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Online Qual Approaches Powering Consumer Insight

Brands need insight to make better decisions, to help them grow and, more importantly, to understand what people truly value in the context of their complex lives.

The difference between asking a consumer about why they use product X in a focus group facility - which is likely to be somewhere they’ve never been before, with a group of people they’ve never met – and observing them using and consuming the product at home is significant and telling. We know that as humans we are flawed, that we aren’t good at recalling why we make the decisions we do, and when we are in the moment, our decisions are largely driven by our emotion and impulse and not rational thinking. (Check out the work of Daniel Kahneman to read more on this).

Online qual research is the best way to understand the why behind the what, and gets deep inside the relationships people have with the products, services, environments and technology that they surround themselves with. There are a number of online qual approaches you can opt for to get the answers you need, so let’s break them down.


1. Online / Mobile Diaries

Your target audience or a specific group of users or customers are tasked with

mobile diary

 keeping a diary of their everyday activities, rituals and habits from the comfort of their home, via their mobile or laptop. Typically, diaries are kept over a one-week period, so that they capture the different between weekday and weekend behaviours.

Participants will share pictures, video clips and text in response to the questions and activities they are set. Moderation tends to be quite low level so that the behaviours are not influenced and are as naturalistic as possible.

Great for when you need to understand:

  • Emotional connections with products, services, other people and the wider environment
  • User or customer journeys over time
  • The complexity of people’s lives and how this influences their decisions
2. Research communities

Online research communities continues to be an insight professionals favourite approach, according to GreenBook. There are a number of different 

styles of community, with the variants tending to the size and duration, and the amount of qual and quant research conducted.


For online qual, the best approach is to use short-term pop-up communities. Again, a specified group of people is recruited to take part – users, consumers or existing customers. The partici

pants will be tasked with a series of activities which range from discussions and questions, to more creative exercises like shopalongs, brainstorms and feeding back on stimulus like communication concepts.

Great for when you need to:

  • See first-hand how people think, do and feel in the context of a select environment (eg. Home, work, shops etc)
  • Engage consumers that are located around the world, in hard-to-reach places
  • Understand how people think, feel and do when they collaborate with others
  • Surface behaviours and how they shift over time, as well as in-the-moment
  • Be inspired by new learnings and then develop and evaluate new concepts in quick time
  • Keep budgets tight and focus groups or ethnography isn’t an option
3. In-Depth interviews (IDI)

As the name suggests, these are one-on-one interviews conducted over the internet using a webcam, so the researcher can see the reaction of the individual at the other end. Some of the tools available to 

Zoom call

conduct IDIs include the ability to share stimulus with the participant, and for larger research and insight teams to dial-in and observe in the background.

Great for when:

  • You can’t conduct face-to-face research, for example, during times of crisis (like Covid-19) or if people live far away in unreachable places
  • You need to get quick responses to your questions and instant reactions to stimulus
4. Online Focus Groups

Focus groups have long been the stable method of qual researchers, so it’s no surprise that the online equivalent whereby you engage small groups of participants online at the same time has also flourished post digital transformation.

Focus Group

Stimulus can be shared for feedback, topics can be discussed and collaborative brainstorms can happen over the space of 1-2 hours. There’s a digital backroom which is like the room behind the mirror where clients can login and observe the discussions. But be warned, spotty internet connections can disrupt the flow of conversation and provide barriers.

Great when:

  • You can’t get everyone into a room because they live in far-away places
  • Group collaboration is required
  • You need a moderator to probe and dive deeper into things that surface
5. Social listening

Millions of consumers are online talking about their experiences good and bad, so it makes sense to listen and analyse them to understand why they feel the way they do. The language they use is more natural than what they might use when in-person with you, and you can quickly see which conversations are gaining more traction that others, and thus influencing behaviour.

social listening

Social data is readily available to acquire using platforms like XYZ, but you need to use cultural analytics techniques to be able to look beyond sentiment only.

Great for when:

  • Your brand is highly advocated and discussed in the open world
  • Your brand is being impacted by ‘influencers’
  • You want to uncover factors influencing how people perceive your brand


If you are still unsure on which qualitative research method to use to help you answer critical business questions and make better decisions, download our Guide To Qualitative Research Methods or get in touch to speak to one of our consultants.

Download my Guide to Qualitative Research Methods


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