Qualitative Research During Times of Social Distancing

Apr 23, 2020

Over the last six weeks, companies have been forced to grapple with the realities of a world rocked by the Coronavirus pandemic. When most business was previously able to be conducted in person, businesses around the world are now holding calls with clients and internal teams via teleconferencing services and completing projects on an entirely remote basis. Everyone is trying to manage business operations as smoothly as possible, but of course there are roadblocks and difficulties. These challenges have impacted every industry, and market research is no exception.

Qualitative research in particular has been affected by the fallout from the virus. With a methodology that relies so heavily on receiving feedback from participants in-person, you can see how it would be difficult to conduct qualitative market research when experts recommend people don’t come within six feet of each other. Right now, you wouldn’t dream of holding a focus group where 15 people are gathered together in a room. You can’t even interview just a select few individuals in person, hold shop-along sessions, or administer in-home ethnographic studies.

So how do you keep everyone safe, but at the same time gather the insights and intelligence necessary for your business to move forward? As we’ve discussed before – now is no time to pause. You need to gather qualitative feedback to understand your consumers, especially at a time when perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors are rapidly evolving.

Online qualitative research is one way you accomplish that. With the technology available today, you can gain actionable insights through a software platform much easier than you would have been able to using in-person studies.

So, how does online qualitative research actually work? 

Take focus groups for instance. When executing an in-person study, you need to:

  • Recruit participants on your own, ensuring all markets and regions are fully represented.
  • Align schedules across all participants’ personal and professional lives so everyone can be in the room together.
  • Cover travel and lodging costs for participants.

This process can take months, and it can be prohibitively expensive.

On the other hand, online focus groups uncover audience attitudes and behaviors in a matter of weeks, in a much more cost-effective manner, and with just as rigorous of a methodology. Using an online platform, you can gather category and brand perceptions, identify unmet consumer needs and areas of opportunity, understand the customer journey, and gauge the competitive landscape.

In-home usage trials (IHUTs) are another example where you can use an online tool to uncover valuable consumer insights. Instead of gathering a group together in person, you can ship a prototype directly to consumers and ask for online feedback on how the product can be improved and marketed.

In another interesting case of remote qualitative research, one of our major technology clients was looking to conduct a mobile shop-along prior to the pandemic. Typically, this would have involved a group of research subjects individually going into a store and capturing the key moments of their customer journey using their phone. But retail stores have had to close their doors due to COVID-19. In response, we’ve helped that client pivot to an eCommerce shop-along. It’s a similar concept, only now we’re asking people to share their feedback on the customer journey in an online setting as opposed to in a physical store.

Online qualitative research is an effective and cost-efficient way to stay agile, understand evolving consumer needs, and adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re looking to leverage a powerful online platform to grow closer to your audience while keeping a safe distance, reach out to our team. We’re here to help.

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