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Current and Emerging Trends in Qualitative Market Research

One of my passions is to ponder the future to understand industry trends and where the industry will be in the years to come.  The following guest contribution by Willie Pena of Insights in Marketing provides his take on trends in qualitative.  Willie Pena writes about qualitative market research and other popular forms of market research for IIM. Connect with him on Google+LinkedIn.

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Current and Emerging Trends in Qualitative Market Research

Just as marketing is changing in recent years, technologies are also changing the way that market research is conducted. Traditional qualitative research methods, like study groups, polls and observational studies, are going digital and expanding the ability for researchers and businesses to target participants and collect information. Successful businesses expect innovative research solutions that offer more than just data.

Adapting Qualitative Research Methods to Social Media and Mobile

Focus groups, observational studies and other traditional tools still have functional uses and are relevant in the digital world, however their costs are substantially higher than many of the emerging and maturing research methods available today. Deliberative and participative research methods are gaining popularity due to their increased ability to discover information on a larger scale.

However, the largest growth is found in social media and mobile market research. Across the globe, the Internet and mobile technologies are providing unprecedented access to markets and individuals. This provides a wealth of information that can be obtained without the need to secure a facility or spend months qualifying participants.

From high-definition video conferencing and instant communication around the world to the ability to reach participants on their mobile devices and access to demographics that are traditionally hard to reach, the Internet is providing technology based  research methods like the kinds seen here by IIM the likes of which has never been seen before.

Five Trends Gaining Traction in Digital Qualitative Research

  1. Market Research Online CommunitiesMROCs combine a mixture of social media, online discussion and qualitative research to provide long-term benefits, in-depth insight and an unparalleled level of access to program participants. The format is flexible enough to suit nearly any audience, through gamification, live chat, bulletin boards or other methods, to provide a powerful tool for researchers at a fraction of the cost that hosting in-person events and similar studies would cost.
  2. Social Media and Qualitative Research Social media is one of the driving forces in new methods of technology based qualitative research. From qualifying study participants to conducting research on the plethora of platforms available, there are near-endless options for optimizing your research methods, reaching new audiences and gathering mass quantities of data quickly and efficiently. However, these platforms are also ideal for long-term research due to their low-cost, easy management and instant communication features.
  3. Mobile Ethnography Ethnography was once a research method reserved for large projects and businesses with big budgets. With the penetration and instant-access characteristics of mobile research, mobile ethnography allows for ethnographic studies with lower costs and compressed timelines. Through video chat, mobile polls and other tools, it is possible to conduct contextual and immersion studies without the need for constant on-site supervision and many of the other characteristics that make traditional ethnography daunting and expensive.
  4. Increased Automation and Accelerated Speed to Market As the amount of data available to researchers increases, artificial intelligence, data mining tools, trends analysis algorithms and other research software are improving the ability to uncover trends, collate data and achieve results. This, in turn, is reducing the overall time need to conduct thorough research and produce results for clients. Both are fueling a surge in research-related spending within businesses and creating an ideal market for researchers in the years ahead.
  5. Increased Emphasis on the Customer ExperienceStudy reports including interactive elements, such as word clouds, video clips and storytelling, help to provide information with increased insight. Geo-location targeting, mobile surveys and other tools help to conduct studies in the moment as experiences are occurring to capture a truer sense of the study participant. The result is that traditional question-and-answer and static report formats of qualitative research are losing ground to new technologies at a rapid pace.

Qualitative research is evolving from rigid, complex structures to dynamic, real-time studies. With the help of mobile technologies, social media and other advances, qualitative researchers are enjoying a period of research advancement where greater market penetration, increased consumer willingness and skyrocketing business demand are pushing research to previously unseen heights. These current and emerging trends are likely to influence qualitative research and market research as a whole for years to come.

Nuggets from Best Practices, LLC’s Innovation Report

Research Business Report’s latest issue highlights a study from Best Practices, LLC titled, “Consumer Marketing Research Innovation: Assessing New Tools, Technologies and Approaches to Understand and Communicate with Consumers.” With a title that long, I was a bit scared to try to read it. So, I was glad Bob Lederer at RBR provided some summary points. A few of those stood out to me since I’m a qual guy and we do technology.

