The Intersection of Scalable Qual, Mobile and Video

Qualitative Research

Scaling Qual

One of the most arresting stories of the 21st century is how quickly and profoundly technology has changed marketing. It began innocently enough with banner ads on websites. Then came search and communities. Quickly after, the complex ecosystem of advertising technology (Adtech) – a multi-billion dollar vertical with a cornucopia of offerings stretching across display, search, video, mobile, social, content marketing, native advertising, gaming and commerce – emerged.

The next generation of technology emerging on top of Adtech is marketing technology (Martech). It aims to make marketing “programmatic” – operating automatically and autonomously, similar to programmatic advertising. Martech entered the vernacular relatively recently but has grown rapidly, with companies that deal in it growing from about 100 in 2011 to more than 1,800 by 2015. Martech today is spread across consumer and B2B marketing domains while it increasingly absorbs the elements of Adtech. 


What connects and underpins these technologies is data. Behavioral data is generated frequently as the “exhaust” of all digitalized processes. The emergence of this data creates and fuels the disintermediation of (quantitative) research through the rise of business intelligence (BI). BI is a collection of technologies originally developed to look at areas like supply chain or finance; data feeds not relevant to the insights category. But today we are seeing the absorption of all things market research into BI, driven by expansion of data collection processes, visualization platforms or analytical systems that incorporate many of the quantitative tools.

However, the impact on qualitative research tools and platform is different, if not opposite. These technologies make current qual tools faster, better and more efficient, and also help scale them in ways that used to be cost prohibitive, if not entirely impossible, in the offline world. 

Some of the new approaches are new interpretations of existing tools, like participant observations, diaries, IDIs, or focus groups. Here technology delivers a significant change but may not be a game changer. Other approaches result in completely new tool – in fact, sometimes it is debatable if these are qual or quant; just think about sentiment analysis in social media.

Once upon a time, the demarcation line between qualitative and quantitative research was clear and impossible to cross. This is no longer the case. Today’s “new qual” maintains the depth and richness of insights from the “old qual” era, but it can also scale in a manner that is more reminiscent of quant.

The Mobile Imperative

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While big data and the technologies that create and live off of it are frequently discussed in research, they are many degrees removed from consumers and respondents. The technology that impacted the consumer most in this decade is undoubtedly mobile.

The smartphone has seen the fastest ever consumer adoption rate and half of the world’s population now has a mobile subscription – up from just 1 in 5 ten years ago. It has become our primary connector to the world, offering a solution in just about every situation (to paraphrase the popular ad: “there’s an app for everything”).

This is also true for the insights industry because research and mobile get along well. With all the capabilities mobile offers and the need for the research to be faster and better in data gathering, this dynamic duo presents great opportunities.

Qualitative research particularly benefits from mobile. With enhanced techniques such as ethnography and diaries, some argue that mobile has also created entirely new research methodologies.

Mobile offers a solution for several research challenges, including:

  • Mobile Boards: These apps let respondents to post messages, pictures, and videos to a board and conduct discussions while they are on-the-go and away from their computers. By going mobile, respondents can share their thoughts and experiences wherever life takes them. Many also let participants interact with one another and extend their research community (MROC) experience.
  • Ethnographic Tools: These tools allow researchers to be with people in the moment, so they can understand what they think and feel, as well as see them in their most natural context. With the help of these apps, researchers can follow people’s’ journeys and brand interactions as they happen; be with them in their homes; on their way to work; or at a live event. Researchers can also use the app themselves, during shop-alongs, consumer connects, or for mystery shopping projects.
  • Research Platforms: These are dynamic scheduling platforms that allow tasks to be set up to appear at certain times, or based on certain events, including prior respondent uploads. This means respondents get to unlock their tasks and activities which results in deep engagement with the project, making it fun, game-like and immersive. On the back end, researchers are connected to a platform to capture thoughts, reactions and behaviors as they happen. It lets respondents conveniently record their messages, videos, and pictures, with just one simple click. Many offer maximum data collection flexibility and allow researchers to easily review all information. The benefit is to see how people experience products, services and everyday life in the same moment they do.
  • Mobile Surveys on the Fly: Other apps let researchers create forms and surveys in seconds on a web dashboard then publish them to a native mobile application for mobile respondents to reply instantly and remotely. Frequently “software as service” features include the ability to reply to forms offline, collect signatures and pictures, together with their GPS location, time and date of collection. Most of these features can be custom-integrated to existing information system and other mobile apps.
  • Passive Data Collectors: This class of apps allows researchers to mine the data mobiles collect passively either directly or licensing it from data aggregators. With the help of these tools, you can easily measure content consumption on the device, or string together various behavioral and attitudinal data streams, e.g.: linking a survey response to social media activity.

