Online Qual vs. Face-to-Face: Why it is Time for Market Researchers to Go Online.
There’s a steady rise in social media. A spread of high-speed internet. And, almost everyone uses some form of digital communication. But in spite of all that, a study has shown that only 6% of all qualitative research was conducted online last year.
The use of social media is pervasive. There’s an almost universal penetration of high-speed internet. And almost all consumers have access to some form of digital communication. But in spite of all that, studies still show that only a small percentage of qualitative research projects are conducted online.
I don’t get it.
I’ve been doing qualitative research for almost 25 years. I’ve spent much of my professional life on planes. I’ve moderated what seems like a million focus groups in a thousand different cities. I’ve shadowed consumers in stores, hung out with them at work, and followed them around their homes, camera guy and clients in tow. Don’t get me wrong. Face-to-face fieldwork can be very interesting, even exhilarating.
But having used digital insights technology for several years now, my colleagues and I at RealityCheck are firm believers that the new generation of online qual offers some great advantages. Online qualitative technology improves our reach and increases the amount of real-time data we can collect. It allows us to get to the shopping, brand usage and decision-making moments we want to understand without the disruption of a hovering research team. And it is a more efficient way to reach respondents without traveling from market to market, to focus group facilities or into people’s homes. Online qualitative technology now allows us to do quality market research from our homes or offices.
So why are so many qualitative studies still being done face-to-face?
I have a few hypotheses.
Fear of the unknown
Many folks who commission qualitative research studies simply have no idea what can be accomplished online these days. Before you assume you can’t achieve your qual research objectives online, talk to someone with expertise in digital qual and ask them how they’d approach your project. You might be surprised what can be done.
Some of you may have tried what you think is online qual. What I mean is, you’ve done a bulletin board. Your project probably delivered bored respondents and superficial insights. No offense, but a bulletin board ain’t online qual. It’s, well, a bulletin board.
Technology now allows us to execute just about any projective technique online and most work better online than in face-to-face settings. Guided imagery, collage building, journeying and storytelling are staples of qualitative research and work great in digital environments. Add to that the creative things you can do with photo and video uploads, and live streaming, and there’s little that can beat online qual for depth.
Yes, face-to-face qual is still valuable. We do it every day. But, if you’re sticking with face-to-face only because you don’t know much about online qualitative or because you tried a bulletin board once and were less than enamored, it’s time to take a closer look at what’s happening in the digital space of consumer research. I bet you’ll be surprised.
Or maybe you just like traveling.