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Reports of the Death of Qualitative Research Have Been Greatly Exaggerated


Recent industry blog posts lament that research has become a commodity and qualitative is on its last gasp. I agree that some research practices are being commoditized by online, mobile and big-data research approaches. But I actually believe that these tools will create strong growth in qualitative research in the next 5 years.

In fact, the latest Greenbook GRIT report showed an uptick in the use of qualitative techniques, including focus groups, in-person interviews and qualitative online communities. And I think I know why.

Let’s start with an analogy. Pretend for a minute that you are a typical American who’s never traveled outside the US because it is just too expensive. One day, a friend posts on Facebook about her vacation to Australia. You want to learn more, so you pull up some YouTube videos and tourism websites. Now you have lots of images of and data on Australia. Does that mean you’re satisfied and no longer need to travel there? I didn’t think so.

A similar thing is happening with in-depth research. While you can commoditize a survey, or automate text analysis, they just don’t provide a meaningful experience on their own. You still want to understand the “why.” The only real way to understand the inevitable disconnect between consumer attitudes and behavior is by exploring the context, looking at questions that can only be answered via qualitative.

Of course, qualitative doesn’t have to mean in-person. Digital qualitative research offers us more ways to see other people’s lives up-close without the travel. Tools like Digsite let you capture photos and video real time on any device, and gain more context than ever before. While in-depth digital research can yield better context than in-person work, there are some questions where you just can’t get enough richness through digital recordings. That’s the beauty of multimodal methods.

Let’s go back to our analogy and take it one step further. Let’s say you can get half-price airline tickets to Australia. Pretty appealing, right? Turns out you can also get a great deal using multimodal research methods. In other words, use digital techniques where they work best, and supplement with in-person. Multimodal approaches can reduce the cost of research by 50% or more, increasing demand and providing more value for the money.

At the latest Qual360 North America event in Atlanta, Anjali Lai of Forrester Research talked about how multimodal approaches – including qualitative methods – produce well-rounded insights and comprehensive solutions. She’s not alone in this perspective, as we’ve seen. So the next time you see or hear that qualitative research is dead, just smile and remember that the data tell a whole different story.

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Topics: Strategic Best Practices, Online Communities, Moderating Online Qualitative

Monika Rogers

Monika Rogers

Monika Rogers is the CEO and Co-founder of Digsite. She has more than 20 years of marketing, innovation and market research experience, including positions at General Mills, Pillsbury and the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.