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  • Writer's pictureTrey Crowder

The Evolution of Qualitative Research

Updated: Mar 28

Qualitative research is an essential tool for consumer insights. Its direct observation and analysis of people make it invaluable for market research. But, over the years, has it adapted to the changing ways we interact and communicate?

 

To learn more about the past, present, and future of qualitative research, we sat down with Liz White, Senior Vice President at buzzback, an insights agency pioneering research innovation since 2000. Liz’s career has spanned across both quantitative and qualitative approaches, including founding the qualitative division at buzzback. Over the past 19 years, Liz has not only developed a holistic knowledge of the industry—she’s impacted its evolution.

 

Q: What do you like most about qualitative research as opposed to quantitative?

 

LW: I love the human component of it all. The qualitative pieces of research are just so illuminating—you really get to know folks. As many great insights as quantitative research gives, it always leaves you wondering about the person behind the number. It was important for me to dig my heels into that.

 

Q: Being in the industry for nearly 20 years, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen in qualitative research?

 

LW: About 20 years ago, we stopped doing research with pen and paper and started recording it digitally and using the internet to facilitate that. And until about 12 years ago, everything was done in person, in a facility. Doing qual research online wasn’t a thing, period. Then, when COVID hit, it really cemented the change and made online qual the leading method of qual research. Brands had to be open to doing online interviews and leaning on different digital platforms to help them connect with their consumers. Online is where people are and how we are accustomed to communicating.

 

Q: How does online qualitative research differ from in-person? What makes it so great?

 

LW: At buzzback, we’ve always tried to meet the consumer where they are, and right now, that’s online. So, we try to leverage different online tools or techniques that are relevant to what we do in our daily lives to paint a true picture of somebody. That means mobile-first methods, digital captures, videos, and remote discussions, to name a few.

 

Online qual has a host of benefits. You still get to meet the person and get snippets into their lives—and at times, it’s even more true to who they are while recording their thoughts immersed in the environment or occasion you are exploring. There’s always been something disjointed about asking a consumer to come into a focus group facility at 8 PM to talk about brushing their teeth that morning! I prefer talking to them while they’re in that moment—when their thoughts, attitudes, and experiences are fresh in their mind.

 

And lastly, it can be done from anywhere for efficiency—which helps brands who are tightening their belts with expenses and need to be more agile.

 

Q: What were the biggest obstacles to garnering qualitative research when you first started?

 

LW: It was all very manual and quite honestly a bit gated. It used to be incredibly laborious for research buyers to find a moderator who’s perfect for their project—the telephone game, posting on LinkedIn, all that. It was a bit of who do you know, and the size of your network. But not everyone has those types of connections and even those that do, inevitably find themselves tapping out their network in need of fresh thinking and partners.

 

Similarly, recruiting participants took an agonizingly long time. You needed more time to do that part alone than some projects were scoped for from start to finish!

 

Really there was a lot of obstacles & barriers that we just lived with and accepted despite it not being ideal for anyone.

 

Q: Have those problems been solved?

 

LW: Well, it’s funny because while we’ve evolved to embrace these online methodologies, so much of how to make it all work was not evolving. There’s been so much innovation on the quantitative side of our industry, but on the qual side, our processes were still very antiquated and inefficient. It prompted us to look at some of these quantitative ResTech platforms and even solutions outside of our own industry. It made us think—what can we learn from that? Can we take a page from their book?

 

So, we finally did. In 2024, we launched Studio—an online service on-demand platform to bring the qual research process into modern times. With the creative help of TTC, we developed our launch campaign introducing Studio as the Future of Qual.



Q: Can you tell us a bit more about Studio and its improvements to the qualitative research process?

 

a woman smiling with text on her right about a qualitative research platform

LW:  Studio was born out of an experience that needed to become more agile, accessible, and efficient. It expedites the moderator search process by allowing clients to find the perfect moderator for their unique project through our wide network of vetted qualitative professionals and robust profiles. Not only that, but Studio provides built-in features, administrative tools, fieldwork and recruiting partners so that everyone can focus on what matters most (consumer insights!) and ultimately improve the speed to obtaining them.

 

Think about it this way: We’ve all booked a weekend somewhere and used AirBnB to find the perfect place for whatever mood we’re looking for. We applied that same thinking to organize a place for folks looking for qual research services.

 

Q: Where do you see qualitative research going in the next five years?

 

LW: I’d like to see research technology, like Studio, become increasingly available, making consumer insights more accessible for everyone. I hope that continues. You should have tools that allow you to test new ideas and collect consumer feedback easily, no matter who you are or the size of business you work for. Our vision of the future of qual is with Studio. We see the opportunity as limitless, as the pain points that Studio solves is everywhere.

 

Studio has refined qualitative research to fit the digital age. The evolution of this industry relates to how we live our own lives, as it seeks to study just that. Reach out to us at info@thethomascollective.com to learn more about the future of qual.

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