The Power of Qualitative Research in Today’s Digital Landscape


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2020 has been a tumultuous year for most industries, including the qualitative research industry. Many brands and agencies that previously relied on in-person focus groups and interviews for qualitative research are moving their work online, accelerating industry innovation.

Areas like attendee recruitment, insight communities, emotional intelligence (AI and ML), UX testing, and more are undergoing tremendous innovation. The rise of digital technologies has opened up new possibilities, an explosion of techniques and possibilities that help us better understand the human experience.

In addition to gaining deeper human insights, technology has paved the way for increased speed and efficiency in data collection and analysis. Today, it is safe to assume that digital technologies have become crucial to markets and society, making digital transformation a key area of ​​business innovation.

Despite the bounty it brings, digital transformation is complex, and organizations will struggle to adequately capture and capitalize on its opportunities unless they fully understand its impact on qualitative research. Let’s navigate through significant shifts in the qualitative research landscape while discussing how brands (yes, you are) can benefit from the digital transformation of qualitative research.

Related topics: The impact of technology on market research

Gather higher-quality insights: Narrow the say-and-do gap

Finding answers to questions has always been a complex art. Respondents may forget something, feel obligated to respond appropriately, or hesitate or be reluctant to open up.

There is usually a gap between what respondents say and what they do. To win today in the qualitative research game, one must narrow the results say/do gap and capturing natural behavior.

Has the expansion of online qualitative research methods improved the ability to understand natural behavior? Yes – including emotional intelligence.

It’s not enough to get feedback; The key is to combine it with behavioral insights. Emotional intelligence includes AI technologies like speech analysis, eye tracking, and face coding to help you gain insight into your customers’ minds.

Have your customers said they are happy with the product? You can confirm this information by analyzing their voices or facial expressions. Would you like to test the consumer journey on your website? Use eye tracking to understand how your customers navigate your website.

You can use behavioral techniques for ad testing, concept testing, content testing, prototype testing, and more to gain accurate, evidence-based insights and make actionable changes. Another cutting-edge technology is natural language processing (NLP), which provides tools for enhancing and analyzing linguistic and statistical data.

Get the best of both worlds: conducting mixed-methods research

Mixed methods research uses multiple data collection methods (ie combining quantitative and qualitative research) to arrive at a unified viewpoint. It’s important for the understanding you want to gain—the what (quantitative insights) and the why (qualitative insights)—and can help you achieve actual results.

Suppose a company wants to identify problems with its new prototype. In this case, a quantitative study can be conducted followed by a qualitative study to validate the quantitative results and thus gain a fuller understanding of respondents’ opinions and feedback. Or if the company wants to understand the buying behavior of both in-house and online shoppers, it can conduct a quantitative study for online shoppers and a qualitative study for in-house shoppers.

By combining both forms of research, brands can benefit from both the specific, measurable insights of qualitative data and the nuanced, unique insights of quantitative data.

Related Topics: Why both quantitative and qualitative data are critical for results-driven organizations

Simplify qualitative research logistically: Leverage internal DIY research

Digital technologies have made research accessible to all by lowering the barriers to entry. This means more research and insight teams are conducting in-house studies, including people in other roles — like marketers, designers, product managers, and UX teams — conducting DIY research when needed.

A ESOMAR study (which surveyed 802 users and buyers of insights and research from 61 countries) suggests that nearly 50% of research is done in-house with DIY tools. DIY research platforms allow brands to define the scope of the project, find the right respondents, create surveys and conduct interviews faster, easier and cheaper.

While pure DIY platforms are available in the market today, brands can also choose a hybrid model (e.g. a vendor offering support with data reporting and analysis) depending on their research goals.

Differentiate yourself in a competitive market: Introducing research agility

Digital technologies make it easier than ever to design research processes agile. Studies that used to take months can now be completed in days. Additionally, the use of market research tools can help brands conduct research at a much lower cost without sacrificing the quality of the insights (in fact, they help generate higher quality insights than traditional qualitative data collection methods).

Even a leading brand like Cisco switched their waterfall-based Subscription Billing Method (SBP) to the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), reducing their errors by 40% and improving their debugging efficiency by 14%. Agile research is essential for brands to build foresight, react quickly to market changes and beat the competition.

While digital transformation is no substitute for human intelligence, it is paving the way for smarter and more effective research. The qualitative research industry has seen and will continue to see breakthrough innovations that enable brands to seamlessly capture best-in-class customer insights. Using market research technologies to better understand your customers and develop practical innovations is crucial, especially in an uncertain economic environment.

Related: 7 digital transformation trends to watch

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