The Power of Conversation

Observers of the market research industry have been noticing a trend of late: researchers are acknowledging the limitations of large-scale surveys and are rediscovering the value of qualitative research, namely, real conversations with real people. Why?

That’s precisely the question, and also, the answer. “Why.” Quantitative research often has difficulty answering the “why?” questions. While it is true that much insight can be gained by analyzing big data, why not go directly to the source and talk to them? By interviewing and hearing people’s stories and insights, you can understand data better. Why do products sell? Why is growth not taking off? Why do preferences emerge for one brand and not another? Some answers are more readily gained by simply talking to people, then interpreting the results.

One reason why qualitative research has been out of favor until recently has to do with costs and efficiencies. It is impractical to conduct large sample size qualitative research. But this deficiency may turn out to be a hidden strength.

You’ve heard the phrase, necessity is the mother of invention, right? By necessity, qualitative research participants must be carefully vetted during the sourcing process. Otherwise, you aren’t going to get quality findings. It isn’t enough to converse with participants. You have to converse with the “right” participants to gather the proper insights. But all that effort put into vetting will pay off. You will be poised for better, more clarifying results.

According to Jack Pratten at greenbookblog (, there are three main reasons why we are seeing a move back to conversation. Before we look at those reasons, let’s examine the elephant in the room: Big Data. The move back to conversation belies a much bigger trend. We live in a Big Data world, thanks to technology, which easily enables the aggregation and measurement of large scale studies.

Which leads us to Pratten’s first reason why conversation is making a comeback. First, Big Data doesn’t naturally mean Useful Data. In fact, the increased access and computational power of managing results has led to a lot of useless surveys being conducted. Just because you CAN do the survey, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it.  Proper analysis and evaluation of whether those studies even need to happen needs to be occurring. Because large scale surveys are not always leading to quality results, researchers are turning to something else, and some analysts have predicted that the growth of qualitative tools will outpace quantitative tools, in coming years.

The second reason Pratten offers for the trend shift has to do with sample quality. Once again, Big Data has led to mass surveys, and a lot of them, and this is causing what Pratten calls “data fatigue.” People are tired of being surveyed and they are opting out. This erodes the quality of a sample, and this kind of degradation is expected to continue. Compounding this problem is an even more threatening one: “fraud.” Some respondents are gaming the survey system, driven by profit motive. They are using bots to cheat and gain more incentives. Disingenuous responses render quantitative research effectively useless.

On the other hand, while qualitative research cannot scale and match the reach of Big Data, it CAN effectively remove the taint of cheaters, bots, and junk respondents from the results.

The third reason is a more constructive one. Qualitative research is becoming more viable and efficient, thanks to technological improvements. Never before has it been easier to engage with respondents and screen them. Technology is used for the recruitment and recording of interview sessions. You don’t always need to be in the room with a respondent. Conversations can be conducted and recorded via video conferencing. Technology can also enable you to pay participants on the spot. The rise of online marketplaces for sourcing respondents will make it even easier to find niche audiences. In a word, qualitative research is more feasible than it ever was before, and more cost-effective.

Ideally research should balance quantitative and qualitative approaches. Each has its strengths and limitations. If you haven’t considered the power of conversation and what it can do to enhance your Big Data driven surveys, talk with a Marketing Systems Group rep and discover how our technology can assist with your interviewing needs. Our PRO-T-S and U-DIAL solutions can improve interviewer productivity and integrate interviewers, CATI systems, and telephony operations. Our ARCS research study and participant platform will help you to qualify the right people to talk to, and our GENESYS suite offers multiple sample solutions and data enhancements and consulting services.

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