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5 Trends in Qualitative Research – Ignore At Your Own Peril

We dusted off the crystal ball to see what's in store for qualitative research in 2015. Here are our top 5 qual trends for this year.

Business vision


Jim White, PhD

So my partner Jim Chastain and I dusted off the RealityCheck crystal ball to see what’s in store for qualitative research in 2015. Here are our top 5 qual trends for this year.

  1. From Research to Experience

More and more clients will seek methods that deliver experiential learning that immerses them in their consumers’ worlds. For these clients, focus groups will be less and less relevant. They won’t be content to just passively observe their consumer; they’ll want to experience what it’s like to actually be them, even if only for a short while.

Clients will increasingly value immersive techniques that create opportunities to come out from behind the observation mirror and engage with respondents directly. And they’ll gain an increasing appreciation for approaches that allow them to role play as their consumer and gain a much deeper, human understanding of the people to whom they are marketing.

  1. From Insights to Empathy

Related to this, the trend toward engagement and empathy will continue to gather steam. Increasingly, clients won’t want to just understand their customer on a cognitive level. They’ll want to connect with them on an empathic and emotional level and will demand innovative approaches to help them do so.

More and more, clients and researchers are realizing that treating consumers like human beings yields richer insights and more genuine connections between brands and people. When you think of research as a conversation among people, rather than a test, a deeper, more meaningful dialogue begins to happen between you and the humans you need to understand.

  1. From Researchers to Translators

As client organizations get more stretched, they will depend more on smart qualitative translators to give insights meaning for their brands. They’ll expect their research partners to not only report the findings, but to also show them a clear, relevant pathway forward for their brands.

Researchers will need to deliver insights-based consulting, not just insights. This means they’ll need to not just find and report insights, but translate those insights in meaningful and compelling ways.

  1. Big Data Comes to Qual

Leading-edge qualitative researchers will increasingly use more sophisticated analytics to manage and mine the avalanche of data that can now be captured through online qualitative techniques. Big data has hit the qual world and you need to be equipped to handle it.

This means qual researchers will need to approach analysis more like our quant counterparts, including:

  • Taking a team approach to project execution, rather than having one qualitative consultant do it all. To manage the avalanche of data from online qual, researchers will use resources more smartly, having teams of coders, data wranglers and text analytics specialists assisting lead consultants in revealing insights and identifying key themes.
  • Applying more analytical rigor to data analysis. The more unstructured data qual researchers face, the more likely we are to miss key insights if we continue to analyze the same old way. Increasingly, we’ll use more sophisticated content analysis and text analytics techniques to make sure our analysis is comprehensive.
  1. People are More Willing to Share

Thanks in large part to the age of social media, people are more willing than ever before to share their lives with us. Smart qual researchers will figure out new ways to leverage this trend to benefit their clients.

Particularly in online contexts, people are increasingly comfortable letting others into their lives. We’ve been constantly amazed at the increasing openness of online respondents and the willingness they have to put remarkable amounts of time and attention into the activities we ask them to do.

But this trend also brings with it a challenge. Qual researchers will need to be creative and innovative in the techniques they use. People are used to an ever-changing landscape of creative and expressive tools in the digital world. Qual researchers will need to keep pace in order to keep their respondents engaged.

Please share...

8 responses to “5 Trends in Qualitative Research – Ignore At Your Own Peril

  1. We are seeing more clients co-moderating IDI’s with a researcher. The flow becomes more of a conversation with the participant rather than an interview.

  2. As multi sensorial researchers we were forced to put qualitative methods to a new level and I will briefly share our experiences:
    To your point ‘from insights to empathy’: Accessing consumers deep rooted emotions when perceiving sensorial stimuli is helping clients to ‘connect’ indirectly with the consumers emotions by evaluating the same sensorial stimuli. So it is a kind of indirect ’empathy’.
    To your point: ‘Applying more analytical rigor to data analysis’: Tons of ‘free floating’ consumer words and perceptions are not easy to handle without losing the qualitative character of the research. Our suggestions are to develop even for qualitative research a very sophisticated kind of coding systems .PLUS it is also worth while to develop systems how to make qualitative results as smell able, taste able, visible, tangible, audible as possible in order to get the client ‘personally ‘ engaged and thus to deliver actionable results without overwhelming the clients with too much information.

  3. Agree with most of this, although not sure any of it is particularly new for 2015. I’d say it has been happening for the last 5 years, possibly more. And I say that coming from the relatively laggard B2B space.

    Dealing with the quantity of data IS a challenge (and to a great degree a welcome one) – and does need some different approaches. I’ve found immersion in the data – almost akin to addiction to reality TV helps, as do some of the software tools available.

  4. Interesting to read about ‘Big Data Comes to Qual’ – would be good to learn if any company operates in this way – having teams of coders, data wranglers and text analytics specialists.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing! I think it is so awesome that more and more companies are turning towards research based on client experiences. That research, while hard to interpret, can offer a lot more insight than something based on numbers. Plus, it is really nice that there are more consultants out there to actually interpret the data that you get. After all, the way you respond to your customers can really impact how well you do in the long run.

  6. There is much talk here about the principles of ‘new’ qual research, but what are the actual research tools people are using to achieve this?
    eg Talking about immersion, experiential learning, smart qualitative translators etc, how is this being physically done and who are the best suppliers of these products/services.

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