Online qualitative research is here to stay

One outcome of COVID-19? A move towards more immediate, diverse and accessible research, writes Toluna ANZ country director Sej Patel.

There’s little COVID-19 hasn’t affected. Beyond the news headlines of toilet paper stampedes and Zoom faux pas, the pandemic has forced a massive number of changes across businesses. When it comes to market research, one of the biggest changes we saw in 2020 was the emergence of online qualitative research.

Traditionally conducted in person, qualitative market research requires select groups of participants to discuss their thoughts, perceptions, opinions and beliefs about products, brands, or even people. However, due to widespread lockdowns and indoor venue caps of one person to every four square metres, the pandemic rendered face to face discussion impossible.

Of course, online qualitative research existed pre-pandemic, but it’s only been over the last year that we’ve seen such widespread adoption. And for brands, a shifting qualitative research online opens up a world of opportunities.

The importance of qualitative research 

Although qualitative research has always been important, the time and budget required for such intensive research has often been prohibitive. As such, qualitative research would often take a backseat due to these constraints, with brands instead opting for quantitative research (such as surveys) which can deliver key consumer insights quickly and cost effectively.

But when it comes to testing new concepts or delving deeper into the ‘why’, there are answers quantitative research simply can’t provide. Experienced and highly skilled discussion group moderators can ask more insightful questions and push the discussion deeper, delivering rich consumer insights that brands need to shape their strategy.

Bigger bang for your buck

For brands, moving qualitative research online is a win for overstretched budgets. Doing away with the costs associated with in-person discussion groups offers brands greater access to high quality research for a much lower spend. Removing the physical location of the discussion group also widens the participant pool, further enhancing the insights acquired.

The benefits of online qual

There will always be pros and cons to online qualitative research, and some situations are still better suited to face to face; such as taste testing and product sampling, for example. But beyond the better return on investment, there are other benefits to be had by shifting qual research online:

  • Increased accessibility and diversity: Moving qualitative research online means that anyone with internet access can join the discussion, providing greater access to a more diverse group of participants; from rural residents to mobility impaired or even parents with very young children
  • Give more people a voice: Face to face discussion groups can sometimes be dominated by certain personality types, leaving quieter participants hesitant to join in. While moving discussions online won’t prevent shyness altogether, there’s a different dynamic at play which allows more introverted participants a chance to voice their opinions
  • Privacy: For some taboo or more intimate topics, online qual provides a layer of anonymity. An online discussion with cameras turned off and real names hidden can embolden people to freely share opinions on topics they’d be embarrassed to discuss in a real world situation

Online qual is here to stay 

Now that more brands have had a taste of online, we don’t think it’s going anywhere. In fact, this is an area we expect to see grow in 2021 and beyond. Not only do we expect to see the continued rise of online qualitative research, but we may finally see a true integration with qualitative and quantitative research – the holy grail of market research – which will give brands both real-time data and cost effective qual insights. It won’t have to be an either/or decision.

Sej Patel is the country director of Toluna ANZ.


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