While only 8% of client companies believe a lack of innovation is a major obstacle, pharma companies reported it as an obstacle in 40% of the cases. Apparently, a lot of pharma researchers believe they are simply not getting it done with current practices and their companies are loathe to change things. If you do what you’ve always done…

“Having quantitative and qualitative researchers work as a team on select project can reduce study timelines.” Faster research is only one of the benefits of the yin and yang of quant and qual. Many times, such teamwork is simply better research. In today’s world of similar online formats for quant and qual, the benefits are easier to access than ever before. Unfortunately, most research firms built the Great Wall of China between quant and qual functions. Often, researchers in one function so not even know their counterparts in the other function. Going forward this has to change.

“Online qualitative research offers advantages over traditional qualitative studies (because) the online format removes the geographical boundaries that can make the creation of a representative sample so challenging in focus groups. Online qual (also) makes it easier to do asynchronous studies. It gives participants more of a feeling of anonymity and thus makes them more likely to talk about how they really feel.” True, yet only part of the story. The Best Practices report might add saving time and money and giving researchers additional tools to do better research through the use of longitudinal, ethnographic or diversity research methods.  Online qualitative has exploded the researcher’s toolset.  An expanded toolset challenges researchers to be smarter and more knowledgeable.  It also enables them to produce better research with more and deeper insights than ever before.

Isaac Rogers: A Researcher You Need to Know

Here at 20|20 we are proud that Isaac Rogers has been selected by Survey Magazine as “A Researcher You Need to Know.”Isaac Rogers

Isaac has been Chief Innovation Officer for 20|20 since 2008.  We may be a little biased but we truly believe he is a rockstar in the application of technology to market research.  Isaac is the chief architect for QualBoard(R) the industry’s leading global online qualitative discussion platform.  His most recent innovation was to conceive and manage the development of QualTranslate virtually instant translation for global QualBoard projects.  You need to know Isaac because he is changing the way we all do qualitative research online.  Keep an eye out since he has more innovations in the pipeline.

Congratulations Isaac.  An honor well-deserved.

Using Technology for Virtual Shop-Alongs

I am honored to have co-authored an article with Jessica Ritzo of Insights in Marketing that appears in the July issue of Quirk’s Marketing Research magazine.  I’m not sure how I was listed first as author as Jessica did most of the heavy lifting.  The article is titled, “Be There Now.  Leveraging mobile and online qualitative to get inside shopper’s heads.”

Quirks

Here is a quick abstract of the article and a link where you can read it in full.

Consumers’ use of technology and researchers’ understanding of how to use that technology have opened new frontiers for all types of research, including shopper research.  When planned and executed carefully, the technology boom can eliminate the need for a researcher to be physically present with the shopper for some shopper research while gathering rich, in-the-moment data.  The article outlined a three-phase methodology that includes a text-based online discussion platform  combined with a mobile in-store phase and ends with an online discussion follow-up.

  1. Phase 1 — Pre-Shopping Discussion.  Questions help the researcher understand pre-shopping opinions, expectations and ideas.  Respondents answer questions individually or as a group at the researcher’s discretion.  This format also gives the researcher and opportunity to set the stage and expectations for Phase 2.
  2. Phase 2 — In-Store Mobile Methodology — Researchers give shoppers a streamlined list of tasks to accomplish while shopping.  Shoppers often take pictures and add commentary related to their preferences, observations and reactions.  Data can be rich with visuals accompanied by shopper insights.
  3. Phase 3 — Post-Shopping Engagement — Using a discussion platform, the researcher has the opportunity to probe issues related to the shopping data collected during Phase 2.  As with Phase 1, these discussions can be private, one-on-one discussions, or be a discussion among groups of shoppers.  Because the respondent provides thoughtful, post-shopping feedback on actual shopping behavior, the learning from this phase can be richly insightful.

The article concluded with a case study from the beverage industry to highlight the methods and a use case.  To access the entire article click here.

This entire project can be conducted on the20|20 QualBoard(R) Discussion Platform utilizing its online discussion and mobile capabilities.

Topline Report from ESOMAR 3D Conference

The ESOMAR 3D Conference was held in Boston this week.  20|20 CIO Isaac Rogers attended and provided some key take-aways.  Here is his post-conference report.

Major themes were Big Data, the Problem with Researchers, and the Reality of Mobile.

Big Data:

1.  Still a lot of debate on exactly what this term means for the industry; both in a literal sense and what its long term impact on research will be.  ATT mobile did a case study using mostly CRM data sources mixed with survey responses and even qual.  Good example of how to use big data as a “third step” in the process; (1) Qual to uncover insights; (2) Quant to verify them and size them; (3) Big Data to double-check your hypothesis.

