Vantage Point: Qualitative Marketing Research

BJ Kirschner
BJ Kirschner

Entering, as of this writing, my second week of my new job, I saw this as the perfect time to opine on the future of qualitative marketing research. Or so I thought. In nearly 20 years of it, I am 100% sure of only one thing: qual research will not fundamentally change. For all the advances in technology and methodology, qualitative research cannot shed its history like its quant sibling.

Qual research is personal, tactile, emotional and fully present, based on visceral human responses. Changes in methodologies and technologies have merely made it easier for clients and respondents to interact; none have upended the purpose. Screeners have barely changed over time, especially the all-important amount of knowledge the clients want the respondents to have, or not have, about the research. Whether they want surprise or expertise, it's still a calculated decision to elicit reactions from ideal respondents.

So, wait—qual research, which now moves at the speed of light, is also coasting? How? The respondents. One of my mantras over the years has been, “That is not respondent #4. That is a living, breathing person sitting in a chair or on the phone, being asked to give opinions and feedback—who she is and what she has to say are more important than any number she represents.” Keep that in mind at every step of qual research, and you have the best possible attitude for success.

Thus, assuring that qual research has a future, no matter the form, is all about cultivating quality respondents who are eager to be a part of the process. The competition to get to them is intense, but it has to be: they make us shine, not the reverse.

BJ Kirschner is the newly appointed director, research operations, USA, at All Global.

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