The Rise of Video

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Video took the consumers’ world by storm and now makes it into almost every interaction they have online. Daily time spent watching online video in 2015 grew by 23.3 %  across 40 key markets. And, thanks to the continued popularity of YouTube, the growth of video on Facebook/Instagram, and the accessibility of high definition video on almost any device, video growth will expand by another 19.8% in 2016.

Video increases engagement and consumer involvement in every situation. For example, landing pages with video can lead to 80% more conversions. In fact, 88% of visitors stay longer on a site with prominent video displayed. Those that stay longer spend an average of 120 seconds more on a retail site and are 64% more likely to purchase after viewing a single product video.

With sophisticated mobile devices, network improvements and consumers’ increasing ease at sharing their life via mobile, it’s no wonder that half of all video traffic in the world is now routed to a mobile phone or tablet.

While it began with professionally produced content being scaled up, the proliferation of mobile devices shifted this balance towards user-generated content. This helped create new companies like GoPro, communication services like Skype or live video feeds for social media networks like Meerkat.

This has meant that video analytics have also grown at a comparable rate. The need for enhanced insights from customer behavior gathered by the existing video platforms is driving improvements in these analytical solutions.

The video analytics market broadly falls into categories including security management, crowd detection, pattern recognition, and other applications. Pattern recognition includes face recognition, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and object detection. This category, partly driven by the quest for insights, is experiencing the greatest increase in demand enhancing the economical scalability of video based insights generation solutions.

When Mobile, Video and Scalable Qual Meet

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Scalable qual, mobile and video are powerful forces on their own, but when you combine them together a truly formidable research proposition emerges.

  • Richness & Depth of Insight: The relationship consumers have with their mobile phones is one of the most intimate. These devices are the connectors and conduits between the outside world and us. We share every moment on our mobile phones, sometime perhaps even too much. But for researchers, mobile phones are a treasure trove of rich, deep, descriptive, explanatory, evocative and inspiring insights. The combination of capturing behavioral and attitudinal data along with the context at the same time is truly unique.
  • Agility & Speed: Today these changes have moved from “how quickly can you do it” to “can the speed of your decision-making match the speed of my insight delivery?” The in-the-moment nature of mobile platforms not only enables speed but practically dictates it. Equally importantly is now there is no need for “campaign thinking.” Consumers’ expectations and communication protocols are driven by the “chatty nature” of mobile. The primary case and fastest growing mobile applications are the chat platforms. These are setting the tone by establishing precedence and driving preference. The asynchronous nature of these platforms allows researchers to pick up conversations where they were left off, matching consumers’ natural behaviors on the platform.
  • Scalability/Sample Sizes: As discussed earlier, new emerging qual platforms approach ‘size’ through scalability. In other words, gone are times when one had to lock in on approaches driven by sample sizes. Mobile video delivers rich and deep insight with sample sizes ranging from “qual” to “quant” coupled with the right technology. A platform that can effortlessly scale across research disciplines makes a viable tool for “small data” research projects or larger scale analytics.
  • Socializing the Result: A research project is only as good as how effectively it can inform and persuade business decision makers. Video’s magic also works here. More than 80% of senior executives watch more video than they did a year ago, and 75% of executives are watching work-related videos every week. Given the choice, 59% of executives would rather watch a video than read an article, making video an effective and efficient presentation tool.

In summary, mobile video is an important addition to the researcher’s toolbox, upending the traditional qual-quant equation by delivering deep, rich, insightful information at unprecedented scale and speed. As techniques and methods further mature there is less and less excuse for not using it in your next research project.