The Changing Landscape of Online Qualitative Research
Editor’s note: I’ve been an admirer of Itracks for quite some time and have been lucky to develop a good “virtual friendship” via Twitter with Derek Sawchuk and Jim Longo of the firm. When Derek originally posted this on the Itracks site and sent me a link, I immediately saw this as a great opportunity to share their thought leadership with a wider audience. I tend to gravitate to more “macro-level” themes in my own blogging and also am more quant focused, so a piece on how new technologies are specifically impacting qual is a welcome addition. I think you’ll really enjoy Derek’s take on the future of qualitative research, so please join me in welcoming Derek Sawchuk to the GreenBook Blog line-up of authors!
By Derek Sawchuk
We’ve Seen It Happen Before
Looking back on it now, it seems quite obvious, but if you had stood up on a podium somewhere in the mid-90s and announced that we were about to experience a flurry of call center closures, one might have pegged you as being mad! But it happened, and resulted in a new brother born to the marketing research industry – online surveys.
The qualitative industry is amidst a similar situation now, where new techniques are challenging the status quo. Although online qualitative research has been around for over 15 years, the impact on annual qualitative spending has been quite insignificant, averaging out around three percent. Until recently, qualitative research has not leveraged online technology in any significant way and has remained more or less untouched by technological advancements.
Similar to the quantitative shift experienced in the 90s, qualitative research is now making a strong play to embrace online. The infrastructure of social networking and user-generated content is firmly in place and generally accepted as an open portal to very rich and detailed information, just waiting to be analyzed. And it is not news that consumers have embraced the social and community aspect of the Internet like no one would have imagined 10 years ago. Technical advancements, driven by today’s social consumer, are changing the way we conduct qualitative research.
The Social Consumer
There has been a lot of chatter out there about the voice of the customer, even though the concept is not necessarily new. Brands have always been interested in what their customers have to say, and with the current economic state, they want to pay less for that feedback. With the advancement of platforms like Facebook, Twitter and reddit, the masses now have a place to congregate online and share their ideas with the companies that make the products and services that they use. Add a strange mix of anonymity and ego into the equation, and all of the sudden, we have an army of consumers that want to be heard. Today’s consumers spend more time online, have a wider social network and are demanding to be marketed with, rather than marketed at, thus resulting in new opportunities for engagement and research.
Online Qualitative Trends: Present and Future Cross Pollination
The integration of quantitative activities has been and continues to be one of the most popular activities for online qualitative researchers. Customized card sorts, ranking questions and polling exercises add a new dimension to online qualitative research projects. More recently, the advancement of markup exercises and online video dial testers has broadened the opportunity for analyzing multimedia online.
Using mobile devices for research, especially qualitative research, is a very exciting development. The trick is making it easy for the respondents to use, but at the same time having the software complex enough to be meaningful – a tough nut to crack.
Although there are a couple of qualitative applications available, most of them have limited functionality and cannot be integrated into a larger scale qualitative research project. The technical infrastructure is in place and the race is on for a feature rich qualitative application that makes sense for both researchers and respondents.
Mini communities offer an opportunity for clients looking for the basic functionality of an Insight Community, but on a smaller scale. Where ICs typically have 150-500 members, these smaller communities tap out at 150 members and run for a defined amount of time. Although the scale and financial barrier to entry are less – these mini communities will still serve multiple objectives – unlike a standard bulletin board focus group, which is designed to facilitate a single objective.
Social Media Research
The inclusion of social media data in qualitative reports is something that research buyers are beginning to expect. Adding an element of social media to a proposal or a report will give any qualitative researcher a clear differentiator. The good news is there are a couple of providers out there who are set up to assist marketing researchers.
Through social media researchers can use data to develop their research project or track the effectiveness of a campaign. This application has enormous potential and will soon become a standard component of most qualitative research projects.
“The infrastructure of social networking and user-generated content is firmly in place and generally accepted as an open portal to very rich and detailed information, just waiting to be analyzed.”
What’s Next – Holograms
In the next couple of years, 3-D and holographic technology will take the fiction out of science fiction. 3-D interfaces will allow us to interact with 3-D holograms of respondents in real time. Yes, that’s correct. Expect to see hologram technology change the way we currently conduct online qualitative research. Media is already moving in this direction and as holographic cameras get more sophisticated, they will begin to be integrated into mobile devices. This technology will allow researchers to interact with respondents in entirely new ways.
The landscape of online qualitative research is beginning to change and adapt to meet the needs of today’s consumers. As worldwide Internet usage continues to increase, the share of online qualitative research will increase with it. Although online will never fully replace face-to-face research, the former will continue to increase its share. The greatest challenge for online qualitative research is meeting the needs of a demanding consumer base that is leveraging new online technologies to voice their opinions.
Did I say greatest challenge? I meant greatest opportunity.
Originally published on the Itracks website.
RESOURCE: New Qualitative Research Methods & Tools
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