online qualitative research

‘Research Industry Not Changing Fast Enough for Business’

Jeffrey Henning of Affinova got the chance recently to hear Stan Sthanunathan, vice president of marketing strategies and insights for Coca-Cola, speak about the iconic company’s struggle to maintain its brand power. While Coca-Cola is still the No.1 most recognizable brand in the world, Google and other newer brands are coming uncomfortably close. “Change or perish is the new mantra,” Sthanunathan explained at the 25th anniversary celebration of the founding of The Coca-Cola Center for Marketing Studies. But there’s a problem: The industry that companies like Coca-Cola rely so heavily on to help them navigate rapid change is stuck in slow motion.

According to Sthanunathan, the research industry is not changing fast enough. Too much money is spent on “rear view research” and not enough of it is going toward helping companies “shape the change.”

He says the research industry needs to change its mindset (Research departments “must shift from quantifying the expected to listening for the unexpected”) and be open to innovation (“Researchers need techniques that observe, listen, synthesize and deduce in ways we haven’t in the past.”). But that’s not all, according to Henning, who adds to the list of must-dos for the research industry. At the top of his list is to embrace technology quickly.

Another of our favorites: Focus on business outcomes. He quotes Sthanunathan again: “Never assume that your job is over when you deliver the report. That’s when you work actually begins.” In other words, “Think relationships not transactions.”

Warning: Quirk’s Cover Story Not About Online Qualitative Research

I got excited glancing at the cover story in the latest issue of Quirk’s. The theme of the issue is international research and I just knew the cover story—a case study about how Platinum Guild International used qualitative research to help launch a new website—was going to read like a success story in using online qualitative research tools to reach geographically dispersed respondents quickly, easily and without spending too much on travel.

But I was wrong. In fact, the study was all in-person. QRi Consulting, the London-based research firm they worked with, conducted 32 in-person interviews in the United States, Japan and China—three of the guild’s biggest markets.

Now, despite our obvious affinity for online qualitative research, we’ll concede that it’s not always the best choice for every qualitative research project. Yes, there are some cases when in-person makes more sense. But, after reading the article, I’m torn on whether I agree with their reasoning for doing the interviews in-person.

“The subject matter is deeply personal,” Simon Patterson, CEO of QRi Consulting, told Quirk’s. “Jewelry, especially bridal jewelry, is something precious. It’s intimate and emotional. We didn’t want to try to capture such a significant experience online, when being there in person could maintain the humanity behind the whole experience.” Patterson also notes that being there in person helped overcome the obstacles inherent in multinational research—namely cultural differences. That’s why he sat in on each interview. (Hello, frequent flier miles!)

As an aside, that may not have been the best idea either: At the ESOMAR conference in Vienna last week, researchers from India presented on the extreme bias that can occur in some cultures when the moderator simply shows up. Those cultures attached a high status to those moderators. Therefore, they do not behave normally and, often, even answer to please the moderator. Caution should be taken when anyone, particularly a westerner, shows up to do research.

But let’s get back to the issue of online vs. in-person. The article explains: “The in-person interviews created an opportunity to clearly observe how respondents navigated the site. Patterson could see their posture, body language and facial expressions. This up-close experience allowed for observations of personal and cultural attitudes and behaviors and it also allowed for conversation and probing to dig deeper into the respondents’ thoughts as they navigated the site.”

Do you see why I’m torn? There’s nothing in that description that today’s online research software couldn’t overcome.

Here’s the real reason I think they did in-person interviews: “The Platinum Guild and QRi Consulting agreed from the beginning that doing the interviews in a face-to-face environment was very important for the study,” explains the article. The client wanted it done that way, and sometimes that’s reason enough.

What are your thoughts? If you were the researcher on this project, what would you have proposed?

ESOMAR Qual Conference Take-Away: How Cultural Difference Impact Research Results

The annual ESOMAR Qual Conference drew to a close on Wednesday. As with most qualitative conferences, it was full of great content. More importantly, it was great to re-connect with many friends and colleagues from 40 countries around the world.

My biggest take-away from this conference was the impact of culture on attitudes and behavior.  The culture to which a person belongs has tremendous impact on the choices a person makes and the attitudes a person has toward a product or service. It’s obvious that a culture valuing individualism will view a radical fashion style very differently than a culture that values fitting in with the group. What is less obvious but equally important is what impact the cultural bias of a person’s home, family, neighborhood or area has on their perceptions and behaviors. Several presentations focused on cultural influences and the importance of studying and understanding them.

