an advantage if you have a narrow target that isn’t concentrated in any one location. For example, if you need to interview moms of triplets who buy your brand of baby food.
As technology continues to advance the landscape of research techniques people sometimes get excited about the bells and whistles. The expediency of online tools or technology allows for potentially quicker and broader data collection, but maybe sacrificing the richness of a face-to-face interaction with a consumer.
One thing that sets traditional qualitative research apart from more modern methods is empathy. Human interaction allows us to pick up on small changes in facial expressions and body language, reading the nonverbal communication to truly understand a consumer's thoughts and feelings. This is true no matter how many video qualitative research one conducts. We have found countless times that observers sitting face-to-face with consumers come away with very different interpretations than team members who view virtually. In fact, we often recommend a more consumer centric approach in which key members of the project team all have some direct interaction with consumers in the research. Sometimes not all team members can participate in person. In that case, there should be deference to the moderator’s interpretation.
Qualitative research often deals with sensitive subjects and/or proprietary client information. Participant’s and the client's privacy should be guaranteed at all times. With an in-person qualitative approach this is fairly easy to manage; however, in an online environment respondents 1) could be wary of sharing sensitive information: or 2) a client's proprietary information could be shared.
Obviously, technology brings lots of wonderful capabilities that can greatly benefit studies in the future; however, combining traditional qualitative and digital research methods in a learning plan can be the solution that gives your research the extra edge. At the end of the day, the methodology you use for any marketing research, whether qualitative or quantitative, should be driven by your objectives, learning needs, and what the decisions you intend to make with the research, rather than excitement over the latest tools.