The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Qual: a quarter century on

How has the world of qualitative and quantitative research changed over the past 25 years, asks David Iddiols.

A quick skim through the marketing press over the last couple of weeks reveals a paucity of genuine new product or service launches. One reads about a decent crop of recent line extensions (Coke Zero, Hugo Boss Femme perfume and Organic Shredded Wheat, to name a few), but actual brand launches are conspicuous by their absence.

In South Korea, Ohmy News represents a major but radical development in citizen journalism but, on the domestic front, Kellogg's launch of Optivita - a cholesterol-lowering breakfast cereal - doesn't trigger much in the way of excitement.

To my mind this illustrates a cagey, cautious marketing community worried about making fatal career errors. And, in many ways, who can blame it? Everyone in our industry receives regular reminders that only one in ten new products survives beyond a year after its launch. Caution is perhaps an inevitable, natural consequence.

These prevailing conditions have, of course, serious implications for research. The past quarter of a century's developments in quantitative approaches are well documented, with the growth of online panels and consumer councils tasked with selecting colours, logos and flavours.

But the world of qualitative research has changed too. Twenty-five years ago it would often be considered sufficient to carry out a few groups, think about the outputs and report back.

But not any more: today, qualitative research is under intense scrutiny from outset to conclusion, usually culminating in not one, often not even two, but perhaps as many as three debriefs.

Of course, techniques have evolved too, and in general the discipline is a lot better for it. Most notably, NPD studies nowadays variously involve techniques such as consumer immersion exercises, strong observational components and follow-up incubation work - giving consumers the opportunity to properly reflect on their thoughts and opinions.

Today's interviewing process goes a lot deeper too, as researchers seek to drill down into the subconscious and unearth genuinely emotional responses.

Of course, this is not to say that these practices weren't around 20 or 30 years ago. But, as someone who was in the business back then, I have to admit that they are now more considered and thought out. And with the improved outputs that tend to result, I'm happy to see how far we, as an industry, have come.

 

David Iddiols
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2006