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The hidden value of asynchronous online qualitative studies

Most research teams tend to default to traditional qualitative research for their consumer insights data. After all, IDIs and focus groups are a great way to get a deeper insight into consumers and their behaviors. But even these powerful tools are limited in their ability to gain truly authentic responses. In a setting where quick answers (and little thought) abound, it can be hard to tell if participants are being genuine. That’s where asynchronous online qualitative studies can make all the difference. 

Online Qualitative Research: Asynchronous Versus Real-Time Studies

In a post-COVID era, businesses all over the world have adapted to working online. Focus groups and IDIs conducted online allow researchers to reach participants even during lockdowns, or gather insights from geographically disparate groups. Real-time interviews are a great substitute when in-person sessions are either impossible or impractical. But online research offers benefits well beyond that of a socially-distant study.

Asynchronous online research enables participants to contribute to research from the comfort of their own homes, using their own devices, at their leisure. Rather than simply gathering real-time answers to questions (although these have a place), asynchronous research gives participants several days to reflect and respond. For research teams, this means having a window into the homes and lives of participants while making as little impact on observations as possible. For the participants themselves, it means having the freedom to present genuine thoughts and attitudes that underpin their buying behavior. 

The Hidden Value of Asynchronous Online Studies 

Online qualitative research allows research teams to reach more people, more efficiently, no matter what’s going on around the world or where participants are located. But even so, online qual faces hurdles such as:

  • Poor internet connections

  • Scheduling issues

  • Limited time to gather insights and truly understand each participant

  • Relying on participants to recall decisions and buying behavior after the fact

  • Bias from moderators

  • The impact that group dynamics can have on respondents 

These issues mean online qualitative studies are limited in their efficacy and validity. Asynchronous online research, however, overcomes each of these and offers more robust, authentic, and meaningful consumer insights. Here’s how: 

See the real, unvarnished truth: What consumers tell us they think and how they really think often conflict. All humans are a heady mix of contradictions and complexities, whether they realize it or not. The person who says they’re interested in shopping for whole foods and eating organically may, in fact, finish a packet of Doritos every Friday night while watching football. Entire focus groups may profess to be proficient home cooks who use a range of spices in their meals, yet 8 out of 10 have a dozen spice jars gathering dust in their pantry. 

Whether deliberately or unintentionally, a participant put on the spot is less likely to give the full picture. Rather, they need time to come to conclusions on subjects that they may never have talked about or considered before. Asynchronous qualitative research gives participants the time and space to formulate their thoughts, and even recall previously overlooked information, without pressure or bias from moderators. For the real, unvarnished proof, there’s no beating asynchronous studies. 

Unique answers from individuals: Although there is a time and place for the insights that appear through group dynamics and conversation, shoppers rarely hit the shelves in groups of eight or ten. Thus, understanding real shopper behavior means focusing on each participant as an individual. Individual behaviors and values are the focal points of asynchronous research, and so, this type of analysis ensures that the deeper themes and drivers of participants are identified and illustrated. 

Both reflective and in-the-moment: One of the major hurdles of traditional qualitative research techniques is trying to garner both in-the-moment impressions and reflective insights with more depth. During a focus group, participants may have trouble recalling their first impressions or what caught their eye, for example. Asynchronous techniques allow for both in-the-moment impressions and reflective analysis, with the best qualitative data analysis software enabling consumers to capture photos in real-time, upload them, and then reflect on them later in a self-recorded video, for example. 

Powerful asynchronous analysis software, like HatchTank platform, allows researchers to observe a chronological narrative of the consumer’s behavior: From the supermarket shelf, where your shopper chooses a particular nutritional bar; to later in the gym where they eat that bar; to a point later in the week where they’re putting their shopping list together and adding that bar to their weekly must-haves list. From uploading photos to participating in discussions, recording videos, and making diary entries about their thoughts, the best platforms use multimedia to become a virtual fly on the wall of your consumer’s life. 

Not a crystal ball, but close: A fundamental truth about consumer insights is that people aren’t typically great predictors of their own futures. In asking a consumer how they expect to behave months from now, you might receive an answer, but that answer has very little basis in reality. Yes, they may continue to purchase the same soda, washing detergent, or granola bars they’re currently buying (people are creatures of habit, after all). But equally, another economic disruption, global pandemic, or new product entering the market could result in changes to this behavior. It’s impossible to know for sure what’s coming and how it will impact your consumers. But that’s not to say it’s a hopeless cause. 

The most accurate way to forecast behavior in three months, 12 months, or years from now is to understand the fundamental aspects of shoppers and their behaviors, including their attitudes, what motivates them, and how best to appeal to them. Asynchronous online qualitative research allows for more authentic insights from consumers, which helps to uncover high-level, fundamental drivers of behavior that don’t tend to change over time, thus ensuring more accurate predictions for the future. 

Authentic Consumer Insights Data with Asynchronous Online Studies

The journey to understanding human behavior starts with the value systems that drive us. To uncover those value systems, we must understand the total picture, not just a snapshot in time. Putting participants in a total-life context with asynchronous qualitative analysis gives us incredible exposure to their everyday lives and the thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes that drive them. Giving consumers the time and space to think about these choices and behaviors takes us closer to understanding their values and drivers and allows us to garner more meaningful consumer insights data for businesses.

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