Why You Need To Invest In Qualitative Research Right Now

Looking for resolutions for the issues of day-to-day life is all about Ethnographic research

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What's worse than not solving a long-standing problem?


Approaching the 'right' problem with the wrong solution and expecting the desired outcomes.

Yet, that's what so many companies continue to do almost on auto-pilot mode, much to their dismay.

We're living in times where burgeoning competition is defining business outcomes, impelling companies to 'scratch the surface' and go beyond what's worked for them in the past.

Needless to say, it is paramount to have a well-rounded understanding of the customers you intend to target in order to collate and decipher data points - before accurately identifying what's relevant and what's not.

Inevitably, you need to become 'one among your audience' and feel their pain points as opposed to just knowing them - that is, if you wish to uncover their psyche and use that information to serve them better.

Qualitative Research and Its Efficacy in Today's Environment

At the heart of every successful product and/or service delivery or design research is the ability to understand what makes your audience (new or potential) tick and engage with them meaningfully.

  • What is it that they like and dislike?

  • What motivates and inspires them?

  • What do they expect your product to do for them, even if you haven't even begun to make it?

If you're puzzled about why a group of audience who apparently swears by your brand ends up switching to another, there's some news you can use:

Ethnographic (Qualitative) studies can deliver rare insights for ultimate success of your business.

Now before you dismiss this notion by branding it as 'retro like disco', here's the thing. In the digital era, nothing could be more relevant than ethnography.

It's precisely because we have so much 'big data', 'web content' and 'social media' that we can often rob ourselves of some of the most crucial insights at our doorsteps (okay, fingertips): the ones we witness firsthand.


That's a good question. Before answering it, let's understand what ethnography is and what its relevance is.

  • Why do some cultures want their daughters to marry before the age of 20?

  • What are the cultural and psychological origins of bullying?

  • How does an individual's cultural upbringing affect the way they behave in public?

These are some grey area questions that can't be answered via a normal survey or other quantitative methods. These are best answered via qualitative research - specifically ethnography - that involves gathering, evaluating and interpreting this deep level of information.

Put simply, ethnography is a qualitative way of understanding the world we live in to make better sense of its events & outcomes.

Coming back to the question of 'why', the reason is simple: ethnography provides a faster, more accurate and in turn better ROI for a business because it gets into the audience's mindspace through contextualized observations and patterns.

The beauty about this level of qualitative research is that it can amplify and, in some cases, entirely supplant conventional ways of interviewing users about a particular product, service or device.

It delves deep into all the possible variables that cause people of different backgrounds to respond in a certain way about a particular product/service - in what can possibly influence their lives and relationship with others.

It requires researchers to analyze the behavior of participants in a 'real' (more akin to digital) environment. As a result, both businesses and customers become better equipped to make better decisions.

Qualitative Research in a Digital Stratosphere - The Way Forward

To start with, there is no director observer or interview in digital ethnographic research studies.

This not only makes it cheaper to use, but (and more importantly) also takes off the pressure from participants because they don't feel the need to react in a particular manner just because they're being watched.

As a result, they're likely to be at ease and act naturally, which is what you want as a company.

The move to digital augments the potential of qualitative research (ethnography) by rendering new abilities to evaluate behaviors/reactions as they unfold and providing closer-to-life data, faster than before.

Also, the ubiquity of mobile is emerging as the driving force for this market research. Since most customers use it anyways in their daily lives, it becomes a natural tool for them to take part in a study whilst doing their everyday activities without having anyone around them know about it.

Intel Research's anthropologist Ken Anderson makes a brilliant observation:

"Our goal is to see people's behavior on their terms, not ours. While this observational method may appear inefficient, it enlightens us about the context in which customers would use a new product and the meaning that product might hold in their lives."

Apart from minimizing failures arising from ill-equipped research, ethnography offers data-driven insights based on real world environments, which becomes important given the time sensitivity of decision making, particularly on digital platforms.

Time is of the essence in today's day and age and ethnography demonstrates its cogency on most fronts.

The Client Discovery Process

Oftentimes too much time & energy is expended in figuring out a business's wants as opposed to understanding what kind of products/services a customer needs.

While there's clearly a case for learning from objective information, the best way to accelerate the client discovery process is by observing a customer interacting with a client services personnel because that's where the exact stage of buyer journey is established.

It is this discovery that can allow a company to derive actionable intelligence so that they can improve the actual quality of a product or at least identify roadblocks that are stymieing its reach.

The Bottom-line: If you want to hit the jackpot with real, meaningful and trustworthy information about your customer, you need to include qualitative research in your marketing budget this year and beyond.