Qualitative research in the twenty-first century

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Article publication date: 1 December 2001



ul-Haq, R. (2001), "Qualitative research in the twenty-first century", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 4 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/qmr.2001.21604dag.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited

Qualitative research in the twenty-first century

QMRIJ has prided itself on its global reach and for providing a space for dialogue between academic and practitioner communities. The last issue of QMRIJ, a Special Edition edited by Dr Chris Mann (University of Cambridge) and I entitled "Research in cyber space" provided a selection of papers regarding issues relating to Internet enabled market research. In this issue two guest reporters, Casey Sweet from New York and Charlotte Wien from Denmark, are provided a platform.

The first report is by Casey Sweet, of Quesst Qualitative Research in New York. Casey provides a report about the "Qualitative research in the twenty-first century" conference held in April in Paris, France.

Qualitative research in the twenty-first century

Paris, France – 18-20 April 2001, presented by the QRCA and AQRQRCA (Qualitative Research Consultants Association – www.qrca.org) and AQR (Association for Qualitative Research) presented "Qualitative research in the twenty-first century", its first joint international qualitative research conference to an audience of over 170 participants in Paris, April 2001. The conference consisted of two full days of papers of both practitioner studies and theoretical subjects by colleagues from a number of countries. In total, there were 19 papers presented over the two days from QRCA members, AQR members, and other respected colleagues. The following offers a brief excerpt from each of those papers.

Fred Bové and Susan Reale (Modalis Research Technologies, San Francisco, California, USA) reported on "Extending the retail environment: success strategies for the online retail marketplace". They stated that in attempting to understanding the retail customer the researcher needs to employ an array of methodologies that address the customer mindset and adequately assess the extent to which the customer has assimilated the online and offline experience of the brand. This includes the familiar (focus groups, in-depth interviews), the unfamiliar (heuristic evaluations) and some newer technologies (site path diagnostics).

Dr Philly Desai (Turnstone, London, UK) presented "Bhangramuffin style: global brands, local consumers." The study wanted to determine: how to project a consistent image across different markets and how much freedom should be given to local and regional marketing activities? The research focused on understanding what consumers do with brands, rather than what brands do with consumers. These areas were explored with a case study of British Asian young men and how they use global cultural resources to construct an identity.

Kirsty Fuller and James Parsons (Flamingo, UK) offered a paper on "Brand extensions or brand pretensions: uncovering the difference". They explored the brand world and product world of a number of global brands in supporting their recommendation that a structured and disciplined analysis process should take place in order to develop a brand extension strategy. They offer a model for this analysis process to evaluate the brand's elasticity and understand the relative strength of product versus brand values. From this, it is possible to draw up the brand vision and the extension strategy that is coherent with and able to make a positive contribution to that vision.

Christian Gatard (Gatard & Associés, Paris, France) presented "The real/imaginary origins and future of qualitative research". He explored the relationship between mankind and "brandkind" and suggested that we analyze brands as other natural beings, as if they were real. He went on to say that we are the gatekeepers of the brand and raised questions about the nature of qualitative research including: are focus groups a place of revelations? He concludes that marketers act as a real power between brands and consumers.

Wendy Gordon (The Fourth Room, London, UK) presented "Brains and brands: latest developments in the darkroom of the mind". She posed the questions: How does a brand live and die in the memory? What are thoughts, emotions, and feelings and do people have them about brands in any meaningful way? The report explores some of the most relevant neuro-psychology (combination of neuroscience and cognitive psychology) discoveries about the brain in terms of the implications for brand marketing. It was pointed out that people seem stuck with brand memories that are out of date and that thoughts are never separate from emotions and emotions are never separate from thoughts. She suggested it is more accurate to describe brands as feelings than to talk about brand emotions.