2.  Even in the ATT example, I didn’t see anyone present a direct way to use Big Data to generate insight independently.  But it’s clear researchers are seeking a way to turn Big Data into a new resource for insight and innovation.  How best to apply these principles is still a mystery to most.

3.  By the end of the first day, people were groaning about the fact that everyone’s talking about big data, few people are really doing it.  In fact, when you really get down to it— outside of social media resources, most market researchers don’t seem to even know where to find big data.  I was part of a lively discussion about the most obvious source we can tap— point of sale data.  But weren’t we ALREADY using POS data?  So what’s “new” about this whole Big Data idea?  Most people are still scratching their heads (outside of seeing social media as a source).

Problem with “Researchers”

1.  Over and over we heard about how MR agencies have to change.  The clients claim to be “done” with 600 page research reports nobody reads.  They want a strategic partner, delivering real advice and being an expert on the voice of their customers.  But, when you start to ask about how MR firms can build a business around that… the room gets quiet.  Nobody wants to pay a research to be another voice at the table— they pay them to do research.  So MR firms are ill suited for the task today, and it’s not clear that Clients will begin to pony up the $$$ required to pull in a real strategic partner.  So the MR firms hear what clients are saying (more strategic partnerships), but they only win business today by delivering traditional research results.  Somebody has to be willing to change the paradigm.

2.  MR firms agree they’re poorly staffed for tomorrow.  Lots of discussion about how they will need to hire “techies, IT people, and data wizards” to be relevant in the future.  They don’t have those people on staff now, and don’t even know how to begin the transition.

3.  Clients want “storytellers” who craft the story about their consumers.  I heard that over and over the last two days.  They’re tired of boring research and want Agencies to deliver insight they can sink their teeth in to.

Reality of Mobile

1.  Mobile is still a hot property, but the flames have tempered somewhat.  Now that researchers are starting to actually use mobile, they see it’s not the “holy grail” that makes all other methods obsolete.  Great presentation from Vision Critical on some real-world testing they’ve done with AOL.  They found that participants tend to dislike doing mobile surveys (Vision Critical expects that mobile cooperation will only get worse as the novelty wears off); that 80+ percent will choose to do surveys from a PC vs mobile when given a chance; and that it take participants 50% longer to complete online surveys from phones.  They feel the data is valid coming from mobile, and that it correlates nearly perfectly with traditional data (so no bias, etc), but that it’s more difficult to do surveys from mobiles and that the “halo effect” of neat mobile surveys will die off and participants will actually engage in mobile surveys less.

2.  QR codes came up a few times.  Pretty much dismissed as novelties.  Consumers don’t get them.  There’s not standards.  Funny— 2 years ago everyone thought QR codes were the future, and I remember one firm printing their business card ONLY as a QR code… woops!

“April Fools” Joke Becomes Technology Breakthrough

“They said it couldn’t be done… that there was no way to get a software platform to translate from one language to many others on the fly, but the technology team at 20|20 has done it. They’ve cracked the code and have added an amazing new feature to our QualBoard platform.”

This was the opening line to a now infamous “April Fools” email sent out by 20|20 on April 1, 2010.  At that time, we thought the idea of instant translation so far-fetched that no one would really take it seriously.  That was then…this is now.

Today, 20|20 announced its newest innovation in online qual research, QualTranslate.  What does it do?  It translates QualBoard posts from one language to another “on the fly.”  Today’s announcement echoes the joke from 2010, “the technology team at 20|20 has done it.  They’ve cracked the code and have added an amazing new feature to our QualBoard platform.”  Now, its true.  For us, the irony is stunning.  This is truly a Back to the Future moment.

So, what is the breakthrough?  QualTranslate uses a sophisticated language algorithm to translate one language into another within 60 seconds of it being posted to QualBoard.  In the asynchronous QualBoard environment, this is virtually instantaneous.  This machine translation will be hugely helpful for clients or project managers interfacing with multi-national, multi-language projects.  Now, from anywhere in the world, they can keep up follow the discussion in real time waiting for the post-project translation to be completed.

