A Qualitative Research Journey

Many years ago, I worked for a research firm where the consultants did not particularly value qualitative research. It was foreign to them. There were no hard numbers, no statistics and no large samples. Qualitative was filled with emotion–it was too ‘touchy-feely,’ and they didn’t get it. So, whenever there was a qualitative study, they gave it to me.  Although I was a trained quantitative researcher, I was intrigued by what could be learned through qualitative research.

I learned a lot in those early days. But it wasn’t until the last 12 years of my career that I really began to understand the power of qualitative research and how to use it effectively. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn from some of the best qualitative researchers around the world.

A Personal Awakening
Prior to joining Market Strategies, I headed up the US-based global qualitative team for one of the world’s largest research companies. I was immediately exposed to a new way of thinking–new methodologies, approaches and techniques I did not even know existed. It was mind-blowing to discover there was much more to qualitative than simply focus groups and depth interviews–advances in technology and psychoanalytics were pushing the qualitative envelope.

To date, I have conducted qualitative research on every continent (except Antarctica) and have personally been on the ground in more than 40 countries. I didn’t just learn how to manage and run large multi-country qualitative studies, I learned how to assimilate and work in and among various cultures around the world, and I learned how to get people to open up and reveal their deepest thoughts, needs and motivations. When the student became the teacher, I started training researchers how to properly conduct global qualitative research. Lessons included everything from market-appropriate design and cultural protocols to how to assess, connect and report global insight and deliver actionable results to the client.

In this short space of 500 words, I can’t begin to share all I learned, but I can say one thing: What all of this has taught me is that nothing is impossible; there are only varying levels of difficulty–none of which are insurmountable.

In-the-Moment Digital Qualitative is a Hot Topic
So, after all this, is anything new happening in qualitative research? As I found out when I joined Market Strategies, the answer is ‘yes’–the world of global qualitative research continues to change and become more and more exciting. Again, I am fortunate to be working side-by-side with some of the most intelligent and creative qualitative researchers in the world so the lessons continue.

In-the-moment digital qualitative is what’s heating up right now. This combines the latest in mobile technology with wireless connectivity which, in turn, enables us to access hard-to-reach respondents, gain access to challenging locations and reach key (and sometimes very private) moments in an individual’s life. When we combine these approaches with other streams of learning, we can build deeper, more actionable insight for our clients.

Techniques such as virtual ethnographies; mobile retinal scanning; surreptitious photojournalistics; passive online metering; GPS tracking; mobile journaling; affective facial coding; point-of-sale eye tracking and point-of-sale video allow qualitative researchers to study respondents’ movements, body language, unconscious behavior and more prior to diving deep into their conscious and subconscious thoughts, feelings and the “whys” of their behavior. These innovative technologies exist because of advancements that were unimaginable several years ago…and they are going to change the face of qualitative research.

The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades
I am looking forward to my next chapter as a global qualitative research consultant. I am excited about what technology is allowing us to accomplish and the insight it is leading us to discover. If you still think qualitative research is nothing more than focus groups and M&Ms, then you are living in the past. Get ready for the future because it’s here, and things are changing fast.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about the evolution of qualitative research here.

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