The Transformation of Qualitative Research

Qualitative research has broadened - and continues to broaden  - in scope as its applications and methods of delivery evolve to encompass different market trends and technologies. But is it now coming full circle? 

The Early Years

In the early years of qualitative research, researchers had only two methods in their ‘toolbox’: focus groups and indepth interviews. These were usually used to discover how to market Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and were almost always conducted face to face.

The Middle Age

In the qualitative research middle period, the number of methods expanded to include online, ethnography and semiotics - and the list of researchable topics expanded too to include services, social policy and a lot more B2B. The topics shifted a little bit away from pure marketing to include customer satisfaction, reputation and many others.  

Predictably perhaps, as the number of methods expanded, the number of researchers skilled in face to face methods declined.  Some people started to talk about face to face research as passé.

Present Day

In its current manifestation, qualitative research has expanded yet again to include Usability (UX) and Customer Experience (CX) testing. Much of this is done face to face. 

While often referred to by its practitioners as ‘testing’, the CX and UX methods used are qualitative research methods. As I have written elsewhere, this form of testing is now so popular that some of the traditional group room venues - once thought to be facing extinction - are booked out 7 days a week. 


One thing worries me though:  qualitative research is harder than it looks. Hard to do well, that is.  Moderating a focus group where participants have a diverse range of views and in some cases varied ability to express those views is challenging. Conducting an individual interview requires listening skills that many people do not have. This is why professional researchers who have spent years practicing and perfecting their skills can add almost immediate value to projects like these - whether their role is moderator, consultant or trainer.

In other blog posts in this series, I will share some of the expertise I have gained.

Tags: Market Research, Qualitative Research , focus groups

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