The virtually instant translation was a breakthrough, but the 20|20 team did not stop there.  They realized that machine translation is great for following a discussion, but is not best for analyzing it.  So, they added an on-the-fly native-speaker translation capability as well.  When this feature is activated, each post is sent directly to a native speaker for translation.  When completed, that speaker sends the translation back to QualBoard. The system immediately inserts the translation into QualBoard for viewers.  The entire process usually happens within 3-6 hours of the original post.  On a multi-day QualBoard, a viewer is never too far behind the discussion to draw insights and make course corrections.  Also, no more waiting days or weeks for translated transcripts.  The entire transcript will be translated within a few hours of the final post.

Speed is crucial in today’s business environment.  Waiting for transcript translations often slows down multi-national projects by weeks.  No more.  Also, project directors often cannot monitor research in many countries because they cannot simply follow the discussion.  When things go wrong, no one knows often until the project is over and its too late.  That problem is now solved.

We are constantly amazed at how fast technology advances.  What seemed impossible just three years ago, is reality today.  I could not be more proud of the 20|20 Tech team.

 

Research Coming to Emerging Markets

Emerging markets are exploding with growing economies and the growth of the middle class. As consumers in these huge markets gain disposable income, CPG and other categories must be ready. Without a doubt the emerging markets are the global consumer growth engine of the future. That is why companies are racing to establish distribution channels and brand identities in these countries.

Research can help. However, the lack of easy access to consumer respondents in many markets has kept research from providing effective, efficient information. Google and others have initiatives under way that will create pathways for research to access emerging market consumers faster and more effectively.

I was asked to write a guest blog for Optimization Group.  You can find it here.

New Online “Homework” Tool for In-Person Qual

Lets face it, focus group “homework” has not entered the 21st Century.  For decades, we sent respondents paper and pencil assignments or “diaries” and crossed our fingers hoping they will complete them.  Sometimes, you can find them completing the homework in the facility parking lot.  Some people forget completely.  Even when such “homework” is successful, it is hard to distribute, hard to collect and hard to analyze.  Plus, we researchers rarely get the assignments completed and analyzed in time to actually use the insights in our focus groups.  So, homework becomes yet another item to analyze when the groups are over.

Recent “innovations” such as email have helped marginally.  Email helps get assignments out faster and helps us to collect them.  But, it does not expand our capabilities or help us organize and analyze the homework.

So, 20|20 went to work to begin to solve this problem.  The result is a new  “Homework Tool” that is a modified version of our online qual software, QualBoard®, QualBoard Mobile™ and LifeNotes™ smartphone app.  Researchers can ask open-ended or closed-ended questions.  Respondents can respond with text and they can upload pictures or video from a desktop or mobile device.  Researchers can see respondent submissions almost instantly for virtually in-the-moment analysis.  So, the findings can be incorporated with the discussion guide to make the groups more efficient and insightful.

Because the Homework Tool is a modified version of the popular QualBoard, QualBoard Mobile and LifeNotes software, it is already fully-featured and battle-tested by 1000s of researchers and respondents worldwide.  Compared to current “homework” methods, this tool is faster, easier, more efficient and secure than today’s typical methods.

Why is such a tool important to a researcher?  Here are some reasons:

  • Accuracy.  Respondents can record activities and opinions from their desktop or mobile device.  These “in-the-moment” responses are more accurate than methods that rely on memory.
  • Compelling.  A picture is worth 1000 words.
  • Timely. No more paper assignments completed in the facility parking lot just before the group.
  • Complete.  20|20 monitors participation so non-participants are identified early and prompted to get started.
  • Efficient.  The researcher can analyze the information as it comes in allowing thoughtful changes to the discussion guide, resulting in deeper insights in the overall project.
  • Secure20|20’s software and process are secure to keep your data confidential.  We are compliant with the following standards:  PCI, HIPAA, ISO27002, and EU Safe Harbor.

Importantly, 20|20 provides project managers to manage the homework so you can focus on your research.  A 20|20 project manager helps customize your homework for online, monitors participation and helps with timely delivery of the results.  The researcher does not have to figure it out on his/her own.  Plus, 20|20 can manage the homework assignments anywhere, not just our facilities in Nashville, Charlotte and Miami.  Currently, the system is available in English and Spanish.
Susan Brelewski is taking the lead on the rollout.  If you are interested or for more information, you can contact her at 704.494.7873 or [email protected]  You can also download a product description here.

