By Jim Longo
In a recent article titled, “Data Collection: Marketing Researcher’s Dirty Little Secret,” author Eric Levy reveals what he sees as Market Research’s biggest problems today. Levy looks back fondly to a time when he was more connected to his participants. He reminisces about the human touch of research – side comments made on telephone surveys and backroom conversations with clients. As the industry shifts increasingly to using automated tools in their research, Levy expresses apprehension about the quality of the participants, whom he no longer interacts with.
Levy is not alone in his uncertainty about the future and direction of the industry as it shifts toward the digital. Of course, in an industry where the big idea is to understand human behaviors, it’s completely understandable that one might be hesitant about a shift away from human interaction toward automation.
But here’s the thing: increased automation does not have to come at the expense of humanness. The two can co-exist. If anything, automation is the tool that allows us to increase our capacity to have human interactions. It should not be viewed as something scary, but rather as the very tool that allows us to get back to what we love about research: the possibility of connecting with and understanding people.
When brands try to understand the “why” behind big data, they turn to qualitative research. When brands are overwhelmingly awash with big data, it can be easy to lose sight of the humans who those data points represent. They lose the context. Increasingly, we have noticed that brands are looking to conduct “consumer-connects” in order to regain this context and connection through real-time conversations with current and potential consumers.
Of course, most would agree, human interaction is absolutely critical in research. It is impactful in a way that other sources of data can’t be. We are able to connect with people, understand them better, and empathize with their experiences. We are able to hear the intonation in their voices – how it cracks when they’re sad, how their words can bite when they’re mad. That is why people continue to conduct qualitative research in facilities, because they’ve convinced themselves that this is the only way to form this authentic, human connection.
I’m here to tell you that that is simply not true.
As an industry, we should think of a qualitative solution that would blend automation and human interaction. At our organization, we looked at the research experience from point A to Z and catalogued the whole thing. What we found was that the vast majority of the time spent on the research process was not being spent on the research itself.
When we talk about automating the research process, many people’s biggest worry is that it will jeopardize the quality of the research. What I’m proposing is not that we eliminate humans from the research, it’s that we leverage modern technology and digitize all of the things that take you away from interacting with the participant: recruiting, transcriptions, scheduling, etc. Sick of traveling? Conduct interviews online right from your desk. Spending a lot of time on recruiting? Pop your target demographics into an automated search and forget about it.
For many, the idea of programmatic recruitment for qualitative participants can be scary – research falls apart when the quality of participants is not up to par. When we conduct research, we look for participants who are willing to be completely open and honest with us. We dread the possibility of being stuck in a conversation with a bunch of head nodders. We are not oblivious to this risk, that’s why we have integrated quality screening steps into all programmatically recruited participants.
Karen Lindley, VP of Operations at Discuss.io explains our process, “We know that qualitative research solely relies on the quality of participants. It’s up to us to make sure that they are properly recruited and articulate. That’s why, before every session conducted on our platform, we conduct a ‘tech check.’ During this check, we, of course, make sure that their technology will be suitable for the session, but we also re-ask the key screening questions and engage the participant in a short conversation to gauge their articulation.”
By automating certain elements of the research process, you are free to focus on what matters: gathering quality insights and connecting directly with consumers. With the introduction of automation, you’re still able to connect with participants on a human level, you just don’t have to spend as much time on the logistics of making it happen in the first place. By streamlining the research process and removing physical limitations, you’re able to save an incredible amount of time, money, and frustration.
Of course, not everyone in the industry takes the same approach as we do. Levy’s call for concern is not without merit. He’s right, a lot of us have forgotten to include the human touch in our research. However, to reminisce on the “old days” is misguided as well; our industry is prime for innovation and we need to take advantage of the technological advances available to us if we hope to remain relevant.