More than a feeling: Why qualitative research is gaining ground
We marvel at metrics and bask in the idea of big data.
In a data-driven world, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer power of large numbers – and the transformative change analyzing this data can bring.
Yet clearly there’s more to insight than analytics and measurement, so let’s take a peek past the number crunching for a moment.
Digging into the context behind the numbers to understand the full picture is crucial too.
Human-centered listening, empathizing, understanding… Qualitative research can bring quantitative data points to life, tapping into human insight on which you can base real decisions. That’s human experience.
While quantitative research methods focus on numbers, charts, and stats, qualitative seeks to glean people’s words and stories to find opinions, emotions and attitudes.
In the modern business landscape, we hear a lot about human-centric organizations. But the fact is that it’s only by seeking empathy, understanding context, and listening to people’s real stories that companies can claim to be truly human-centric.
Whether that’s via focus groups, one-to-one interviews or observations, qualitative research has blossomed into a powerful force that makes it possible to develop an ocean-deep understanding of customers and users.
And in a competitive landscape, this makes it a crucial part of product development and business planning.
Research shows that in the two years between 2019 and 2021 qualitative research grew nearly 50% faster than other types of research.
Sure, it still accounts for only one in every seven dollars spent in the global insight and analytics market, but that’s bound to change. There’s a huge amount of innovation in the space, and some highly innovative tool-building in progress
So what’s shaping the demand for qualitative research? Let’s dive in.
Drowning in data
Yes, data gives businesses insights into how consumers behave. It helps predict trends and spot opportunities, and it’s an essential part of the toolkit for businesses to grow and prosper.
But there’s no doubt it can be just a bit too much.
According to one recent survey, 67% of CMOs said that the volume of data available to them had become increasingly overwhelming.
Data sources have grown exponentially, doubling in the last three years. And many marketing teams are overloaded with data and metrics.
Enter qualitative research. The tangible and understandable human insights it can provide act as a relief – and a soothing balm – to ‘big data’.
Fake metrics are becoming a problem
Remember when we automatically trusted data and metrics? Those days are sadly behind us.
Now, the entire digital ecosystem is increasingly battling fraudulent numbers.
From fake clicks on digital ads (up to 88% of all digital ad clicks, apparently) and made up Amazon.com reviews (it’s thought this could be up to 42%)… the fact that digital ad fraud may be worth $150 billion by 2025 is not much to celebrate (unless you’re an actual fraudster too).
And we haven’t even touched on survey data yet.
The shocking truth is that up to 30-50% of survey responses might be bogus (we’re waving at you, bots, clicks farms, inattentive respondents – or just active fraudsters).
These kinds of quantitative data sources are used to gain insights into brands, consumer preferences or how users behave online.
But is it even possible to make decisions based on insight, if the data you’re using is not real?
What large data sets might lack; insights based on qualitative research can add instead.
Whether from remote or in-person interviews, focus groups, communities or mobile ethnography… getting real, trusted human depth can mean far more than numbers.
Stories cut through
One fundamental part of being human? It’s telling stories.
Savvy businesses have flocked to storytelling as a way of bringing data to life – as well as forming emotional connections with their target audiences.
Neuroscience tells us that stories can trigger emotion, encode memory and make us take action.
And the power of storytelling is grounded in qualitative human insight. Another tick in the qualitative benefits column.
Interested in learning how storytelling techniques can help you deliver on these benefits? Check out our on-demand webinar Storytelling the human experience of data.
It’s all in the experience (economy)
“From now on, leading-edge companies—whether they sell to consumers or businesses—will find that the next competitive battleground lies in staging experiences”, wrote B Joseph Pine ll and James H Gilmore in the Harvard Business Review in 1998.
And the term “Experience Economy” was born.
Nearly 25 years on, “experience management” has singled its place out as a key way for businesses to court users, clients and team members.
Hence the rise of Customer Experience (CX) management, User Experience (UX) and Employee Experience (EX) to name a few.
Understanding ‘experience’ has become a huge focus, and is increasing in priority. But that’s only possible with rich human insights.
And guess where these rich human insights come from? Take a bow, qualitative research.
It forms the basics of UX research and design. And experience tracking programs draw on ‘deep dive’ components designed to bring richer insights from survey metrics.
Empathy comes to the fore
Empathy is increasingly proving itself an important part of design, innovation and product creation.
That figures. As humans, having the magic ingredient of empathy enables us to understand and share the same feelings that others feel. And when we’re talking target users, it’s clear how digging deep into context, needs and behaviors is crucial.
It makes sense that empathy is closely linked to qualitative research. After all, isn’t this form of market research all about understanding a target market by getting under their skin?
In a nutshell, it’s proving to be the lens through which researchers need to view consumers and the worlds they inhabit.
The Covid-19 pandemic was the sudden jolt needed to pivot research to virtual-first.
The fact is, before the world shifted online at the start of the pandemic, carrying out qualitative research came with a price tag all of its own.
