Qualitative Research in the Current Crisis

We’re in the midst of an unprecedented economic and social disruption that has left many in the industry grappling with understanding what research looks like in this environment. Qualitative research is particularly in limbo as approaches have to adjust to the current era of social distancing.

But research and the need for consumer understanding has not halted and in fact many clients are finding it more urgent than ever. There are still opportunities for insight and learning provided you do it right. Respondents too are still engaged. People are eager for ways to connect and be heard. Research provides an outlet for otherwise cloistered lives.

For now, in-person research is out of the question. Never mind the widespread stay-at-home orders, there is a communal and ethical imperative that we do not endanger the health of respondents, their families, or their communities.

But this isn’t to say in-person research is going away. There will be a return to normalcy and a demand for qualitative, in-person research that digs deep into how consumer sentiment has evolved over this period.

In the meantime, online methodologies are your friend. There are a host of technologies that can capture direct consumer response from online discussion techniques, virtual focus groups and interviews, and innovative chat platforms. While it’s changed how we observe behavior, moving research online does not remove the ability to observe individuals as they conduct routine activities and shopping. W5 is able to leverage tech to observe people shopping online, capture video and photographic response, and talk to people in their homes. All of this will allow brands to observe current and changing attitudes and behaviors as consumers navigate through new paradigms and ways of doing things.

Despite the convenience and flexibility of online tools, it can still be a challenge understanding consumer sentiment, but here are some tips and tricks that can help you do it right:

  • Groups vs. Individuals: In highly uncertain times, conversations can be emotional and some topics can be potentially challenging to discuss in a group. Consider whether the answers you’re seeking might be better discussed individually or in groups.
  • Past, present, and future: How questions are framed is important. When seeking to understand consumer behavior, it’s important to capture not only their behaviors now, but how this differs from how they did things in the past and anticipate doing them in the future.
  • Respondent connectivity: Ensure that built into the screening process is a check for reliable internet connections, device compatibility, and the tech savvy to use various online platforms.
  • Engage respondents’ creativity: Respondents can be understandably pre-occupied with the daily news. Leveraging creative activities and exercises can be a useful technique for tapping deeply held opinions and avoiding conversations that redound to current events.
  • Recruiting time: Allow more time for recruiting online methodologies. The massive shift to online research has limited recruiting resources and consumers themselves are still adjusting to new routines.

Keeping these tips in mind can make qualitative research successful and insightful both now and once the cloud of the current crisis has lifted. Be well everyone.

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