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Sync, Async, & Hybrid Research: What’s the Difference?

New combinations of methodologies can over deeper insight and better outcomes. Learn how to create a seamless and intentionally designed study with asynchronous, synchronous, and hybrid research.

Editor’s Note: I’ve always been a fan of frameworks; they can help you think through a problem more broadly and see connections between elements that would be difficult to see otherwise. Here, Laura Glanz combines many different types of research under three broad headings and gives readers a way to think about what would be the appropriate methodology for different problems. A very useful perspective.

When it comes to market research, there are many methodologies to choose from to conduct an effective test, but in selecting the right approach for you, it is important to consider a series of factors. For example, deciding how time and space, play roles in your research can help create a more seamless and intentionally designed study.

While the concepts of “time and space” may seem a little nebulous, you can explore the fields of synchronous and asynchronous research to gain an informed understanding of how to apply these attributes and effectively conduct your tests.

Asynchronous Research

Asynchronous (or “A-sync”) research encompasses any type of methodology where the participants are working on an individual time schedule. This kind of research is typically done online and looks like a discussion forum or a survey that the subject can complete at their own convenience. This type of research is self-paced and includes a time-lag or lack of immediacy to spark the participants’ contemplation and internalization of the product or concept. For instance, if your product is intended to be used multiple times or continuously (like shoes or articles of clothing), asynchronous research mimics the use schedule by creating a product testing environment measured over a period of days or weeks.

Similarly, an async study can leverage market research for products that take an extended amount of time to produce the desired results, such as healthcare or medications. It can also enable businesses to test products that interact with customers on a personal level including food or hygiene products. By giving participants the ability to track their own experiences through intermittent responses or journaling, companies can gain strong insight into their user base, capturing ethnography data on a “day in the life” of their market segment. Asynchronous research can also be used for businesses whose products, such as financial products and medical devices, have very long time-horizons exceeding months or a year. Apart from product testing, async studies can allow businesses to conduct brand pulses through periodic check-ins with targeted communities to assess their brand’s health.

If you:

  • Want your participants to take their time and think through their responses – maybe do a bit of research about the product on their own
  • Seek a degree of removal between the researchers and/or the subjects so that there is no influence from others involved
  • Aim to record responses over a period of time

Async research may be the style for you! By eliminating shared time and space, participants gain license to develop their thoughts and reactions. 

Synchronous Research

Synchronous (or “Sync”) research is – you guessed it – the exact opposite. As indicated by the name, synchronous means ‘real-time’ and encompasses any research methodology where the participants and facilitators interact and communicate live. Examples of this type of research include live chat rooms, interviews, and online or in-person focus groups where the researchers and the subjects work together simultaneously in order to prompt immediate reactions. While research can be conducted in groups at physical facilities, the proliferation of live video technology has made online groups and interviews increasingly popular. Individual in-depth interviews (or IDI’s) are especially simple to conduct online using the participant’s personal computer or mobile device and allow researchers to easily increase their sample size and output while eliciting deeper insights from live qual. 

Live focus groups can also be effective to gain input from social interactions within a group or crowdsource ideas for a new product or brand concept. Despite the physical distance, if the study is conducted virtually, the immediacy of responses inherent in synchronous research still ensures authentic engagement, brainstorming, and dialogue.  This style is especially effective for ideation of new concepts or messages since the spontaneity and collaboration of the group is the best environment to elicit new ideas. Live in-depth interviews are also crucial to gain deeper insight into concept testing and design due to the personal feedback, rich data, and candid reactions inherent in a live interview.  

If you: 

  • Seek active, real-time participation
  • Want to monitor or guide the study in real-time
  • Aim to gather responses affected by urgency

Synch research is the optimal route as you can harness the power of human interaction to draw honest insight.  

The Best of Both Worlds 

Although sync and async methodologies can be used independently, sync/async “hybrid” projects are becoming more popular as research continues to evolve; these different research styles can offer complementary characteristics that have multiple advantages.

While synchronous research can produce deep and compelling insights, live research is much more capital and time-intensive from the researchers’ perspective, which often leads to a more expensive and higher stakes recruiting process. Asynchronous research, on the other hand, including online communities, panels, idea boards, and multi-day or week ‘homework’ can be effectively distributed to a large number of people with lower incentive levels, and few resources are wasted if an individual doesn’t respond.

Given these respective qualities, many firms now recognize how asynchronous research can be used as a dual-purpose portion of the project – both to gather a larger sample of quantitative and qualitative data and to screen/recruit participants for synchronous qualitative research. Applying the answers and responses from participants in an async study, strategists can easily identify which individuals and ideas are most conducive to their test. They can subsequently hand-pick the most engaged respondents to conduct follow-up live interviews or groups for deeper insights and more compelling deliverables for clients. 

Businesses can apply a hybrid study to not only screen their participants, but to also prepare them for the upcoming focus groups, especially if the group is intended to be held for concept ideation purposes.

The asynchronous, longer duration tests could periodically provide background information to the subjects to increase their familiarity with the concept’s development before they jump into the in-person brainstorming sessions. Another application of a hybrid model is to test response changes. For instance, if a long-term asynchronous project monitoring a company’s brand health receives new or atypical data, live synchronous interviews can help gather in-depth insight into the influences of a specific response or divergent brand direction, good or bad. 

Not only can combining asynchronous and synchronous methodologies for the same project save time and money in recruitment, but also a hybrid model can dramatically increase the quality of the final conclusions and produce better outcomes that lead to more innovative ideas, better products and increased brand engagement.

An exciting wave of unprecedented market research growth has entered the playing field. Now, you will not only have the ability to choose which research style fits your needs, but also the opportunity to potentially marry the two and benefit from the inherent efficiencies of each research style. Would the use of a hybrid methodology impact your work? Let us know in the comments!  

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Laura Glanz

Laura Glanz

Director of Marketing, FocalCast