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The Future of Qualitative Research

Table of Contents


As Dana Cassady explains in his Greenbook Blog, online qualitative research is nothing new. Having been around now for well over a decade, its strengths are well understood. These include the ease and speed of qualitative data capture, opportunities for group discussion and feedback, and an asynchronous approach which makes it conveniently available at any time for anyone.

In recent years, we have seen the hyper-growth of mobile across online quantitative research. With 50-65% of all surveys now completed on mobile devices and the impact of Covid19 continuing to accelerate research tech trends across the world, the switch from online to mobile is now set to take qualitative research by storm in the coming years.

However, in order to understand where the opportunity lies for mobile, first we must look at why online qualitative research works so well and what the future holds in general for this sector:


The Benefits of Online Qualitative Research

Interestingly, despite ‘online’ being around since the turn of the millennium, researchers only began to truly adopt online qualitative techniques in the last five years. According to Ray Fischer in his Greenbook Blog, the following benefits will make it’s adoption difficult to argue against in years to come:

  1. Deeper Emotive Responses: Online qual is about generating a ‘connected engagement’ with respondents who contribute their thoughts, feelings and emotions about a certain brand, occasion or topic. Doing this online is less invasive on the consumer, as technology seamlessly captures their responses in the moment, enabling a deeper understanding of consumers.
  2. The Need for Speed: Qualitative research is no longer tied to studies that last months, collecting and transferring data to make sense of the insight being generated from qualitative methodologies. Online solutions allow for these studies to be captured in days, if not hours, accessible 24/7/265 from virtually anywhere in the world.
  3. Do More with Less: In a world of constrained budgets, researchers have to find innovative ways to make an impact with fewer resources. Researchers need to make every project and potential insight count. Beyond deeper, richer insights that you will get, you can deploy online qual studies more cost effectively than traditional solutions.
  4. Global Reach: Thanks to the advances in technology and processes, you can deploy studies simultaneously in multiple countries to gain worldwide insights in a matter of a few weeks versus using traditional methods that can take multiple months to field and generate results. AI and machine learning technologies can also help increase speed and reduce cost as they relate to translation and transcription.
  5. Technology Enables Us to Connect on a More Human Level: Due to the invention of the smartphone and the mass adoption of social media over the last decade, respondents are super-connected and tech savvy. These cultural and technological innovations have given us access to billions of consumers on every continent. Their comfort with the technology has cultivated a willingness to share intimate thoughts and feelings about nearly anything important in their lives, including deeply personal and private topics. Online qual has made it easy to connect with those deep feelings both privately and in social/community activities.
  6. New Tech-Savvy Talent: The new generation of tech-savvy brand managers, planners and insight professionals have grown up with technology and have the skill set to leverage the new online qual possibilities. They are smart and open-minded, fully embracing technology and all of the promise it holds for qualitative research. This environment has set the table to take more control of the research process and bring it in-house for better insights faster and more cost-effectively.


The Future of Qualitative Research

Now that online qualitative research has been accepted worldwide as a transformative research innovation, it is important to keep looking to the future to try and shape what the coming decade looks like. According to Lenny Murphy, the executive editor of Greenbook, the recent GRIT Report details the future of qualitative research as follows:

  1. Tech Led Innovation: The insights and analytics industry has finally shifted from being “tech driven” to “tech led”, meaning that the drive for speed, quality, and price efficiencies that technology delivers are now necessary in order to meet buyer-side needs. This has already transformed quantitative research, and qualitative research is next to be hit with significant technological change.
  2. In-House Research Capability: Buyer-side organisations are increasingly investing in insourcing technology to deliver on their insights needs, including qualitative tech, so they can benefit from having agile organisations that can be responsive to rapidly changing and diverse business questions. The traditional ‘hands-off’ outsourcing of research is depleting year on year in exchange for technology that empowers in-house research capabilities.
  3. Importance of ‘Why’: Qualitative research is rising in importance as a way to understand “why” and enable empathy with customers. Digital tools are enabling whole new ways to make that happen. These tools are augmenting qualitative research rather than simply replacing traditional methods due to necessity. New technology should be seen as a catalyst for faster, cheaper and more effective research, rather than as a replacement of human effort.
  4. “In-Person” Research Still Essential: Despite these innovations, face-to-face will continue to thrive as the only way to gather “experiential” insights. If the business need is focused on any touching, feeling or smelling, or if deep interpersonal engagement is necessary, ‘in-person’ remains a priority. 


The impact of Covid-19 has accelerated many trends in qualitative research, and forced the adoption of online alternatives. This has brought about much needed innovation to the research industry, and in particular, a kickstart for the technology companies aiming to accelerate these trends further in years to come. A change which may have taken decades is now emerging across leading ResTech companies right now, enabling an even closer connection to consumers all over the world using technology. The impact this will have on the future of qualitative research is profound.

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