Monthly Archives: December 2009

MRDs moving to DIY?

As primarily a fieldwork firm heavily engaged in both traditional qualitative fieldwork and online qualitative fieldwork, we have a broad vista of the qual industry.  Our clients are researchers who hail from literally all over the world. 

Around the office, we have been noticing a dicotomy that has created a lot of discussion and diverse opinions about the direction of the industry.  We are noticing two opposing trends that appear to both be driven by the need to lower costs. 

  1. Marketing Research Departments are shedding personnel and outsourcing more.
  2. Marketing Research Departments (MRD) are doing more DIY qual in-house and cutting out the outside research supplier.

Personally, I think MRDs are using online qualitative services to do more DIY to cut qual costs but continue to outsource face-to-face qual.  If this is the case, then the future will look quite differently for MRDs and research firms as online qual continues to gain traction and evolve. 


Why has online qual not taken off?

There was an interesting conversation on Ray Poynter’s blog (  Ray raised the question of why online qualitative has not “taken off” to the same extent that online quantitative has.  Here is the response that I made to that question.  

Catherine has a very good point in that we have not yet cracked what online qual can actually do.

When we started doing online qual in 2000-2001, uptake was very slow by traditional qual researchers. Frankly, qualies had a system (focus groups) that worked, was well accepted and was very profitable and they were extremely bothered that online qual was almost wholly text based. They missed (and still do for the most part) the visual cues and “feel” that one gets when sitting down with an individual(s).

Online qual has been growing significantly not because these problems have been overcome. As a rule, they have not. Online qual has begun to grow because (1) travel is expensive and a hassle, (2) researchers have discovered the diversity of a range of qual techniques to solve various problems (its not just focus groups anymore) and (3) social media has shown everyone that effective communication online is possible and, for some, preferable.

Online qual will continue to grow though it may not reach the 60%+ market share of online quant for a long time. Online qual has significant hurdles to overcome, chief among them (1) making the online experience as close to “being there” as possible and/or (2) finding new and better ways of connecting with people.

Eventually online qual will become a method for a 360 degree type of immersion that we are only guessing at right now. It will be a new world for research as Catherine said. Its very exciting and challenging to imagine and make happen.

This is one ofthe reasons that communities and “netnographies” are big now. Researchers want more than a one dimensional qual aspect. This is the most exciting time in qual since I joined the club 23 years ago. Its a great ride. 

To see the entire discussion, go to

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