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 core 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 the open-ended queries, surprise interactions, and unscripted learnings, from in-person research in a special way.
The global pandemic, however, precipitated a seismic shift to virtual platforms. Before the pandemic, a handful of forward-thinking market research providers had already begun exploring online research. This early adoption made the subsequent transition more seamless, accelerated by a growing familiarity with online platforms in our day-to-day interactions. Others began playing with self-directed, online options like Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, and more. If you are considering these platforms, to host your research, please also consider now to manage the below list of critical factors regarding virtual market research.
1. Security of the Research
Numerous features in popular do-it-yourself (DIY) platforms prioritize simplicity and user-friendliness. Paradoxically, this can clash with confidentiality. For example, a research subject may unwittingly reveal their full name if the platform retains such information from their everyday use. Additionally, mishaps such as accidentally sharing sensitive information about the research sponsor during screen sharing can occur, potentially compromising the interview's integrity. A busy moderator doesn't need that extra pressure.
Here are five ways you can better protect your research:
1. Pre-configure the display names of research subjects prior to allowing entry.
2. Connect to the session as a research subject to experience their perspective within the session.
3. Ensure client viewers are either concealed from view or pseudonymized.
4. Familiarize yourself with controls considering corrections for sudden background noise or audio clarity issues.
5. Secure an alternative communication channel with each attendee should someone become disconnected.
We all, to some degree, depend on IT teams to safeguard computers and servers. While conventional wisdom often centers on the importance of firewalls, encryption, and related measures, a professional platform provider takes a more comprehensive approach, considering the configuration of platform features to protect your research and research subjects.
Opting for a professional platform provider with security as a paramount consideration is a prudent choice. Much like central location testing, professionally hosted platforms provide a controlled environment with enterprise-level tools for administrators to enforce security policies and configurations.
Challenges can also stem from human behavior rather than technology glitches. When selecting a hosting provider, prioritize those with a proven track record in hosting research.
Rely on your provider's expertise to steer clear of the unintended consequences associated with DIY solutions.
2. Respondent Preparation
No matter what level of 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.
3. Technology Troubleshooting
Having a talented technology host affords the moderator the opportunity to fully focus on their role – driving the conversation to generate rich insights. 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 interupt 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?
- Who can mute/unmute respondents to mitigate sudden disruption and background noise?
- Who is responsible for ensuring the session is recorded?
- Who will handle the stimuli programming and ensure presenters are ready for every session?
- 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?
4. Client Collaboration
When choosing a virtual research provider, 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.
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 DIY 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.
5. Peripheral Services
Online studies require a many pieces to fall into place in order for a project to be successful. One of the major downsides of using DIY online research services is they require a lot of heavy lifting up front, during, and after the research. Many platforms 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.