Bob Harris (JRH Marketing Services Inc., New York, USA) led "It's a question of ethics – an interactive workshop", an ethics session based on exploring ethical issues pertaining to lack of awareness, situation and lack of governance. Bob described lack of awareness as newcomers entering the business who have little or no idea of ethical considerations or others who fail to identify an ethical issue in the rush to get a study into the field. He suggested that situational ethics deals with degrees of ethics and that some members in our profession find many shades of grey depending on the business or competitive situation. Last, lack of governance suggests the perception that there is little or no control over ethical behaviour in qualitative research.

Michael Herbert (Michael Herbert Associates, London, UK) presented "Online qualitative research compared to conventional face-to-face qualitative research among teenagers to third agers". This paper reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of online focus groups as reported by the QRCA Online Qualitative Task Force (1999). These findings were used as the basis to compare and contrast the interactivity found in online and in-person groups with respondents ranging from 13 to 45+ years old. It focused on the quality of the experience of each interviewing method from the respondents perspective and the quality of the information to be used in analysis.

Brenda Johnson (IPSOS-NPD, New York, USA) and Monica McKane (NPD/INTELECT, New York, USA) offered three case studies in "Extending the reach of online focus groups through value-added benefits". They used different qualitative approaches in the online environment to uncover: decision-making for washing machines and the ideal features using real-time polling; "must-have" features for digital cameras through application of the Kano model; and, reactions to and perceptions of a new online service using an adapted laddering technique. They concluded the online medium offers a wonderful opportunity to explore what more can be done in qualitative research to bring value-added benefits to clients.

Judy Langer (Roper Starch Worldwide Inc., New York, USA) presented a comparison study conducted for Playboy Magazine titled "Online focus groups and bulletin boards vers in-person qualitative research: a real-world comparison for Playboy Magazine". The study focused on personal finance and was specifically created to test the benefits and shortcomings of each methodology. Judy stated the choice between online and in-person qualitative methods is still very much a choice. Rather than making black and white distinctions between these methods, there is great value in using them in combination and/or consecutively.

Mark Lovell's (Mark R.C. Lovell Marketing Research, Montreal, Canada) paper on "Researching ethnic sub-groups and developing a comprehensive communications program" documented a three-phase joint effort by Canadian pharmaceutical manufacturers and community-based organizations to create an HIV awareness programme. Some of the findings across the three phases included: a "melting-pot" approach does not work, stereotypes not effective, important to cover alternative therapies, and effective to convey that healthy living is possible. In the end, the records suggested that in about 10 percent of the cases diagnosed in the previous six months the campaign had played a part, directly or indirectly.

Gastón Martinex and Charles Skinner (INNER, Madrid, Spain) presented "The singular case of Spain's bigamy: maintaining relationships with Europe and Iberoamérica". This paper focused on the value of using qualitative research in international investment given that Spain is a member of two clubs, European and Iberoamérican, and it has used this dual membership to its advantage in recent years. It examined the way in which the connections of Spain to Europe and Iberoamérican have influenced the types of relationship and the image and personality of the country. It also analyzed the influence of cultural factors and image in terms of the place currently occupied by Spain in the context of globalization, and most especially as an investor in Iberoamérica.

Dan O'Donoghue (Publicis Worldwide, London, UK and Paris, France) presented "The Joseph Beuys effect and why Jackson Pollack was right!" He stated that the business world is experiencing a revolution and the revolution is being caused by technology, which gets cheaper each year and can do more each year. In such a revolutionary situation, a key "problem dimension" is trust, personal and abstract, and it is under pressure. He asks the question: what does qualitative research do and what do we use it for? And then suggests that we use qualitative research to reduce the risk of decisions by better understanding markets. Additionally, it helps to increase trust, a dimension that is increasingly important in the current climate.

Martin Pasco (RDSi, London, UK) presented "Euro youth: myth or reality?" to look at the areas of difference that exist between the youth of individual European nations. They concluded that in spite of the differences, a common strategy for Western Europe is sometimes possible; though compromise is often required and playing to the lowest common denominator can arguably make for blandness. Economies of scale are undoubtedly an attractive proposition for brand owners, but consideration needs to be given to where the brand fits within the models they describe. They felt the answer lies in a global/local approach.

