Online Qual Compared to Traditional Qual Research

Qualitative research has come a long way in recent years, mostly as a result of technology. As the process of gaining a deeper understanding of consumers through both verbal and nonverbal communication, unlike quantitative research, qual research is not centered on numerical insights or variables. Instead, it seeks to understand consumers on a deeper level to determine why they behave or respond in a certain way by simply asking or observing them.

The Need for Deeper Understanding

The first remnants of qualitative research came about as a result of the post-Freudian era in the 1940’s. As businesses grew and the marketing and advertising that supported them became true enterprise organizations, a need arose to learn more about consumers— particularly at the individual level. Instead of just determining what consumers thought, companies realized there was far more value in understanding why they thought that. So using a basis in psychology, and backing from soon to be massive consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies and advertising firms, market researchers were born and began to develop the first formal processes of qualitative research. Starting with informal interviews on the streets or other public spaces, eventually qual research encompassed more defined processes and ethnographic practices of discussions and observations to become what it is today.

Traditional qualitative methodologies include things like

  • Focus groups: a small group of diverse people brought together in one setting to discuss or provide feedback
  • In-depth-interviews (IDI’s): the most similar to quantitative research and where quant got its start, it is an in-person, in-depth interview
  • Phone interviews: strictly verbal conversation between a market researcher and one respondent
  • Shop-alongs: the act of observing actual shopping behavior of consumers, often paired with an IDI post shopping
  • Observations/Experiments: direct or indirect observations of consumers in a specific natural or fabricated environment

Online Qual Reformats Traditional Methods

Online research in its entirety is only a decade or two old and is still early in its surely long history. While online qualitative research can certainly support traditional methods, the way it goes about executing them is the primary difference between online and traditional qual. Instead of executing them in person and by hand, online processes reformat and modify methodologies for online use. While many researchers are trying to develop the online qual space, it requires a unique platform and process to conduct to the same level of quality as traditional methods like

  • A software platform that supports the interactions between respondents, researchers, and a variety of qualitative methodologies
  • An analysis and reporting process built off of a framework that can consistently deliver quality insights
  • Optimized technologies including video response, image uploads, and mobile capabilities to counteract the lack of facial or observational research in online qual

Broken out in more detail, besides the execution, the differences between traditional and online qual research include sample size, timing, analysis, and observations. 

While online qual and traditional qual do vary, they still both seek to understand consumers at a deeper level. To learn more about how to use creative projective techniques to keep online qualitative respondents engaged, watch the webinar below.

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