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OPINION22 January 2015

The Rise of Quick Qual

Opinion

Brand marketers need qualitative insight quickly, so Stephen Phillips offers some suggestions to make qual more agile.

Recently the research industry, like many others, has been abuzz with the idea of agile.  In an age of instant gratification, businesses want – and need – answers quicker than ever before. While quant research has largely managed to keep pace, qual often gets pushed to one side as decision makers cannot afford to wait three to four weeks for consumer insight, instead they often rely on anecdote or instinct to move forward.

But is full service necessary for quick qual? Simply put, yes. Of course DIY quant solutions such as Google Surveys, Survey Monkey and Toluna QuickSurveys have meant that it is possible to get quick answers to simple questions. However, we have seen that, for various reasons, such data may be misleading at best or just plain wrong at worst.

Hence the need for expertise. There are lots of subtleties that surround qual and it’s our job as researchers to ensure that an increase in speed doesn’t equate to a loss of quality. And while technology may be able to get close to this, it’s no replacement.

At Tonic Insight we’ve watched some of our clients make decisions based just on data, and that can be a problem. Data is seldom a source of consumer insight – it is typically just a record of consumer behaviour. Data needs to be combined with a qual understanding of the people behind. You may know that a new brand’s product users tend not to buy twice, but this is no use unless you understand what’s stopping them.

Communities

Communities are a great way of doing quick qual. With a group of people already primed, recruited and happy to chat, they can give almost instant feedback. They often become so central to brands that they are used to guide many more decisions than would typically benefit from consumer insight, allowing the research teams who manage a community to become much more central to the businesses they belong to. 

The best communities are entirely flexible; planned, designed and run around unique client needs. They are fun and interesting places for respondents to be – and the more engaged they are, the quicker and better responses we get.

But, of course, a community is not suitable for every brand, and they only become an agile resource once they’ve been set up, which takes time and money.

This is why we developed Tonic Express, to give our clients qualitative insight in as little as 48 hours, for under £4k. While we’ve automated the ‘boring bits’ (screeners, recruitment, incentives), we’ve kept the important bits in the hands of experts. Research design, moderation and analysis is human, and always will be. 

While developing Tonic Express we have learned some things that may be useful for others looking to be more agile:

  1. Automate sampling as much as possible. We’ve created a direct link to an online panel so respondents can react to questions or stimuli within minutes or hours of a project starting.
  2. Template research design where you can. We still have experienced moderators ready to probe on key issues but our pre-designed activities elicit considered, high-quality responses from the majority of respondents.
  3. Simplify feedback. Getting analysis and reporting done quickly is a big challenge but it is possible. Start by scheduling in analysis discussions immediately after fieldwork. Here a few people can debate what has been said and develop themes and ideas quickly. Then use report templates to avoid reinventing the wheel with each project.

Businesses want consumer insight and if we adopt agile approaches to qual research then we can empower our clients to make better decisions and improve business outcomes.

Stephen Phillips is CEO of Tonic.

10 Comments

4 years ago

Great post, it is about time automation has made it's way into the Qual data collection process.

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4 years ago

Thanks for posting this article . Yea speedy delivery of qualitative research is often the biggest issue. We often face this when it comes to communication creative evaluation studies . Can anyone suggest some tips to speed up the process?

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4 years ago

We find the main sticking points are around project logistics and recruitment, by shifting the approach to online and working with panel companies (ideally integrating with their systems) instantly speeds up the process…

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4 years ago

Yes, getting quick and not superficial results seems to be a universal need now. I don't doubt the technological supports, but I'm just concerned about respondents' credibility. Many people pretend to be eligible for a study in order to get the incentives. And self-reported screeners are likely to let in quite a number of these fake respondents.

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4 years ago

Respondent credibility from online sources is an interesting point... In my experience, you can usually identify fake respondents through smart profiling design and screen before they participate in the main activity. Additionally with Tonic Express, we have a moderator online throughout fieldwork, so in the rare instance ineligible people slip through we can identify/address in real-time.

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4 years ago

Clients are increasingly demanding quick delivery of insights and it is great to see the initiative you are employing. My concerns are similar to Cathy's where respondents vetting online will need a tool that will screen out those who do not fit without them knowing what is being looked for.

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4 years ago

I'm a wee bit surprised that no-one is challenging the 'quick quick quick', 'now now now' premise/mentality. A shame that speed of turnaround seems to have more weight in terms of importance than having the most appropriate research design, ensuring the right personalities are being included and appropriate interaction with those being reached. If a job's worth doing...

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4 years ago

Interesting point from Anonymous but I can't help but see the following as a good metaphor... McDonalds hasn't replaced or done away with the fine dining experience. In fact if anything it has added too and caused the explosion of the variety of options that now exist. Just as 'quick quick quick' won't do away with longitudinal projects (and neither should it) what it will do, is give insight when it's needed in the timeframe/budget allotted. Of course if you have the time and budget - then I agree, caviar and champagne should always be the option!

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4 years ago

I agree with Anna that respondents with poor credibility are easily routed out by a good moderator online just as they would be face to face (or screened out with a good questionnaire that doesn't reveal the purpose of the project at the beginning!). Automation is great and very useful, it has been available for a while though. What we need to address as experts in the online space is the difference between 'agile' and 'shallow' research. There are so many tools and methods out there now, there is no excuse for throwing up just a quick forum and not digging deep into the customer or consumer's psyche - they (we) are so much more willing to open up quickly online and reveal more about decision making, attitudes, emotions, and habits. Online qual has a bad reputation for delivering only a surface understanding of the topic of investigation - occasionally that is what we are looking for, but wouldn't we all rather have a full understanding in time for the needs of the business? We need quick AND thorough qual, which I'd argue sometimes can be delivered better when the client uses part-serviced options and gets their hands dirty and sometimes just needs an agency that's going to use a mixed method approach that will get that holistic viewpoint.

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4 years ago

Really interesting comments. On the respondent level I think it is much easier in qual than quant to work out if someone really is who they say they are! The battle between speed and depth is constant but when business needs answers we have to supply them or someone else will (big data, social media analytics, intuition etc.) and I believe that qual is often the right approach. It is then up to us to make that answer as insightful as we can.

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