QRCA Panel Speaks Out on Social Media Recruiting

“Social Media.”  Everyone is talking about it.  Everyone wants to use it.  Everyone is trying to figure out how.

At the QRCA Conference in Montreal, I recently participated on a panel discussion titled, “Social Media Recruiting: Way of the Future.”  The goal was to discuss how social media is currently being used to recruit face-to-face and online qualitative.  The panel was organized by the QRCA Field Committee and led by Michelle Finzel of Maryland Marketing Source.

Some of my take-aways related to social media sites were:

  • Most “social media” recruiting started with Craigslist.  Craigslist still has a bad reputation though its discussion area is really no different than other social media sites.
  • Linkedin seems to have promise for B-B recruiting, but so far few have found methods that work.
  • Facebook is the primary social media site used for qual recruiting.  Facebook is being used in two ways.
  1. Many firms have their own Facebook pages that they use to troll for participants who have previously “Liked” them.
  2. Firms are getting adept, through trial and error, at paid advertising for particular respondents on Facebook

Social media recruiting seems to work best with consumer recruits.  Facebook and others are able to target ads at specific consumer demographics or other measures they can access.  Such targeting can make certain difficult-to-recruit consumer groups much easier.  However, if such criteria is not available, difficult recruits can be extremely expensive since the recruiter must pay/click for each respondent who clicks through to the screener.  For low incidence studies, this can be cost prohibitive and, therefore, not helpful.

The panel discussed the ethics of client disclosure.  Do we need to disclose to clients that the recruits came from social media sites?  Generally, the panel agreed that, in most cases, such disclosure was not necessary.  The burden is on the recruiter to ensure that the participant qualifies in every way regardless of the respondent source.  If the recruiter is doing his/her job correctly, the source is largely irrelevant.

Bottom Line:  Social media recruiting can help with certain recruiting problems.  However, the panel agreed that traditional recruiting rescreening and verification steps still must be taken.  Social media recruiting is a way to broaden the recruiting reach but it does not relieve the recruiter of the responsibility to thoroughly screen and verify their respondents.

Social media recruiting is likely here to stay.  However, it is not stand-alone.  It still requires some form of traditional recruiting process to ensure that ethe right respondents fit the right project.

QRCA Members can go to the QRCA Website to get a copy of the presentation.  I was honored to serve on the panel with Ben Smithee of Spych Research and Jeff Henn of Baltimore Research.

Guerrilla Warfare in Social Media?

Social media monitoring is hot and a lot of companies are putting a lot of money into social media monitoring.  We did a little investigating and found several firms who provide “tweet for hire” services.  So, how does one person with a grudge and $500 give a engage in guerilla warfare with a major brand?  Actually its not difficult.

We did a quick analysis of social media volume of a couple of well-known consumer brands, one fairly large and one not-so large.  Tweeters mentioned the large brand an average of about 40 tweets an hour or 960 tweets a day.  The smaller brand averaged about 100 tweets a day.

Now consider the world of “tweeting for hire.”  In a previous post, I talked about some of the re-tweeting sites that people are using to increase their SEO.  Even social media monitoring firms use them, so they are no secret.  These firms make their living from increasing website SEO which requires a high volume of social media at a low cost.  Therefore, they have devised methods to sell high volumes of tweets for very little.  For example, here is the pricing page for www.twitterbacklinks.com.

So, for $150/month, this site will re-tweet your message 125 times a day.  What would that do to a brand’s social media monitoring charts????  For a small to mid-major brand, it would be more than half the total tweets they see.  If taking on a major brand, a single person could provide a third or more of the daily tweets (375 of 960) for $450/month.

So you ask, “Can’t I easily block re-tweeting from my social media monitoring?”  Of course you can.  However, Twitterbacklinks.com also provides the following option,  “Alternatively you can just give us the message you want promoted and we will create the original Tweet for you.”

You might say, “Well, it would be monitored so all those identical tweets would be discounted.”  True.  But a person could include different messages to make the process more difficult.  Plus, the tracking data would get really unreliable.

If you had a devious mind and a little cash or if you were an unscrupulous competitor, what could you do?  A little subterfuge would go a long way to create chaos among the brand team or to alter marketing and branding decisions.  At minimum, such an attack would undermine the trustworthiness of the system.  Its the very definition of guerilla warfare.  Its simple.  Its inexpensive.  Its effective.

How long would it take a few guerrilla attacks on brands to undermine the credibility of our industry?

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