Recently the research industry, like many others, has been abuzz with the idea of agile. In an age of instant gratification, businesses want – and need – answers quicker than ever before. While quant research has largely managed to keep pace, qual research often gets pushed to one side as decision makers cannot afford to wait 3-4 weeks for consumer insight, instead they often rely on anecdote or instinct to move forward.
That is until now. Companies like Tonic Insight have been very proactive in making qual agile – speeding up the full service experience by harnessing technology and streamlining processes.
But is full service necessary for quick qual? Simply put, yes. Of course DIY quant solutions such as Google Surveys, Survey Monkey and Toluna QuickSurveys have meant that it is possible to get quick answers to simple questions. However, we have seen that, for various reasons, such data may be misleading at best or just plain wrong at worst.
Hence the need for expertise. There are lots of subtleties that surround qual and it’s our job as researchers to ensure that an increase in speed doesn’t equate to a loss of quality. And while technology may be able to get close to this, it’s no replacement.
At Tonic Insight we know the power of qual research and do not want it to get left behind in this agile world. We’ve always been the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, and we don’t want that to change. We’ve watched some of our clients make decisions based just on data, and that can be a problem. Data is seldom a source of consumer insight - it is typically just a record of consumer behavior. We believe that data needs to be combined with a qual understanding of the people behind it to genuinely offer the decision making power that it promises. You may know that a new brand’s product users tend not to buy twice, but this is no use unless you understand what’s stopping them.
As you can see there’s certainly a role for qual, but it needs to be adapted to be truly agile. We’ve been busy in this area through our Tonic Communities and our new offering Tonic Express…
Communities are a great way of doing quick qual. With a group of people already primed, recruited and happy to chat, they can give almost instant feedback on any business question that may arise. In fact they often become so central to brands that they are used to guide many more decisions than would typically benefit from consumer insight, allowing the research teams who manage a community to become much more central to the businesses they belong to.
We believe the best communities are entirely flexible; planned, designed and run around unique client needs. They are fun and interesting places for respondents to be – and the more engaged they are, the quicker and better responses we get (and the less incentives we have to pay!). When a brand has a community, they can get their questions answered in as little as a day and gain a deep understanding of their consumers over the course of years.
But of course a community is not suitable for every brand, and they only become an agile resource once they’ve been set up, which of course takes time (and money!). This is why we have been focusing much of our innovation efforts on our exciting new development…
The recently launched Tonic Express gives our clients qualitative insight in as little as 48 hours, for under $7k. While we’ve automated the ‘boring bits’ (screeners, recruitment, incentives), we’ve kept the important bits in the hands of experts. Research design, moderation and analysis is human, and always will be.
It’s ideal for occasions where research would be beneficial throughout the development process of creative ideas or new concepts, when you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Or any time when you have a critical business question that you need answered, but which does not have time for a full-scale project.
While developing Tonic Express we have learned some things and developed solutions that may be useful for others looking to be more agile:
1. Automate sampling as much as possible. We’ve created a direct link to an online panel so respondents can react to questions or stimuli within minutes or hours of a project starting, not the days or weeks that is currently typical. This requires some trade-offs in terms of sampling specificity but additional criteria can be added if time is less pressured.
2. Template research design where you can. Our series of Express products cover a wide range of our clients’ most common business issues, and we are constantly innovating to bring new products to market. We have been doing these types of projects for years and so taking the best thinking in terms of question types, structure and flow into an immediate online discussion guide helps save a lot of time. We have experienced moderators ready to probe on key issues but our pre-designed activities elicit considered, high-quality responses from the majority of respondents.
3. Simplify feedback. Getting analysis and reporting done quickly is a big challenge but it is possible. Start by scheduling in analysis discussions immediately after fieldwork. Here a few people can debate what has been said and develop themes and ideas quickly. Then use report templates to avoid reinventing the wheel with each project.
We have used these 3 simple rules to get project times down from 3-4 weeks to just 2 days. Of course we will lose some of the nuance along the way and it is not for every project but Express allows us to work at the pace of our clients and input into the decisions they need to make when they need to make them.
We believe that these developments will hugely empower the research industry. Businesses want consumer insight and if we adopt these agile approaches to qual research then we can empower our clients to make better decisions and improve business outcomes.