NEWS14 March 2023

Qual researchers should embrace new methods

Insight Alchemy Media News Trends UK

Qualitative researchers should seek to defend the value of their work to clients but should be open-minded about whether qual techniques are needed for every project, the Market Research Society (MRS) conference Insight Alchemy 2023 has heard.

Bridget Dalton, Chris Molloy and Ed Nash

Speaking on a panel session at the conference, Chris Molloy (pictured centre), co-founder and chief client officer at Brand Potential, argued that there was no reason why clients should be eschewing spending on qualitative research during the current economically turbulent times.

“People look for more certainty, reassurance and greater confidence in times like these,” he said. “Why can’t qual provide that level of confidence and reassurance? Because it should do and can do.

“People retreat to the safety of numbers and get reassurance from the numbers and not the role qual can play. Qual should be the ‘why’, but it can be more than the ‘why’ – it should form strategy and how we craft growth opportunities, and it should form a perspective on what a client does about that.”

Molloy argued that the focus should always be on client needs rather than defending a purist’s version of qualitative research.

“We know there’s a role for qual in times like these,” he added. “Qual is just an input – it shouldn’t be the output.”

Molloy expanded: “I think it is really important that qualitative researchers embrace numbers, to some extent. People who say ‘I don’t do numbers’ are not great for the qual industry.”

Also appearing on the panel, Bridget Dalton (pictured left), director – offer development at, said she felt that there was a strong role for technology in enhancing traditional qualitative techniques.

“I think the key thing to say is that using technology doesn’t diminish or inhibit the ability or opportunity to have moments of analysis and insight,” she said.

“In fact, it enables you to spend more of your time doing that because you are removing a lot of the administration grunt work that often goes into qual work.”

Above all, researchers should listen to clients and be creative.

“Agility can be fun if you’re not a purist,” explained Dalton. “The idea of mixing methods, experimenting with your clients, thinking of the best way to stretch those squeezed budgets with different approaches to gathering material and data, and cutting your cloth to suit your coat isn’t just something that benefits a client, but benefits you as a researcher.”

Dalton also warned that perceptions of the qualitative research industry as old-fashioned could create “cultural barriers” with clients, but advocated embracing that idea for the better.

“Be prepared to admit that working in an industry that is sometimes defined by old or outmoded or evolving perceptions is fun, where you might find new ways to explore something like agility, explore new approaches to take clients on in experimental ways, and really collaborate with them rather than being the person who delivers the deck.”

Ed Nash (pictured right), qualitative research controller at Sky, said that qualitative researchers should be prepared to defend the role of qual in answering major business questions.

“We need to be clear about what qualitative research is brilliant for and stands for,” Nash said.

“If qual is the right part of the approach to the business question, you have to be brave to say ‘we absolutely have to do this’.

“Clients come to us because we are the experts. It is having the confidence to say ‘this is the way to do this’. If it doesn’t involve qual, then fine. Give the right approach to answer the business question.”

Nash added that he felt “quant and qual can work brilliantly together” and argued that researchers should be more prepared to switch away from their preferred methodologies if the situation demanded it.

“It is worth being brave to say ‘if this is a multi-million pound question’, I am not going to get five people from our online community to talk about it. We really have to think is qual the right approach.”

1 Comment

2 weeks ago

I couldn't agree more with this. I have been mixed method for my whole career and the vast majority of agencies are simply unwilling to accommodate this within their structures meaning mixed method researchers are completely squeezed out - there is a qual team and a quant team and never the two shall meet. It's completely absurd and it's no surprise this doesn't match up with client requirements.

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