Welcome to your updated guide to online qualitative research
We have learned so much over the course of the year as online qual has shifted from the exception to the norm. We have explored new ways to use old favourites like Zoom, and experimented with platforms tailor-made for research.
We’re happy to share some useful tips in the guide below. We hope you find it useful!
One of the things I love about qualitative research is the inspiration that comes from encounters with people I would otherwise never have met. Like most researchers, I REALLY miss that.
But after almost a year I’ve got used to making those connections happen online, and it has opened up new opportunities and benefits.
A key change is the opportunity for online ethnography, which is giving us valuable insights into the ways people are adapting to lockdown life.
A definition of ethnography is:
“descriptive study of a particular human society or the process of making such a study. Contemporary ethnography is based almost entirely on fieldwork and requires the complete immersion of the anthropologist in the culture and everyday life of the people who are the subject of his study.”
When it comes to market research, ethnographic projects, or consumer ethnography, have tended to be on a smaller scale than academic anthropology.
They involve practical observation of everyday life – researchers spending time with individuals or families, in their own environment, to understand their lived experience, and how they interact with a category or brand. Their value lies in the fact that we can observe the way consumers behave, rather than relying on people to remember and explain their behaviour.
But they are time-consuming, labour-intensive, and have tended to be expensive.
An exciting development is that technology is allowing us to conduct consumer ethnography in new ways. Instead of physically visiting, and being a presence in the home, we are able to conduct less intrusive remote observation of consumer behaviour in their own environment, and (when regulations allow!) out and about
Participants simply use their mobile phone in a guided way to share their lives with us, allowing us to uncover brand touchpoints and to capture immediate real-life behaviour in a more effective and less costly way. And this can take place over a longer period of time than we could realistically hope to spend with them in their home.
Mobile ethnography enables us to understand:
When and where consumers encounter our brand and how it fits into their lives
How they navigate our category
The needs that are met by products and brands
The pain points and frustrations that could inspire product development or line extensions
It allows us to understand how people really behave, rather than what they say they do, and by doing so uncover hidden needs and opportunities and identify potential for innovation.
If you would like to chat about how mobile ethnography can help you, please get in touch using the button in the bottom right hand corner of this page, or email email@example.com
We have had to accommodate new ways of living and working over recent months.
Qualitative research has needed to adapt to social distancing – and it has accelerated changes that were already on the way
The way we conduct market research has changed in so many ways since I started out towards the end of the last century!!
I’ve been around long enough to remember when interviewers knocked on doors and people were comfortable letting them in. Data was entered using punch cards. We had reams of continuous perforated paper printouts to wade through and make sense of. And we visited clients with armfuls of transparencies, which we hoped wouldn’t slide off the table and end up in the wrong order.
Research methods and logistics have changed significantly over the intervening years. Thank Goodness!
But never so completely, and in such a short period, as they have during lockdown. And there may be no going back.
This feels particularly true for qualitative research. We have long recognised the benefits of online focus groups and communities, but concerns that it was not quite the same as ‘proper’ face to face qualitative research meant that barriers remained.
The pandemic has changed all that.
Home has become the place where EVERYTHING happens. Our respondents are increasingly comfortable with all of the technologies that have made it possible to work efficiently from home – so why not make home the place where we share our attitudes, preferences and feelings?
Although there have been practical constraints on certain types of research (technology has not yet found a way to allow respondents to touch, feel or taste), qualitative research has made a wholesale move online. And on the whole it has been brilliant!
Online qualitative research offers new opportunities and has many benefits
While the virus is still with us, online research does not put anyone at risk, and has turned out to be a very effective alternative – and it’s not going away any time soon
Platform providers are making life even easier for us, by improving security, offering automatised transcripts, video straight to the hard drive, pre-built templates and drag and drop interfaces – which means we can reach your potential customers, and share findings with you, more quickly
And technology is allowing us to conduct all sorts of research in new ways:
Ethnography. We are able to conduct remote observation of consumers in their homes – which gives us an insight into the way people live their lives. By experiencing their everyday behaviour we can understand how they interact with your category, how they use your brand, how you might make their lives easier.