As qualitative researchers, we often assume that people are mono-cultural. Therefore, we ask their opinion or even watch their behavior, but rarely take cultural influences into account. Failing to take cultural influences into account ignores one of the major influences and leaves our analysis incomplete and possibly even misleading.

As researchers we need to embrace holistic methods that provide a 360 degree view of the consumer and his/her cultural influences if we are to provide an accurate and complete understanding of behavior and potential behavior.

Download Our New eBook on Hybrid Research

There was a time not long ago when qualitative research meant focus groups or phone surveys…and that was about the extent of it. But that’s no longer the case. Today’s researchers have myriad tools and
techniques at their disposal, from the same tried and true face-to-face techniques to multiple options in online and mobile. These tools can be used alone to gain deep insights—or they can be combined to achieve even richer results. Just as the best houses are not built with just a hammer, the best research projects are often not designed with a single research tool.

But how do you combine methodologies AND stay on budget, not to mention schedule? That’s usually the question we hear from researchers. They understand the value of mixing methodologies, but when it comes to execution, they come up short.

If this sounds like you, check out the latest eBook from 20|20 Research. The eBook, Mixed Methodologies 101: How to combine research methods to achieve deeper insights, outlines the process—soup to nuts—for three popular hybrid research designs:

1. Quantitative to Qualitative:
2. Online Qualitative Research to Online Qualitative Research
3. Online Qualitative Research to In-Person

We also help dispel the most common myths about hybrid research design. (Like why hybrid research isn’t necessarily more expensive or time-consuming than using just a single methodology.)

The bottom line: Today’s researchers are responsible for designing projects that produce insights. More and more, hybrid designs produce results that were difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in the past.

Download the eBook, Mixed Methodologies 101: How to combine research methods to achieve deeper insights.

Surprise! Technology Considered Driver of Change in Market Research Industry

To celebrate its 25-year anniversary, Quirk’s posed a series of questions about how far market research has come—and where it’s headed— to a handful of industry veterans. The answers are published in the current issue. The consensus? Technology, technology, technology—and did we mention technology?

The experts agreed that technology has had the greatest influence (some negative, but mostly positive) on the industry, citing things like the Internet (hard to believe we ever lived without it, right?) and mobile phones.

But just as research companies are getting used to using the PC to conduct online qualitative research projects, participants are starting to prefer tools like smartphones and tablets. As Jay Mace of
Charleston, W.Va,-based McMillion Research puts it, “We must be prepared for the change or we will lose touch with the staple of our existence as researchers – the consumer opinion. We must meet consumers where they are.”

But that doesn’t mean embracing technology and all of the new tools available in the qualitative researcher’s toolbox just for the sake of using them. As Ron Sellers of Phoenix-based Grey Matter Research and Consulting explains, “We have so many more creative options for qualitative – video diaries, online picture sorts, mobile MR, etc. The challenge, as with any new tools, is learning to use them in a way that actually makes a difference, rather than just using them ‘cause they’re cool.’”

If you have the time, you should definitely read the whole article, which also covers the topic of “Where did we blow it?”

Finally, congratulations to Quirk’s on 25 years. We’re impressed…maybe because we turned 25 this year, too!

How to Optimize Online Concept Testing

We love it when we hear good things about one of our online qualitative research tools. The latest comes from Chris Efken, a qualitative research specialist at Chicago-based Doyle Research Associates. She recently put QualLaborate 2.0, our new image markup and concept evaluation tool designed specifically for qualitative research, to the test. Chris was in the middle of planning out a pair of concept testing projects with her client, a major food manufacturer, when QualLaborate launched. It was perfect timing.

So how did QualLaborate perform? You’ll have to read the full case study, “QualLaborate Adds Insight, Speed to Concept Evaluation,” for all the details, but here’s the bottom line from Chris: “QualLaborate takes concept testing to the next level.”

Participants seemed to enjoy using the tool, and both Efken and her client were impressed with how quickly QualLaborate helped them narrow down the concepts.

“Before QualLaborate, you really had to read through the transcripts to get to the bottom of it,” which can be a time-consuming process, she says. “With QualLaborate, all you have to do is look at the heat maps to see what’s working and what isn’t. It’s a really great visual tool in that it makes it that much easier to see what pops. You could literally see the energy behind the concepts.”

Mobile Qualitative Research Growth Strong, Say GreenBook Survey Respondents

The results of of the latest GreenBook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) survey are out, and the news is good for mobile qualitative research. Ten percent of respondents — including both research buyers and providers — reported using mobile qualitative research techniques this year, while another 10 percent used mobile ethnographies.

