The exploratory nature of qualitative research provides deep insight into the who, when, why and how of a target audience's decision-making — context that is vital to informing critical business decisions.
It is essential to be well informed when choosing the qualitative research method and provider that will deliver the best insights for your project. We've gathered some of the best advice from our subject matter experts to help you navigate this process.
The "What’s", "Why’s" & "How’s" of Qualitative Research
1. Partner with the Right Moderator
It can be hard to truly understand the value of a great moderator until you've seen one in action. "You'll know it when you see it" definitely applies here, but it's not about whether the moderator is an expert skilled in trendy techniques or in a specific industry. The real skill lies in creating and managing an environment maximizes the respondents' ability to tell their stories.
The true measure of a skilled moderator lies in their ability to listen actively and ask questions/probe in such a way as to elicit thoughtful responses that delve beneath the surface of respondent attitudes, motivations and behaviors. So, ask around. But be warned; great moderators are like hidden treasure — your colleagues may not want to share!
2. Respect the Recruiting Process
Recruiting is one of the most overlooked aspects of the qualitative process, but it often holds the key to the success of your study. We often question our recruiters at every turn: "Will it take this long?" "Should the incentive be this much?" However, it would be best to do your homework and tap into partners with a proven track record of recruiting your target audience for qualitative research. Then trust in their expertise and let them do their job.
By truly partnering with these specialists and letting them guide you on what works for specific audiences, types of studies, incentives and more, you're on your way to getting the best qualitative insights from the right respondents.
3. Take Your Time
The proliferation of digital and online methodologies allows us to turn projects around in record time. But should you? Remember, the focus of qualitative research should be on getting that deep-dive into the who's, when's, why's and how's of the consumer mindset. If you can expedite the process and still accomplish that, excellent, but don't let impatience ruin the opportunity to gain deep insight.
For instance, a short-term empanelment of respondents (e.g., a 2-4 week community) may provide a more comprehensive and accurate lens into the consumers' lived experiences than simply asking a series of direct questions in a two-hour in-person or online group. And in some cases, it may make sense to empanel an ongoing community to access the "voice of the customer continually."
4. Blend Your Tools, Maximize Your Insight
In considering different qualitative techniques or new technologies, remember it's not all or nothing. Often, it's best to mix the traditional and the new approaches to provide a different lens or capture deeper insight around an issue.
For example, suppose you have a hair care product. You can send it to the consumer to try for some time and keep a video and/or photo diary to get an in-home/usage and ethnographic aspect. Online bulletin boards or focus groups could follow this to provide a forum that allows respondents to build on each other's experiences, thoughts, and ideas. A mix of approaches can offer synergies that will enrich your insights.
5. Help the Consumer Tell The Real Story
A challenge in qualitative research is getting respondents to open up to share their true beliefs, attitudes and motivations. In some cases, they may not even be aware that they have specific ideas or may be unwilling or unable to articulate why they make certain decisions. Techniques and technology can come together to help the moderator delve beneath the surface of what respondents say and maximize their ability to tell their stories.
Specialized projective techniques such as drawings, image or picture sorts, collaging and third-person storytelling can elicit deeper insight into respondents' true beliefs and thought processes.
And whether at home, shopping, or traveling, technology can be leveraged to find the best way to go on the respondents' journey for that in-depth understanding. Smartphones and digital research platforms facilitate capturing video/pictorial diaries and managing real-time, in-the-moment insights.
6. Can Qualitative follow Quantitative?
You may think you know the answer to that one, but qualitative doesn't always have to precede quantitative when it comes to sequencing research initiatives. For instance, ethnography-led persona development often follows segmentation to deepen the understanding of critical segments' lived experiences beyond the product or category. In another recent example, a client looking at a new market didn't know what was important to consumers. So, they first quantified the "moments that mattered" and then explored the consumer meaning and context around the most relevant attributes of the product and user experience.
Now that you're well informed about navigating the world of qualitative research, it's time to apply this knowledge.