Past the point of no return

The benefits of online qualitative research summarised in song titles.

We have reached the digital tipping point. As the Phantom of the Opera said, past the point of no return. In a good way of course.

2018 is the year when more than half of the qualitative research undertaken by Mustard will be conducted through digital channels, primarily through online communities.

Mustard has been delivering long-term and short-term (“pop-up”) online communities for our clients for more than five years, during which time we have built and maintained a strong reputation for delivering online communities with the highest levels of engagement across multiple sectors (including consumer and b2b audiences).

It is not to say the traditional (often face-to-face) qualitative methods are redundant. Moreover that there are now just so many strong arguments in favour of conducting qualitative research online that, when presented with a choice, clients tend to opt for communities.

 Why are online communities so popular?

If you are yet to be convinced yourself, or if you are a convert but want to evangelise to others, we have twelve good reasons to consider an online community for your next qualitative research project.

The benefits of online qualitative research

Given we’re a team of music aficionados and it’s the week of the 2018 Mercury Music Prize will be announced, what better way to bring these to life than through song… 

  1. No Limits 

Geography becomes redundant. Our communities have included participants from across continents. No more choosing between Manchester or Leeds for your Northern groups, or between Glasgow and Edinburgh for your Scottish groups. All key locations can be covered, and we can include a broader sample (e.g. a wider demographic spread) than when doing groups. Clients get to see more, and we can all save on the time, cost and hassle of travel. Plus, it’s better for the planet. Let me hear you say “yeah!”. 

  1. Better the devil you know 

Group advocates (or community naysayers) will suggest there are compromises associated with conducting qualitative research online. They may say that projective techniques are less effective – we disagree, we can use more projective techniques, and invest the time to ensure respondents understand the task in hand. They may say it limits the amount of visual stimulus we can share – we disagree, we can upload imagery and video (and amend it as we need to). They may say it is less effective for testing physical products – not true, we can post / courier products to respondents (or ask them to go shopping) and what better than seeing / trying products in a real-life context! They may say it is better to see the “whites of the customer’s eyes” – well, in that case, let’s just ask them to upload a video… 

  1. Money for Nothing 

Online communities mean you get more for your money. All things being equal (nb. all things never are equal) a 90 minute focus group involving 6 people means you get to hear each person for 15 minutes. The rest of the time they may be sat on their hands, silently agreeing or disagreeing. For the same incentive per participant, we suggest the value is online – two hours of contribution per person – with no waiting for their turn to speak. No more money for nothing. 

  1. Think! 

This benefit takes no thinking about. Online communities provide us with valuable thinking time. This is a benefit for the respondent, for the agency / moderators and for the client. To quote Eminem, with focus groups “you only get one shot, do not miss this chance to blow”.

  1. Changes

The extended consultation period means that it is very easy to make any ch-ch-ch-ch-changes to the discussion guide or stimulus as we go.

  1. Liar liar 

We would all like to believe that we have never seen a focus group with a “liar liar (pants on fire)” in its midst (nb. greatest lyric in music history). Regardless of whether “fake respondents” exist, the removal of the time constraint associated with traditional focus groups means that respondents are willing to invest the time to be more honest and share different, contrasting opinions. People will be more honest on screen than they will be in person.

  1. Shut up

A community approach allows us to take more steps to avoid dominant respondents and group bias – in terms of the introduction of discussions and stimulus, and well as through the moderation.

  1. Where are you baby? 

No shows? No problem! Mustard tends to get good turnouts at focus groups, but if people cancel or don’t show it can be tough finding replacements on the night. If people don’t contribute on a community they are quickly and easily replaced (at no extra cost).

  1. Good times

Online community consultations are a great way of demonstrating to customers and other stakeholders that you care – and value their opinions. We make efforts to ensure the research experience is a positive and enjoyable one for those taking part. We build real-communities with strong relationships. We have even faced “petitions” from participants when communities need to (sometimes inevitably) come to a conclusion.

  1. I don’t like Mondays

Others don’t like Tuesdays. Mornings are better for some, evenings are better for others. Online communities are the kings of convenience for respondents, so nobody is prevented from participating due to a lack of availability. They can take part wherever and whenever they like.

  1. I know you 

Focus groups were “invented” way before the Internet and ahead of the proliferation of Smartphones. We are now knee deep into the 21st century. Sitting in a room full of strangers is not the norm for most people. Giving an opinion on online forums (social or otherwise) is now natural – it’s how people already share most of their thoughts on products, services and brands. Our online community platform has been designed so that it feels familiar to popular social media sites, and is “mobile first”.

mobile first
  1. Brass in pocket 

The final (and possibly most convincing) argument is that online communities are most likely to leave you with “brass in pocket”. In many instances, the savings in travel cost / time, viewing facilities and audio transcriptions means that we can deliver 2-week online communities involving 30+ participants for less than the cost of four focus groups. Now that’s special… (so special).

Let us know if you feel we have missed any benefits, or feel free to suggest alternative song titles!

This blog will soon be available as a Spotify playlist.