Qualitative market research focuses on generating in-depth, detailed explanations of the research problem based on the perceptions, experiences and behaviours of individuals or groups. Such insights are vital to businesses when trying to maintain an edge over their rivals. However, the Covid-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on qualitative research. Researchers must adapt their approach to ensure projects continue to generate valuable data.
Impact of COVID-19 on Conventional Qualitative Methodologies
Face-to-face (F2F) interviews, focus groups, telephone interviews and ethnography are some of the most commonly used methods for qualitative data collection. However, with social distancing enforced for the foreseeable future, F2F studies cannot be conducted, bringing a degree of uncertainty to the continuity of successful qualitative research.
For your next healthcare market research project, you could consider utilising telephone-depth interviews (TDIs) as your methodology of choice. While TDIs are not impacted by social-distancing regulations, they may not be suitable for certain types of research (usability testing etc.), and interviewers are unable to analyse the non-verbal behaviour and expressions of participants. Moreover, for the continuity of effective qualitative research, we recommend you consider making use of online platforms for your next project.
Online Qualitative Research Methodologies
Live Video IDIs & Focus Groups
Face-to-face in-depth interviews (IDIs) and focus groups can be replicated online via telecommunications applications that specialise in video chat, or on purpose-built qualitative video interview platforms. Live video IDIs and online focus groups will follow the same pattern as the conventional methodologies, with moderators using a discussion guide to ensure the participant or group stay on topic.
Here are some reasons why you could consider using live video IDIs and focus groups as part of your next project:
- Moderators can easily present concepts or stimuli
- Ability to capture respondents’ non-verbal cues and behaviour
- Online focus group participants can freely discuss experiences and attitudes towards certain topics
- Less expensive and time-constrained than conventional F2F studies
- Can reach a broader, more geographically diverse sample
- Researchers and clients can observe the study in real-time
- Some platforms make it possible for researchers to instantly note or ‘pin’ specific points in the discussion to refer back to
- Ability to use simultaneous translation
Mobile ethnography utilises an app on the respondents’ smartphone which enables them to diarise their behaviours, feelings and experiences 'in-the-moment' using videos, photos, or text. These multimedia diary posts are automatically uploaded from their smartphones via WiFi or 3/4G so that researchers can immediately observe and analyse the data through the app.
Listed below are several reasons why you could consider using mobile ethnography to gain valuable insights into your customers’ perceptions and experiences with a medical product or technology:
- Respondents are able to complete tasks and answer questions in their place of work rather than in a research facility
- Researchers can observe the participants’ real workflows and day-to-day interactions with medical products and technology
- Provides more layers of insight and data in comparison to other forms of qualitative research
- Less expensive and time-consuming than traditional ethnography
- ‘Researcher effect’ removed as they are not physically present with participant
- Some of the potential issues that come with in-hospital ethnography removed (i.e. patient safety, patient confidentiality)
Market Research Online Communities
Market Research Online Communities (MROCs) have recently grown in popularity among qualitative researchers. MROCs are private online venues set up for a network of participants who take part in a series of activities and conversations surrounding a certain topic over a prolonged period of time. MROCs are largely unmoderated, which gives participants the opportunity to discuss and explore certain topics freely with one-another via social media-style messaging and posts.
The main benefits of using MROCs for your next project are listed below:
- Asynchronous study; respondents can participate in activities and discussions when it suits them
- MROCs are unmoderated, so there is no risk of moderator bias
- Community members can discuss topics freely and create their own discussion threads
- Can gain quick insights from the market by running snap polls
- Can gain more in-depth participant insights from discussions that last for several days or weeks
- Respondents can share multiple sources of data (i.e. photos, videos, text)
- Can include participants from multiple countries, making it more scalable than other qualitative methodologies
Eye Tracking and Facial Coding
Eye tracking is a process of tracking point of gaze or motion of the eye, whilst facial coding analyses small changes in the respondent’s facial expression. Both of these processes can be utilised to measure the participants' responses to concepts or stimuli. Eye tracking and facial coding studies are usually conducted in laboratories, however, technological developments have provided researchers with the option to use each process online.
Here are some reasons why you could consider using eye tracking or facial coding:
- Both methods can be used to better understand the nature and meaning of participant responses to stimuli
- Participants only require a computer, webcam and access to the internet, making it less time-consuming and more accessible than in-facility eye tracking or facial coding
- Works well in conjunction with in-depth interviews to add more layers to the data collected
How to Conduct Effective & Ethical Online Qualitative Research:
Some of the considerations that have to be made prior to conducting a conventional qualitative study must also be applied to any online qualitative research to ensure that it runs smoothly and successfully. Here are just a few of the aspects you need to think about:
- Set clear goals and criteria that you want to test prior to the study as it can be difficult to evaluate all aspects of your new product/service. It is often advisable to test the main pain points you believe users may experience
- Partner with a qualitative market research company who can ensure the best quality respondents are selected
- If conducting an online interview or focus group, ensure that the moderator is fully briefed so that they fully understand all aspects of the study
There are other important considerations too. Online qualitative research is relatively new, and due to the complex nature of internet-based studies compared to F2F research, we cannot expect the guidelines and ethical principles to remain the same. Listed below are some of the unique online qualitative aspects that need to be considered:
- Ensure you have the support of a technical team who can deal with any issues efficiently to make sure research runs smoothly
- If conducting a multi-national study, partner with platform that can provide 2-channel audio or simultaneous translation
- The research may have to adhere to personal, commercial, regional, or national privacy regulations. It is important to ensure that the platform used protects participant privacy if requested. For instance, MROC participants could be provided with a pseudonym to remain anonymous
- In an online setting it can be difficult to obtain a respondent’s signature. Ensure other adequate measures are in place to gain their consent prior to conducting the study
- Make sure potential respondents have the opportunity to ask any questions about the research prior to participation
- Put in place rigorous measures to guarantee the protection of personal data against loss, unauthorised access, modification, and disclosure
- Consider the well-being of participants over the project deadline; will asking respondents to participate during the lockdown put them under any additional stress? Especially healthcare workers? Make sure to consider the well-being of participants over the project deadline
The Covid-19 pandemic is changing the way we conduct qualitative market research. Social-distancing measures make F2F research impossible for the foreseeable future, forcing researchers into redesigning or even suspending projects.
If you were planning on carrying out F2F research prior to the implementation of social-distancing regulations, and are reluctant to use other conventional methods such as TDIs, please do not hesitate to get in touch for a free consultation and we’d be happy to discuss your options.
IDR Medical has over a decade of experience in conducting qualitative market research tailored to healthcare markets. As a renowned market research industry leader, we have conducted projects in over 30 countries to drive success of the products and services of our clients.