For decades, classic qualitative research activities like focus groups have been a way for brands to directly connect to customers and really understand how they make decisions.
But the price tag of planning, recruiting and actually carrying out these in-person gatherings was often hefty. And it was even higher if researchers needed to access geographic groups or dispersed markets.
Along came Covid-19, and the market research sector discovered that qualitative research methods could flourish remotely.
Decision makers discovered that this urgent pivot was actually OK. And to many it was a surprise that digital could produce the same level of deep insight as in-person.
Fast forward to a post-pandemic world (or at least a coming-out-of-Covid world), and this digital transformation is here to stay. This is thanks to new specialist tools available, as well as an industry-wide change in attitude.
Bring stories to life with remote video
As already mentioned, remote video technology has seen online focus groups, group discussions and one-to-one interviews successfully head online.
One of the benefits? Clients, colleagues, observers or co-moderators get to watch or take part with no need to travel to be in the same place as the participants.
There are plenty of general purpose video research tools. And there’s no denying they’re cheap and easily recognizable.
Yet these do have limitations. There are a host of reasons why a specialist tool that’s specifically designed for research – like Forsta’s – wins when it’s compared to generic platform:
- Security and compliance
- In-built analytics
- Tech support
- Ease of access
Providing a better user experience
Whether you’re launching a website, app or digital product, the aim is to create the most user-friendly, intuitive and engaging product possible.
Being able to observe “real people” using it before launch is crucial as it helps you identify issues that may not otherwise be found.
Are there any areas of confusion? Do users understand how it works? Do they get lost? Can they complete the actions they need to? And do they enjoy using it?
That’s what user experience (UX) testing is about.
And done remotely via video, it supercharges things to a new level.
How does it work? Typically, participants will be set tasks to do while they navigate a website, app or digital product being tested – plus be asked questions while they’re doing this.
Researchers are able to capture where the user navigates, clicks and pauses on screen. And with a front-facing camera and microphone they can record facial expressions and verbal comments while people interact with the website or app.
This ticks two main feedback boxes:
- Attitudinal feedback – answers given to interview questions
- Behavioral feedback – how users complete tasks and non-verbal responses in facial expressions
But clearly UX testing has more applications than pre-launch alone.
When eBay wanted to capture tangible human insights from its sellers and buyers, it used the Forsta platform for remote video research.
It had already captured metrics in survey-based experience feedback. But as it aimed to get a deeper understanding of buyers and sellers, it identified and recruited participants who’d taken part in surveys to also get involved in a series of remote digital interviews.
These brought to life insights that weren’t apparent from the survey research alone. And eBay used some of these videos to embed key stories across its organization to enhance both the seller and buyer proposition.
The results from this qualitative phase? A deeper understanding of buyers and sellers.
Dig deeper with online communities
Engaging with respondents over time means ideas can form and more insightful answers can develop.
That’s why fostering ongoing conversations via online communities has grown to be an important qualitative research tool.
People might be taking part in an online discussion, a video exercise, a poll or a co-creation.
What counts? Engagement through collaboration. And with people taking part over a period of time, research teams have a chance to iterate, return and capture longitudinal insights.
A stellar example is The Family Room, a specialist research agency which focuses on cross-cultural insights into families.
Using the Forsta platform it developed a qualitative research community, from an initial survey of a group of families into a large scale community.
Its aim? To understand what modern families look like – across Hispanic, Black and White communities – and get to the heart of how they make decisions.
For participants, that meant taking part in various qualitative research activities like recording video testimonials, uploading photos, writing letters and doing projective exercises.
Mapping journeys via smartphone
Smartphones: ubiquitous, indispensable and with limitless potential for qualitative research…
As a remote research tool they allow researchers to interact with participants and watch human experiences in the moment.
Mobile technologies lend themselves perfectly to mobile diaries and journey mapping, like:
- Finding out how people behave “in the moment” in store or at point of sale
- Understanding people’s habits and routines when it comes to everyday things like cooking, food prep or putting on make-up
- Gathering information on people’s purchase journeys and the type of research they do before they commit to buy. Planning a vacation or buying a car, say.
These days, many people live through their smartphones. And they’re pretty used to sharing details of their lives this way, anyway.
Proctor and Gamble called on mobile diaries when they needed to understand the parent experience of their Pampers diaper sizing.
Being able to do a digital diaries exercise via the Forsta platform was a way for them to understand parent needs when parents were transitioning their babies and toddlers between diaper sizes.
How can Forsta help?
You can use Forsta’s InterVu as a standalone product for online focus groups, or alongside Forsta’s wider offerings of market research solutions. Get in touch and we’ll run you through the powerful benefits.
Qualitative for the win
Being able to dig into not just what consumers say they do, but why they do it, and what makes them tick: that’s the power of qualitative research.
Future-thinking businesses crave truly actionable insights and closer customer connections – which makes the future of human experience insights strong.
It’s time to soften the numbers with some human-driven insights. Qualitative research has moved way past touchy-feely and its real-world implications are clear.
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