online researchOur Corona team has been looking into online qualitative research tools as of late in order to keep up with how various technology platforms can most effectively assist in data collection for our market research work.  As you might expect, we have examined both the benefits and drawbacks of different online data collection platforms that vendors offer, and in the process, we have also gained a more complete picture of these relatively “new” online offerings.

These new tools serve to essentially replicate traditional qualitative research methods like in-depth interviews, focus groups, journaling and ethnography, while providing a new avenue or platform through which data can be collected.  And in addition, online platforms offer the opportunity for participants to respond to research inquiries in an asynchronous manner over time.   This has spawned new methods such as bulletin boards, which may take place over the course of 1-2 weeks and MROCs (market research online communities), which may capture feedback over a period of 2-9 months or longer.  Asynchronous communication has also afforded the opportunity to conveniently capture ethnographic-type insights from respondents who may willingly self-record and document their behavior “in the moment” on video, and then later upload this to be viewed by the researcher.

During our hunt for new online qualitative data collection tools, one insight we’ve gained is how the proliferation of these tools provides so many more options for the market researcher to consider, and thus, greater flexibility in the design of qualitative research projects. The rise of new options is a good thing- it just requires more critical thinking up front when considering which of the many tools to employ.  Now, for each study where qualitative research is either necessary and/or the best method, we find ourselves asking questions like the following:

  • Should we conduct in-person focus groups or an online bulletin board?  Or both?

(“Both” may be the best approach when a product prototype needs to be physically tested by actual touch and feel, but may ultimately be marketed via online channels, and thus, possible online communications need to be tested.)

  • Should we use a paper diary exercise or an online journal exercise prior to in-person focus groups? 

(Paper may be best for creative exercises and for easy access during focus group discussions, while online journaling may be better for learning more about respondents and potentially screening them, prior to the in-person group sessions.)

There are numerous scenarios, and it’s nice to be able to have more choices.  When guided by 1) research objectives; 2) careful consideration of the overriding research question(s) to be answered (i.e. type of study); and 3) the characteristics of the respondent audience, we find that the most effective methods usually rise to the fore.   And of course, tradeoffs like timeline and costs will also always be a factor when more than one good option exists.