Keep in mind the ‘human factor’ when considering qualitative market research

It’s 2014 and there’s something happening with qualitative as a research methodology that concerns me.

Seems as we’re getting more wired, faster, more efficient, and more real-time, we’re losing some of the ‘elemental goodness’ that is qualitative market research. I think we’re losing, or lessening the value, of the human factor [and from all angles]. That is, the depth in consumer emotional understanding, nuggets gleaned from group speak and in-group dynamics, and the value in skill of trained moderators. These defining and important elements of qualitative market research are going out the window for faster, less costly, real-time, and number-oriented qualitative solutions.

If you’re considering qualitative market research, keep in mind ‘the human factor’. If the qual solution you’re considering is any of the following, it is truly not qualitative in nature:  solely based online, ‘fast’, mixes number of “participant completes” within estimated costing, is wham-bam in method and promises real-time insight, fails to include a trained qualitative moderator, and fails to take value in the group or individual dynamic between participants.

Here is my favorite definition of qualitative market research from Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA): 

“What is Qualitative Research?”

Qualitative research is designed to reveal a target audience’s range of behavior and the perceptions that drive it with reference to specific topics or issues. It uses in-depth studies of small groups of people to guide and support the construction of hypotheses. The results of qualitative research are descriptive rather than predictive.

Qualitative research methods originated in the social and behavioral sciences: sociology, anthropology and psychology. Today, qualitative methods in the field of marketing research include in-depth interviews with individuals, group discussions (from two to ten participants is typical); diary and journal exercises; and in-context observations. Sessions may be conducted in person, by telephone, via videoconferencing and via the Internet [Alix note:  I do not agree with simply stating “and via the Internet”. Both “via videoconferencing” and “via the Internet” touch the outer part of the line regarding ‘qual method goodness’ for me. QRCA goes on to share ‘why’ below, IMO.]

Why Qualitative Research Works

Several unique aspects of qualitative research contribute to rich, insightful results:

  • Synergy among respondents, as they build on each other’s comments and ideas.
  • The dynamic nature of the interview or group discussion process, which engages respondents more actively than is possible in more structured survey.
  • The opportunity to probe (“Help me understand why you feel that way”) enabling the researcher to reach beyond initial responses and rationales.
  • The opportunity to observe, record and interpret non-verbal communication (i.e., body language, voice intonation) as part of a respondent’s feedback, which is valuable during interviews or discussions, and during analysis.
  • The opportunity to engage respondents in “play” such as projective techniques and exercises, overcoming the self-consciousness that can inhibit spontaneous reactions and comments.

Source:  Qualitative Research Consultants Association via