by Hubertus Hofkirchner -- Vienna, 1 Sep 2015
“Qualitative is the better-suited research method, bring it back” is a frequent complaint of advertisers (like DDB Group Chairman John Zeigler) when their work undergoes quantitative pre-testing. Yet, the long-term trend shows an unabated decline of qualitative in the wake of the success of online quantitative and automated digital research.
Proponents of qualitative criticise that quantitative data provides too little insight into consumers’ reasoning and emotions. They propose to intensify traditional focus groups and face-to-face interviews. Before reverting to these methods, however, we should consider why they lost ground in the first place and whether innovations provide a better alternative for advertisers.
Emotional Advertising Is More Effective
Marketeers and advertisers have very good reason for joining the method debate. A recent study on 30 years’ worth of data from nearly 1000 case studies for the IPA’s Effectiveness Awards ("The Long and the Short of It") found that emotional advertising is twice as effective than less creative campaigns which address primarily the rational mind. A campaign’s immediate success is less important because the long-term effects make all the difference.
This raises several questions: Does the decline in qualitative disregard the IPA’s findings? Are pre-testers using the wrong methods? What are some “Other” research methods which are clearly on the rise, according to ESOMAR’s GMR 2014 industry report?
The Plight of Traditional Qualitative
The distinction between quant and qual stems from traditional methods being good at either one or the other, hence full coverage needing both. Today’s business environment however, puts enormous pressure on companies and managers to be more agile and cost efficient. Tighter budgets and deadlines do not combine well with the luxury of doing two projects sequentially. Doing them in parallel is not a good solution, either. The cost problem still remains and the studies cannot build upon one another, thus little value is added.
Separate projects create their own issues. If the qualitative findings fit with what a marketeer already knew quantitatively, he will ask himself “Good, but so what?”, when they do not, his puzzled question will be “Hell, which one is right?”
The benefit of solely qualitative projects may be lost if verbatim responses get summarised into shallow insights and fail to wash out the gold nugget called actionable insight. It relies on a central – potentially weak – point, the individual researcher whose analysis is subject to personal perception, individual interpretation, or even fear when encountering results which the client may dislike.
The New Predictive Method
Today, qualitative or quantitative research is no longer a contradiction as new methodologies can perfectly integrate the two. One such example out of ESOMAR’s growing “Other” category is the prediction market method. Its trading mechanism produces a stream of quantitative data while in parallel, the participants’ market talk generates rich topical conversations. The two are inherently linked: positive or negative market price movements show directly if a piece of market talk is an insight or nonsense.
Experiments in psychology have shown that people can predict other’s emotions and behaviour better than their own (see Puleston/Hofkirchner: “Predicting the Future” - ESOMAR 2014). The answers to “Will I clean up?” versus “How many of us will clean up?” are 50% and 15%, on average, the empirical result is 13%. Therefore, proper prediction market questions always ask for other consumers’ actions, emotions, or intentions, but never the respondent’s own like in an interview.
The Emergence of Crowd Intelligence
Each respondent in a prediction market becomes a research analyst himself, as the challenge is to be right about the future. This decentralised approach opens different perspectives with correspondingly deeper interpretation of everybody’s verbal and numeric responses. Crowd intelligence emerges and market price movements provide the feedback which trains the panel’s collective IQ, and sparks creativity. The participative environment feels – actually: is – truly democratic, everybody’s opinion matters. Respondents feel a strong impulse to help the client.
Advertisers can now get both viewpoints at once, combining the rational and the emotional into a consistent whole. Artfully structured question designs ensure that respondents forecast and discuss both near and far-horizon KPI’s to facilitate differentiation between short-term novelty effects and long-lasting emotional ones.
The future lies in the new integrated methodologies which produce consistent quantitative and qualitative results with only one project. Twice as fast and at half the cost.