Market research has been a great industry for innovation. Technology, tools and DIY platforms have helped brands reach consumers more quickly and source gut-checking insights to help drive key business decisions. No matter how those insights may be sourced though, the bedrock of market research is truly understanding human behavior and opinion. Many methodologies enable that understanding, but ultimately consumers need to be seen and heard in an up-close and personal way. Savvy researchers have always known that open-ended queries, surprise interactions and unscripted learnings arise from in-person research in a way no other methodology compares.
Enter a global pandemic. Clients and moderators already pressed for time and budgets, needed to quickly shift qualitative work online to keep research progressing forward. It is no wonder some began playing with self-directed, online options like Zoom, Google Meet, Skype and more. While these options are budget-friendly, we offer a cautionary list as to why cutting corners for virtual market research is not recommended.
1. Respondent Preparation
No matter what computer experience respondents have, preparing them to successfully participate in a virtual interview requires training and coaching. Beyond the technology checks which include sharing of skills for muting/unmuting, correct use of headphones and verification of access to study stimuli, a respondent must also be mentally prepared for the session. They need to be guided through expectations on securing a quiet space, dealing with potential interruptions and thoughtful understanding of what is required to truly complete the study in full.
2. Technology Troubleshooting
One of the biggest reasons for not going at it alone when conducting online research is the waste of talent when a highly respected moderator becomes the key technology host. As respondents log in or fail to log in for the sessions, the moderator’s time is divided. Even if another team member serves as a technical helper, the moderator cannot proceed with the group until all participants have proper access. This loss of focus and time can hurt quality insight gathering.
Some important questions to address with your online provider include:
• What is the protocol if someone’s connection drops?
• Can the session go on with dialogue and interaction if someone’s camera freezes?
• Who will handle chat messages while the moderator is guiding conversations?
• Do you have control to mute/unmute respondents?
• Who is responsible for ensuring the session is recorded?
• What security measures have been taken to secure the privacy of the session?
• Does the chat function allow for multiple streams and private conversations?
• Can the chat feature be captured for reporting?
3. Client Collaboration
One of the many benefits of conducting studies in spaces designed for in-person research is a sense of privacy. In research facilities, two-way mirror options allow clients to blend into the background, observe, and collaborate amongst themselves without being a distraction to respondents. Though respondents are always made aware of their presence, this separation of space helps provide a comfortable environment for sharing and openly discussing opinions.
With virtual market research, this sense of privacy can be disrupted when using some of the more budget-friendly options. Because these options don't offer private observation options for clients, respondents are constantly reminded of a client's presence when they're logged in. This can negatively impact the reaction, participation level and overall attitude of participants. When choosing to perform remote research, it is important to find a platform that will provide both clients and respondents their own feelings of privacy, whether that's having privately-secured chatrooms for clients to collaborate in real-time or having the option to blend into the background to create a more comfortable space for discussion.
4. Peripheral Services
Just like in-person research, online studies require a lot of pieces to fall into place in order for a project to be successful. One of the major downsides of using budget-friendly online research services is they require a lot of heavy lifting up front, during, and after the research. Many lower-cost systems offer a set package of services with little or no customization, or may not offer any assistance at all.
When researching different online market research platforms, it is important to consider your project needs and what peripheral services will aid in project success. Will there be a specialized team to help manage recruiting and incentive payments? Are you able to load and test project stimuli before respondents interact with it? Do you have to worry about the quality of recordings and transcripts? Every project will have different needs and it's important to work with a platform that recognizes there is no "one size fits all" solution to qualitative research. That's where finding the right partner makes all the difference.
At Fieldwork, we're focused on creating the best virtual experience possible. We don't have brown bag solutions but listen carefully to what each client needs for each project. We never demo our system en masse or ask you to attend training sessions with your competitors. Our Fieldworkers are well versed in industry best practices and will find the right technology solution for your needs. This approach creates the most relaxed environment for the moderators, clients and respondents alike and sets up your study to yield high-quality insights.