Online focus groups. Efficient broadband and platforms such as Zoom allow us to conduct focus groups with respondents in their own environment. This has a particular role to play when we need to hear from dispersed communities. We ensure that online groups are as valuable as face to face by having ‘rules of engagement’ and keeping respondent numbers a little lower (ideally no more than 4-5 in a group). In this way we can continue to provide rich insights into consumers’ minds and their decision-making.
Online communities. These take place over a longer time period and can take the form of a diary. Consumers commit to contributing each day, either at home or when out and about, and answer a series of questions, which might involve uploading photos or video. This approach is particularly valuable to uncover brand touchpoints and to capture immediate real-life responses
We have enjoyed finding creative new ways to conduct research. And we especially love discussing with clients how they can meet changing needs and consumption patterns brought about by the pandemic!
Get in touch to learn about how online research can get the most out of your research budget and help you to make truly informed business decisions.
The pandemic has brought with it significant changes to the way we live our lives.
Businesses need to take care, and sensitivity is needed, to avoid any suggestion of exploiting what has been a very difficult time for many families. But at the same time, brands need to make sure they are aware of changing attitudes and new priorities and needs.
They need to communicate with their customers recognising where they are now, what they are going through, and the challenges that face them.
The changing role of ‘home’
A key change which seems likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future is the shift to a new meaning of ‘home’. Instead of being a place of refuge, escape and relaxation, home has become the place where EVERYTHING happens.
This has brought benefits and even joys. Workers saving on commuting time, families eating together more, and parents spending more time with their children (and not just when they walk in on an important Zoom call!).
But it has also brought challenges. It can be more difficult to navigate work/life balance, to find time alone, and sharing space, equipment and wifi can cause problems.
A YouGov study published this week showed that there is an appetite for continuing to work from home at least some of the time, and trains are still running at 15% of normal capacity – so it looks likely that the new ways of living, and shifted meaning of home will continue for some time yet.
The potential for brands to play a role
The way consumers deal with these changes, and the way they interact with your category, and are helped to navigate the changes by your brand, could influence their loyalty for years to come.
It is important to understand the challenges your consumers are facing – and their unmet needs. How can your brand support people in the shift from home as a place of escape, to home as workplace, entertainment space, educational institution and even gym?
At a time when trust in institutions is being eroded, people increasingly look to brands for dependability and support. Brands need to remain relevant in this new world – and a key step is to understand the role they play now, and could play in the future.
To achieve this, it is important to meet people where they are, and to gain as rich an understanding of their lives as possible. Online ethnography (remote observation and understanding of the way people are adapting to their new ways of living) can help you understand your customers’ new world, and through that understanding find creative ways to meet their changing needs and consumption patterns.
Get in touch via the website, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, to learn about how online ethnographic research can get the most out of your research budget, and help you to make truly informed business decisions.
Qualitative research is most useful when it gets beyond what people think to what they truly feel, and uncovers the motivations and desires which guide our actions.
As qualitative researchers, we were amongst the first to introduce ‘gamification’ into our work. And we have long used play as a way to gain deeper understanding of the instinctive ways consumers make decisions. That way we improve research outputs, and avoid being misled by the ways consumers may post-rationalise complex decisions.
Understanding consumer motivations
There are a number of levels that we aim to reach in order truly to understand consumers’ motivations, and how best to meet their needs.
Projective and enabling techniques
The techniques that we use to get beyond the top levels of awareness add value to the process in two ways. They enhance the research experience for participants, and they bring greater richness and ‘truthfulness’ to the data for us.
Their use helps us to vary the pace, and to maintain interest throughout a session.
At their simplest level they are one of the tools we can use to bring out the views of quieter respondents, who may lack the confidence to participate fully in the discussion, but have a valuable contribution to make.
