Empathy is our superpower

Having recently attended the Qual360 conference in Berlin, Mustard research director Rebecca Harris reflects on the superpower of qualitative research – empathy!

The Qual360 conference in Berlin is an event that brings together the global community of qualitative market researchers, client-side researchers, forward thinking agencies, independent moderators and disruptive technology providers.

Reflecting on the two days, my favourite sessions were definitely the case studies that were presented by some of the most respected client-side researchers in the world. They shared detailed examples of their research programmes and how insight is being used to drive positive change, to make a difference.  They were all so different in terms of their industry (from pizza to energy) and their business challenges (cost of living crisis aside).

But there was one thing that nearly all of the best case studies had in common. At the heart of each of the research programmes was quite simply, human interaction! Despite the big research budgets of the likes of the likes of IKEA, Domino’s Pizza Enterprises and E-On, and emergence of new research methods and technologies, the most ground breaking insight was borne from the closest human connections and exchanges.

Nothing ground breaking in terms of the methods – just getting out there, immersing oneself in the target audience’s ‘world’, observing and talking to them about what they do, what they think, how they feel – and why. Focus groups and in-depth interviews remained the most common format for doing this, mainly in-person (but with some online too).

These traditional methods date back to the 1940s, and they are still relevant and highly effective today. But why? New technologies can certainly enhance qualitative research in terms of speeding things up, streamlining the experience, engaging more widely, sharing media and making sense of big data – and let’s face it, adding a bit of pizazz – but the key to success for any qualitative method is the human interaction and empathy. Be that a focus group, an online community, a depth interview on MS Teams or an accompanied shopping trip. Empathy is quite simply, our superpower. Something which machines cannot learn or show. As humans, we thrive on empathy.

“Empathy is patiently and sincerely seeing the world through the other person’s eyes. It is not learned in school; it is cultivated over a lifetime.” – Minter Dial in Heartificial Empathy

Rest assured fellow qualitative researchers; the robots can’t do what we do! Now, go harness your superpower and let that superhero moderator in you shine!