Perhaps more impressive, respondents say these areas will more than double in growth in 2012:

• Twenty-two percent of research buyers or clients say they’ll use mobile qualitative next year, while 28 percent of research providers expect to use it.

• Twenty percent of research buyers or clients say they’ll use mobile ethnographies in 2012, while 24 percent of research providers expect to use it.

Note that client-side researchers are leading with utilizing these techniques. “This indicates that possibly buyers will be centering their relationships around vendors who can offer these methods, and it is likely that in many cases that means they will be working with non-traditional suppliers, many of which may not even consider themselves within the market research space,” suggests report author Leonard Murphy. “This is certainly in line with current thinking of many industry leaders about the emergence of new competitive forces that are encroaching upon the traditional ‘insights’ field.”

Need a primer on mobile qualitative research? Check out our free eBook, The Essential Guide to Mobile Qualitative Research: Tips & techniques for using mobile devices for on-the-go qualitative research.

Let’s Rise Beyond the Term “Moderator”

What is the fate of the independent “moderator?” I have been involved in some interesting discussions here at the QRCA Annual Conference in Las Vegas related to the health of the industry.

The prevailing view among many whom I respect is that the old days of the “focus group moderator” are quickly waning. These qualitative professionals must become qualitative research consultants (QRCs) to survive. Researchers who made quite a nice income by managing the focus group research process will find their services in diminishing demand and the pay for those services being cut drastically.

There are several trends driving this reality:

  • Technology is making the qualitative process simple and accessible to research buyers. Therefore, the premium placed on “process researchers” is quickly diminishing.
  • Technology and internet access is making some research obsolete. Some routine research projects are being abandoned to the rising MR communities, social media mining or other methods of gathering qualitative data.
  • Research budgets have tightened, forcing corporate researchers to look at new, faster and cheaper methods for even historically tried-and-true research.


The qualitative researcher must be a consultant, not a processor of focus groups. They will be hired for the value they bring to the client, not their knowledge of the focus group process. Such value will be measured in terms of:

  • Knowledge of and application of the correct qualitative methodology (online, in-person, mobile, etc) to the marketing problem.
  • Understanding of the marketing problem and how research applies to that.
  • Understanding of the research buyer’s strategy, category and business problem.
  • Insights gained from the qualitative research that adds to the buyer’s knowledge base and helps make a more informed decision.
  • Informed, applicable, actionable recommendations arising from the research.

Qualitative researchers who can deliver on this value do themselves a disservice by using the term “moderator” to describe their services. It’s time to have the Qualitative Research Consultant (QRC) front and center.

What Quant Can Teach Qual – And Vice Versa

Over at CVent, Greg Timpany wonders why there is such a divide between quantitative and qualitative research. Sure, each takes an entirely different skill set to do well, but when you think about the end result (in his example, spot-on customer insights), it does seem a little strange that most researchers are either one or the other.

As Greg explains, “Qualitative research, be it focus groups, in-depth interviews or observation, is useful for guiding the development of more effective surveys,” explains Greg. “The depth and color of the data that qualitative provides is often the creative goo that award-winning, not to mention effective, advertising campaigns are created from. On the backside, qualitative is an efficient tool for expanding on key points raised during a survey,” he says.

Meanwhile, “quantitative research provides the backbone for measuring the topics that arise from intense qualitative sessions,” he adds. “Its ability to generalize to the broader market and test for significant differences makes it useful for informing strategic marketing decisions. As we know with online survey platforms we can probe to a limited degree by asking participants follow up questions based upon their response to trigger questions. Yet, this is limited compared to what can be done with follow-up in-depth interviews or focus groups.”

Maybe it is because the skill set is so different, but as clients demand more from your research and as hybrid studies become easier to do thanks to online qualitative research tools, it’s probably a good idea to have both in your toolbox.

Do you have both quant and qual capabilities? If not, what do you do when a project needs both? We’d love to hear how you’re tackling this in your business — please add your thoughts in the comments below.

How Important Are the RIGHT Respondent Incentives?

Sales people get incentives based on sales, and NFL running backs get incentives based on yards gained. One of the difficulties with incentives is to be sure that they encourage the right behavior.

What do incentives get respondents to do? Usually, simply to show up. It’s the moderator’s job to draw them out. This humorous video from SNL takes a look at what can happen if respondent incentives are mis-applied. If you are a qualitative researcher, be sure and close the door to your office. You will recognize these respondents and you will laugh out loud.

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