The advantages of face-to-face research

Interesting view on why good old fashioned face-to-face qualitative research is not being replaced by online focus groups and forums, from Stephen Rothman, Global Planning Director on Papmers at Saatchi. Stephen was talking at The NowAndNext online research conference I attended today.

Stephen explained three reasons why he still relied 100% on classic qual, not online qual (forums, online chat etc.).

1. Seeing the whole person
– Stephen liked being able to see people in real life, as body language and facial expression are so important. I remember the example quoted about this by Siimon Clift, former CEO of Unilever. In focus groups consumers said that both Pantene and Sedal were both "good" brands. However, when taking about Sedal they were more animated and "sitting forward", not sitting back, showing how much closer they were to the brand.

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2. B
eing able to go "off-piste" – good old qual allows you to improvise and go off the discussion guide, if something interesting comes up. This is much harder to do using online research

3. Consumers bouncing ideas off each other – the final thing Stephen liked about qual is the way consumers in qual research can interact and share ideas. Again this sort of real-life conversation and is hard to replicate online.

In conclusion, in the same way that online media works with conventional media rather than replacing it, the same thing seems to go for online research. For certain tasks, especially doing routine quantitative research, online has become dominant. However, conventional qual still has a role to play for exploring more in-depth exploration of consumer attitudes and behaviour.