But they go beyond this. “Projective techniques provide verbal or visual stimuli which, through their indirection and concealed intent, encourage respondents to reveal their unconscious feelings and attitudes without being aware that they are doing so” (Dichter, 1960).
Encouraging honesty from consumers
Projective and enablign techniques help respondents to express themselves:
They encourage truthfulness. By disassociating themselves from the point they are making, and projecting their thoughts and behaviours onto others, respondents have permission to say the unsayable
They challenge participants to introspect in new ways eg by defending an opposing point of view
And they enable us to elicit unconscious feelings and motivations which may not otherwise be articulated
Allowing time to include projective approaches suited to your objectives can really add value to a project.
More hints and tips…
If you found this interesting, stay tuned! (Or better still – sign up to receive our posts by email!)
A future post will outline examples of techniques that have been particularly beneficial, and how and when to use them
I’ve been at this lark since the last century, and it seems to me that the length of time we expect participants to commit to a focus group, and to make a useful contribution, has gradually been creeping up over the years.
How long is a piece of string?
When I started out in research, a group discussion (as we referred to them before we bowed to the inevitable and accepted the US term focus groups) usually lasted 1½ hours. Nowadays I would only ever recommend 1½ hours if I have a client with a tight budget and I am trying to keep respondent incentive costs as low as possible without deterring potential participants.
Two hours seems to have become the standard (or even the minimum), and to be honest, by the time the stragglers have arrived (those who couldn’t find the building, or got stuck in rush hour traffic) several minutes have probably been lost, so we’re already down to about 1 hr 50 if we’re lucky.
Many of my clients are based in mainland Europe. It is unusual for them to consider groups of a shorter duration than 2.5 hours, and they often go for as long as 3 hours. This can work if there is plenty of stimulus to show, and interesting things for respondents to do. But towards the end of a 3 hour group that may have started at 7pm, the energy level in the room can start to drop, and responses simply become less useful – so it is important to include plenty of changes of pace and activity.
How should you calculate the time you need?
When deciding how long a group should run, it is important to take a number of issues into consideration
Sample – Assuming respondents are adults, without disabilities, up to 3 hours is probably feasible (though not always advisable, for the reasons mentioned above)
Number of respondents – Groups are generally amongst 6-8 respondents, so 1½ to 2 hours gives everyone an opportunity to share their point of view. ‘Mini-groups’ eg 4-6 respondents can be completed in a slightly shorter time without limiting individuals’ opportunity to have their say
Subject matter – It is possible to run a group which is both lengthy and lively. Young men, can be so engrossed in talking about computer games that they are still going strong after 3 hours. But there is a limit to the length of time that most of us can sustain our concentration in a discussion of credit card statement layouts, or supermarket price labelling – so it is important to keep it interesting. Projective techniques can help with this, and are a topic for another blog which is coming soon. And if you do have a longer group – avoid leaving the most important part of the discussion to the end if at all possible
Research objectives – By this I don’t simply mean the amount of ‘stuff’ to be covered (though this certainly influences the amount of time needed), I also mean the type of information needed. The more exploratory the research, the more time is needed to uncover relevant and new insights sensitively and with the richness that supports clients to make the right decisions
Stimulus – A key element is the ‘stimulus’ to which participants are exposed. This can range from rough concepts, through draft marketing communications, to finished products, and can keep a group interested and involved. However, people need to be given time to evaluate what they are shown, and this needs to be allowed for in the group.
Budget – There is a sudden hike in cost when group length goes from 2 hours to 2½ hours. The simple reason for this is that it is not possible to run two longer groups in the same evening, so one of them has to be held during the day. This increases venue costs substantially, and also requires a higher respondent incentive.
The real worth of qualitative research lies in its depth of understanding, and richness of insight. And in the end, this can perhaps be better achieved not by increasing the length of the group, but by limiting or prioritising the amount covered. That way we ensure that we provide a depth of understanding that will support our clients in their business decisions.
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