Barbara Rosenthal (Rosenthal Qualitative Research, Maryland, USA) and Jean Craciun (Craciun Research Group, Alaska, USA) created an interactive session "Handling business disputes – an interactive workshop" for the diverse international audience to explore the similarities and differences of handling business disputes. Roundtables were set up with attendees mixed and matched from different cultural backgrounds, countries of origin, and organization affiliations (QRCA, AQR). Each roundtable shared their various approaches and opinions that revealed both strong similarities and differences. Final conclusions on handling disputes were shared with the entire conference.

Pat Sabena (Patricia Sabena Qualitative Research Services, Connecticut, USA) presented a two-phase case study from research with People Magazine, "Impacting the bottom line: qualitative research among 'swing' buyers of People Magazine". The overall study objective was to uncover the reasons for uneven weekly sales of People Magazine. Pat noted that publications and products need to understand and deliver their core equities to their loyal as well as to their swing buyers. They also need to discover how these core equities can evolve over time in response to the changing external environment.

Susan Stancombe and Anna-Rose Stancombe (Stancombe Research & Planning, New South Wales, Australia) presented "Change agents: cultural forecasting and the importance of context (or) when nature is seen as the new luxury, God is a DJ and Iran becomes a desirable destination, you know something is changing". They developed a unique cultural forecasting study called 42 using an ethnographic approach. Its objective is to identify key themes that are changing the world and the way these influence and interact with the new, global consumer.

Casey Sweet (Quesst Qualitative Research, New York, USA) presented an online, two bulletin board case study "Michigan State University: lessons learned" which she conducted with veterinary consultants and professors to assess and explore the management needs of veterinary practices. She concluded by saying that with bulletin boards it is possible to conduct in-depth research on complicated topics which otherwise might be impossible and that the venue allows for rich and thoughtful follow-up probes building on the discussions of previous days.

Jeff Walkowski (QualCore.com Inc., Minnesota, USA) presented "Online qualitative research for Motorola: lessons learned", consisting of six consecutive studies revolving around the development of Web sites for Motorola's commercial customers and "tech-savvy" consumers. Jeff reported respondents have no problem expressing themselves in real-time online focus groups. Even though visual and verbal cues are missing, their word choice and their use of punctuation and capitalization help them emphasize what they want to say. Further, he says online focus groups proved reliable information and realistic assessments of Web site usability and are appropriate for tech-savvy participants.

Anne Ward (Ipsos-Insight, London, UK) and Laura Cantoni (Ipsos Explorer, Milan, Italy) presented "Stereotyping in the global village: cross-cultural perceptions and the effect of the Internet". The paper outlined a recent project conducted by members of the Ipsos organization worldwide in 2000. The study concluded that stereotypes are alive and well and most people subscribe to a core vision of other countries. The research, as a snapshot in time, suggested that stereotypes are getting less extreme and less negative and the Internet does not seem likely to be a major factor in changing national stereotypes as the nature of the transactions is too narrowly focused or personal.

In conclusion, many thanks go to the QRCA and AQR members who created and orchestrated this successful conference, which left many attendees looking forward to future conferences. These individuals include Pat Sabena (QRCA), Hy Mariampolski (QRCA), Kendall Gay (QRCA), Kevin McClean (AQR), Ann Ward (AQR), and Fiona Jack (AQR).

The conference was attended and the article written by Casey Sweet of Quesst Qualitative Research in Brooklyn, New York, USA. Casey conducts qualitative research in both online and offline venues with consumer and business audiences, as well as being the creator and trainer of the only extensive online course in the design and implementation of online qualitative research. She can be reached in NY at 718-783-3237 or at casey@focusgroupsonline.net