Many things have changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the world of market research is not an exception. One challenge has been developing research strategies that do not compromise the health and well-being of our intended audience while still meeting tight budgets and deadlines. We have therefore been compelled to investigate alternatives to well-established market research methodologies that do not adversely affect the quality and accuracy of the research.
What changed? Challenges and how we have overcome them
Even though virtual research is not new to the industry, it has become a standard research tool for companies that once used more traditional face-to-face methods. According to the 2022 Greenbook Research Industry Trends Report, the use of online qualitative methods continues to grow. Though most organizations still occasionally use in-person qualitative methods, at least two-thirds of all qualitative research studies are now conducted via online IDIs, focus groups, or communities. This shift, however, has not been without its challenges.
Here are some of the challenges Echo encountered during this transition and what we did to overcome them:
- At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a significant decrease in research studies from some of our clients. One reason for this was the obvious concern of shrinking budgets. But another was that clients were fearful of transitioning their in-person research online. Echo was well positioned for this transition as our team was already working remotely and has always offered both virtual and in-person research. So the team was already very familiar and comfortable with online approaches and was able to demonstrate that a virtual approach would not compromise the quality of the research and would help achieve goals at reasonable costs. Moreover, clients soon realized that the advantages of virtual research outshone any disadvantages.
- Regarding execution, the platforms available played a significant role in the research outcome. The platforms typically used for virtual market research are not always cost-accessible to everyone. For that reason, finding more cost-effective alternatives for our clients was crucial. Some of the challenges in this regard were the lack of research-oriented features like a proper backroom, transcripts, and sentiment analysis. Our team is familiar with a wide range of platforms, so we were able to recommend the right tools for each of our clients, ensuring that the quality of the results was never adversely affected.
- Tech issues and the concern of low participation rates have always been and will always be challenges in our field. This is understandable amid so many different devices, browser preferences, and operating systems in the market. However, this is not that different from guaranteeing that everyone will show up to an in-person interview! The risk of someone not showing up or experiencing technical issues is reduced when we carry out tech checks, send timely reminders, and provide clear instructions prior to the sessions.
- Product testing projects were another big challenge. We changed from on-site testing to iHUTs (in-home use tests), which require a lot of logistics coordination. Recruitment, shipping, ensuring the products arrived in good condition, ensuring that the participants tested the products, and then gathering feedback all required a great deal of time and effort. While conducting this type of study, it was essential for us to act as an extension of our client's team. It takes effort to develop synergy between all parties, but the time and effort invested in planning and building the logistic infrastructure were well worth it. It also helped to keep tight budgets under control.
While the Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted in most places, it’s important to keep in mind that we are still in the middle of a pandemic.
Even though people are returning to what we knew as normal, some aspects of the new normal are here to stay: that includes a more technologically-advanced society accustomed to virtual environments. We do not foresee the demand for virtual market research reverting to what it was prior to the pandemic. On the contrary, we expect it to grow even more in the next few years. However, we also think there will be a resurgence of face-to-face research. As clients may begin to feel more distance forming between them and their audience, they may look to hybrid qualitative methods.
Going forward, collaborating with clients will be even more crucial in order to identify the best approaches to conducting research and achieving their goals without limiting them to one type of research methodology.