Crowd Sourcing Your Way to Qualitative Research

The crowds are being wooed as never before. Their collective wisdom is being solicited for all types of situations including graphic design (CrowdSpring), OCR text correction (reCAPTCHA), finding people lost in a hurricane (Katrina PeopleFinder), funding interesting startups (KickStarter), and even designing and manufacturing armored vehicles (Adaptive Vehicle Make).

It is almost obvious that a sector that truly depends on making decisions based on deep insights from people would embrace the immense power and possibilities of speaking to the crowds. Yet, qualitative market researchers have approached crowd sourcing with timidity and uncertainty. What could explain this reticence?

CrowdsThe ESOMAR 2013 Global Market Research report section on qualitative methodologies may hold a clue. Despite their well-known drawbacks, researchers continue to depend on traditional methods like personal interviews and focus groups to obtain the in-depth feedback necessary for directional guidance. Some methodologies such as focus groups are clearly losing prominence as their cost and value proposition goes out of whack. However, as is clear from the report, almost every qualitative methodology continues to depend on the small sample sizes that have been typical of this sector. Even the technology-based solutions are nothing more than online clones of the brick-and-mortar originals. A case in point is online focus groups on which a former colleague wrote an incisive post pointing out the lost opportunity to re-imagine the power of a group discussion in the digital realm.

The bottom line is that crowd sourcing is effectively ignored under the guise that the wisdom of the crowds (which implies large numbers of participants) is irrelevant to qualitative research since the assumption is that such research is only possible with ridiculously small sample sizes. So, business leaders continue making million dollar decisions that may involve selling to consumers in Omaha, Tucson, Louisville, Indianapolis, Bellevue, and Charlotte after researchers have spoken to 10 people in a room in New York City.

shutterstock_172800356However, several contenders in the sector are emerging to provide the innovative tools necessary to leverage crowd sourcing for qualitative research. A post on Research Access titled “How to Use Crowd Sourcing Tools to Enhance or Replace Focus Groups” highlights a couple of tools such as IdeaScale and ChallengePost to demonstrate the possibilities. The author also points to some of the difficulties of focus groups that have been evident for a while –

“Yet focus groups come at quite a cost: time, money — and lots of both.”

“But for those of us who don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to invest in the process. There are some interesting alternatives: social media and crowd sourcing…”

“Listening is perhaps the biggest benefit that you can get with crowd sourcing. One of the benefits of NOT having people congregated in a room with a professional facilitator is that they are more relaxed and tend to feel more inclined to make more unfiltered comments…”

The interesting thing to remember is that even after spending tens of thousands of dollars on focus groups, you only have directional data without the support of the key metrics necessary for business decision making. Moreover, this is after months of managing the logistics to conduct focus groups, collate all the data in a meaningful way, identify and filter out group bias and dominant personalities, and painstakingly analyze it to cull out the few gems that make it all worthwhile.

Two years ago, Invoke made a conscious decision to leverage crowd sourcing as a key aspect of our hybrid qual-quant platform. Thus was born the Large Scale Focus Group™, a unique methodology that combines our patented platform for large-scale online group interaction with crowd sourcing into a seamless experience. Imagine the rigor of key metrics and comparison charts on large sample sizes with the adaptability of discussion based qualitative research obtained through an exciting real-time experience!

The results are speaking for themselves: A leading food products company saved millions of dollars on their Super Bowl advertising campaigns after a 90-minute session speaking to about 250 people in a real-time event. A restaurant chain was able to cull out the subtle and sometimes unspoken ‘ugh’ factor discussing the roll out of a new menu with 120 people in a 60-minute Live session. A pharma giant was able to listen and learn from the experiences of 80 pharmacy owners in the UK through 45-minute discussions that spanned a week. A major hotel chain was able to speak to 200 valuable business travelers through in-the-moment screening at check-in followed by a detailed conversation in a 60-minute Live event. Orbitz, a leading online travel agency, won the Gold award at the David Ogilvy ARF event in 2013 for a ‘Take Your Vacation Back’ campaign that made extensive use of Large Scale Focus Groups™ to evaluate their creative concepts and find those elusive nuggets of feedback that can generate memorable advertising.

Crowd sourcing with the Invoke platform works in two ways. For consumer research, you can screen and target audiences from practically any source. You can then conduct Live (real-time) moderated sessions with up to 300 respondents in a single sitting. For research conducted with business participants or needing a larger base size of up to 1000 respondents, you can recruit the audience by sending them an email invite or putting a link on a website. In this Open flavor of the platform (running in Anytime mode), the respondents have almost the same experience as a Live event, and an automated moderator controls the session. In either case, complete verbatim and cross-tab reports are available within 24 hours of a session.

Like any qualitative research approach, effective use of crowd sourcing depends on the objectives and the ability of the researcher to engage the participants in providing rich feedback and deep insights. The ability to enhance the research potential through quantitative metrics that solidify and validate the results can be invaluable when faced with executive management pressures that are pushing researchers to provide strong and dependable directional insight with tighter budgets and within incredible timing pressures. Crowd sourcing shines in these situations due to the larger base sizes available for qualitative research and when used with Large Scale Focus Groups™, it is the best of both worlds. It’s fast, it’s fun, and it’s highly effective!

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