Why we shouldn't underestimate the power of qual

Sat opposite my husband and his sister in a restaurant. They both order tea. It arrives. Tea bag wrapped in paper. Hot water in a pot. A cup and saucer to go with it.

He places the teabag inside the pot and leaves it to stew. She places hers inside the cup and pours the hot water over it.

I witnessed how 2 people, from the same family, approached this in a completely different way to one another. Had I not been there and instead asked them to recall what they did, would they be able to do this or would they be poor witnesses of their own activity?

That’s what ethnographic research is. Being present. Capturing the moments.

So if it is so vital to be there at ‘that moment’ why is qualitative research overlooked? It could be argued that there is still a lot to do to make qual credible and it can have a real status problem within some organisations. We often hear clients say…

I need the confidence of numbers to make that decision

How many people said that?

We’ve always been driven by figures

I recently attended Eyes Wide Open, a seminar run by The AQR, where this topic was discussed in great depth. Company culture often dictates what value is assigned to these approaches and this can be demonstrated in a number of ways; for example budgets aimed and funnelled into quantitative research and a bias towards data and tracking.

So how can market researchers tackle the challenges of making qualitative research credible? Okay it doesn’t help when candidates on The Apprentice think qualitative research involves asking a sample of 3 people what they like about their advert or novelty sweets. To answer my brother’s question-no that’s NOT what I do at work.

But It IS hard to expect clients to accept the findings if they don’t know how we got there. To get clients on board we need to bring them along on the journey.  A collaborative approach with the participant, researcher and client is key in landing insight internally and engaging stakeholders.

What is more powerful than watching someone struggle to open your packaging in their home?

To sense the frustration when they can’t locate information on your website?

To feel the delight when they sample your products for the first time?

These are all emotions that can’t be captured in the same way through quantitative research. Understanding issues in their context is vital. Not everything can be understood fully in isolation-after all, nothing in life happens in isolation.

Clients need to get involved. Step out from behind the viewing facility window and join the researcher.

Watch ‘Bob’ open your packaging in his kitchen. Watch him struggle. And think about the steps we can take to make his life easier when he interacts with your product again in the future.

Quantitative research is great but let’s not forget the power of one; if Bob is struggling then chances are he is not the only one.