Researchers’ Voice – Let’s Get Real: Injecting High Touch Online Qual into Real Life

A Picture of Laurie Butler

The FocusVision Researchers’  Voice blog series highlights first-person stories from researchers from around the globe. Each account offers unique perspectives on collecting insights across disparate environments.

Let’s Get Real: Injecting High Touch Online Qual into Real Life
By Laurie Butler, President, L. J. Butler, Inc. Marketing Insights

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

I love dinner parties, and have planned many using only text. I recently planned a large gathering entirely through text and a little email. This one included five hostesses, most of whom had never met, across multiple states. We never talked on the phone or met in person until the day of the event. But, thanks to constant text and email communication, everything went off without a hitch.

Technology rules real life communications. Group texts, emails, Google Docs, social media and the occasional voicemail are the methods of choice for most people. In fact, few of us expect people to respond to an event invite without a little pre-planning via technology. Indeed, technology is often the only way to keep in touch with some people. As such, researchers must adapt to and reflect technology in order to provide deeper and more authentic insights.

A Communications Comparison

Going back to the original party scenario, a typical communications stream could look like this:

ORGANIZER leads hostess team introductions via text. Members use a group text for planning, talking and organization.
ORGANIZER sends out party ideas and plans via group text and email.
ORGANIZER coordinates hostess responses and input to further organize party particulars.
ORGANIZER hosts the event at his/her home, where team members experience instant comradery, teamwork, and eventually, a successful event.

Now, imagine that party as an online research project…

MODERATOR uses technology to introduce her/himself to respondents; all of whom join in an online community, group or pre-discussion.
MODERATOR sends research ideas and plans to respondents via text and/or posts. Respondents, in turn, get to know each other, and discuss experiences and exercises…all via group posts.
MODERATOR facilitates online chat, allowing respondents to share images and additional back and forth communication about the assigned tasks.
MODERATOR hosts an in person meet-up event (if needed), and encourages online follow-up.

Breathing New Life into Qualitative Research

So, I’m a purist…I believe that traditional in-person focus groups are always going to be essential. But let’s face it – the cutting edge technology available today better reflects the real world. Adding high tech online communication methods, such as communities, mobile diaries, digital ethnographies, discussion boards and live two-way audio/video, to traditional research designs allows researchers to experience better and more authentic moments. Some key “high touch” benefits of incorporating online communication include:

Timeliness: Online research keeps us in constant communication with participants, without the need to “be there”. This timeliness results in more realistic, spontaneous and genuine participant responses. It also delivers a shared, in-the-moment experience, which makes it easier to capture and expand upon real life emotions in later research.

Agility/Flexibility: High touch, in-the-moment research delivered through online technology allows us to adapt to unpredictable, ever-changing circumstances. It also provides an opportunity to not only seize the moment when it happens, but also capture additional key moments over and over again.

Geographic Coverage: When researchers and participants are spread across the country, technology brings us all together.

Respect: Online qualitative research respects and easily adapts to our busy and unpredictable lives, while still providing meaningful communication.

Getting Down to It…

Traditional, in-person focus groups and IDI’s are a valuable part of our qualitative toolbox, but so are the technological advantages available to researchers today. These technologies enhance all types of research, giving us high touch moments and bringing us closer to real insights.

About the Author:
Laurie has been President of L. J. Butler, Inc., a Marketing Insights and Qualitative Research Consulting Company, since 1994. Prior to starting her own company, Laurie was Vice President of Marketing Insights-Qualitative Research for Equifax/Elrick and Lavidge [purchased by Kantar TNS]. As a 30-year research veteran, she has a well-rounded understanding of and has participated in the entire research process, including qualitative and quantitative projects. She has moderated thousands of in-person and online in-depth interviews and focus groups, of all sizes and types, across advertising, consumer goods and services, business goods and services, and food industries. Laurie is currently the Southeast Chapter Co-chair of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association [QRCA], where she has been a member since 1984; she also serves on many QRCA committees.

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