This is a fortunate myth!
Quantitative questionnaires are certainly one of the most common techniques used by market and social researchers. They have a prime advantage of allowing researchers, brand managers, market managers, and others who wish to understand their consumers and the marketplace to quantify various aspects of their brand that can’t be obtained via any other method. Often based on targeted groups of 300 to 3000 people, random sampling or quota sampling is used to create samples of people who are representative of a larger population. This method allows you to discover, for instance:
- the percentage of Canadians who use body wash.
- the percentage of Canadians who use body wash for dry skin.
- the percentage of Canadian women who buy travel sized packages of body wash.
- the percentage of Canadian women who are dissatisfied with the body wash they use.
- the percentage of Canadian women who like a new product or product package.
When people think about marketing research, the next most common methodology that comes to mind is focus group techniques. With this methodology, targeted groups of 6 to 12 people come together in a room for one to two hours to talk about a specific issue, perhaps a brand, service, product, package, or idea. These people may be asked to share in-depth opinions, feelings, and emotions to give researchers, brand managers, and market managers a more rounded and deep view of consumer perceptions and behaviours.
Interviews are the third most commonly thought about marketing research methodology. In this case, researchers may spend several hours speaking with targeted individuals on a one to one level. Unlike quantitative research, the intent is not to generalize back to a larger population, but rather to truly understand the life of one person. How does the product or service fit into their unique personal, family, and work life? What are their unique feelings, thoughts, and opinions? And, unlike focus groups, the researcher is not necessarily interested in learning how a participant’s opinions are impacted by hearing from other consumers in the room. The person in front of the researcher at that moment in time is holds the only opinions worth considering.
For many decades, these three techniques have comprised the bulk of social research methods. However, with the rise of technology, particularly at the start of the 21th century, the proliferation of the internet and digital devices had made so many more methodologies available to build upon our traditional methodologies. Let’s consider just a few of these.
- Webcam Videos: Most laptops now include a webcam, and many digital devices, including phones, have front-facing cameras. This offers researchers a perfect opportunity to capture natural open-end verbatims from participants. Instead of expecting people to articulate their thoughts in words and transfer them via typewritten words on a small or virtual keyboard, people can instead simply record themselves speaking naturally. The ums, ahs, pauses, colloquialisms, social grammar, and other natural speech patterns and behaviours can be exposed and learned from. Webcam video also allows participants to physically show the researcher what they mean. For instance, they can show how a package is difficult to open due to their arthritis or vision problems, point to the confusing part of the icongraphic product instructions, show different sections of their cupboards or refrigerator and explain the organization or shopping strategies that are associated. And of course, webcam video helps researchers and brand managers really connect with the people they want to understand. That face to face contact, even though it may be asynchronous, can really help bring life to a consumer who is otherwise a number on a page.
- Eye Tracking: Webcams have been a boon for user experience researchers who want to better understand how people see and understand their website pages. It is now possible to use user-facing webcams to monitor how people use a webpage. Do they see the ‘Buy now’ button? Are they ignoring the list of key features? Do they realize they can login to save their shopping cart and wish list? Conversely, using a webcam for eye-tracking helps brands understand which features of their website people love. In essence, which components they should keep and enhance with additional content. In the 2017 Q3/Q4 Grit Report study with more than 1500 researchers, 34% of participants said they used eye tracking techniques, and another 21% said eye-tracking was being considered. While it certainly doesn’t mean that eye-tracking constitutes the bulk or even many of their projects, it does demonstrate that researchers recognize the value of eye-tracking.
- Facial Coding: Facial coding is another technique that can now take advantage of webcams. Rather than bulky glasses that necessitate either mailing out expensive equipment or bringing people into a central location, webcam technology has progressed to nonintrusive techniques. This technique is interesting from two angles. We know that there is a big difference between someone typing out “It’s a pretty good product” and someone saying with numerous um and ahs and pauses and eye rolls “It’s a pretty good product.” At its most basic level, facial coding helps researchers truly understand the intent behind the words. Now, techniques for facial coding are far more enhanced. Extensive research has been conducted on micro-expressions, those very tiny facial movements that we strive to prevent others from seeing and, sometimes, that we don’t even know are happening. Skilled facial coders can use webcam video to detect and decode unconscious emotions behind the words people are saying. In the same GRIT Report, 20% of participants said they used Facial Analysis and 25% were considering using. This seems like a high percentage but, again, keep in mind that this doesn’t mean researchers use it on a regular basis.
By all means, dive into questionnaire, focus group, and interview research. These are ideal techniques to answer many research objectives. At the same time, keep in mind that technology has stocked the researcher’s toolbox with many new intriguing methodologies. If you need to know, or even SEE, what your target audience is thinking or feeling and you can’t bring them together in one room, consider the opportunities that webcam technologies offer. The options are eye opening!