As we return to the workplace and most people are back living a ‘normal’ life after avoiding other humans for a couple of years during Covid, some clients are assuming we’ll be straight back to face-to-face qual. And while that make sense in some instances, it doesn’t in others, as in our eyes, digital qual is not an inferior qual solution over the more traditional face-to-face clients may have been accustomed to previously.
Remembering the why
I think we need to remember that the main factor that should be at the core of deciding whether we go digital or face-to-face, is choosing a methodology which will best suit the participant and ultimately deliver the best insight that answers the brief. These decisions shouldn’t really be based on what the client or the agency prefers.
Here’s why digital qual is rapidly shaping up to be an excellent tool in any researchers tool kit:
It provides a window into their world that you don’t get in a traditional focus group setting
You get to meet participants in their own environment. You can peep into the background and look at their home, where they are sitting, the décor, the other people who inevitably flit in and out in the background. You just don’t get this in a traditional focus group setting. It’s important to remember just how valuable all of these other non-verbal cues are in terms of real human understanding feeding into what they say at a group, and why they say it.
Participants are more relaxed in their own environment
You get a more relaxed participant than the one who rushes to a venue after work and sits in a room full of strangers politely eating sandwiches before a focus group. You see this in how they interact much more naturally but also in terms of what they wear, how much they have prepped their setting (or not!), the fact they do often get little interruptions etc from time to time. It makes for a much more natural and real conversation than sat around a table in a hotel. A more relaxed participant means less posturing and more honesty – invaluable for qual.
We get to see real reactions
As they are all on the screen in front of you, you see their facial expressions clearly when they see the stimulus pop up on the screen. It also allows for instant reactions to be captured as they are all seeing things at the same time vs passing something around a focus group circle, with the risk that they may edit their reaction as they observe the reactions of other people as the stimulus makes its way around the room. Our digital ethnographic tool Spark Life 360 also allows for participants to share information in real-time, vs completing a pre-task on paper and sending it in advance of a group. When face-to-face, you don’t get the depth of insight and access to real lives in the fly on the wall capacity that we’re now privileged to access via digital qual.
They’re a practical, cost-effective solution
As the vast majority of costs are standard across face-to-face and digital qual, and as outlined above, they are just as good as the face-to-face version, they’re not a ‘cheaper’ solution. Against the backdrop of rising inflation, participants may not see the same value of a standard incentive payment when weighing up the time and expense of getting to a venue. Increased travel costs for researchers travelling to venues are all likely to increase over time too, as well as the business cost for clients to travel to view groups in various locations. Digital solutions allow us to run cost effective qual fieldwork anytime, anywhere in the world. You can cover a lot of ground with digital qual being in London at 6pm and Manchester at 8pm.
They are agile
Research can be turned around quicker as there’s no lost hours to travel, participants can be available in their own homes faster than getting to a venue and clients can easily view live as they happen, allowing for quicker discussion and faster turnaround of research findings. In addition, for the likes of creative testing, it’s much easier to make changes to stimulus and wording between groups, leading to more iterative and agile research processes.
Obviously with all of this said, it doesn’t replace some instances where face-to-face just makes more sense – getting a product into someone’s hands, walking round a store, observations and intercepts – there’s always a role for face-to-face qual.
At Spark, we’re well versed in all qual – whether it’s digital groups, depths or ethnography, or walking the aisles of stores with consumers.