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The value of F2F research in the digital age

18 Mar 2024
Embracing the Human Touch: The Irreplaceable Value of Face-to-Face Qualitative Research in the Digital Age

After living through a global pandemic when no face-to-face market research was possible, and witnessing the rapidly increasing power of artificial intelligence to analyse and summarise large amounts of unstructured data, potential clients often ask us “what are the benefits of conducting face-to-face qualitative research?”. This blog considers the enduring value of in-person qualitative methods in the digital era.

The unmatched value of real-life insights

At FieldworkHub, we believe that the unique selling propositions (USP) for face-to-face qualitative research are:

  1. Getting your target audience’s undivided attention
  2. Seeing and hearing what’s going on in their lives first hand without any filters
  3. Getting feedback on a product that requires someone to interact with it in the real world, i.e. something physical that needs to be seen, touched, tasted, smelled or heard.

Let’s explore those three points in more detail…

1. The battle for attention

We all know that it’s very easy to get distracted by technology, especially since a lot of it is designed specifically to grab our attention – think of instant messaging, social media feeds, breaking news alerts. If you are interacting with focus group participants via an online video link, can you really be sure that everyone is concentrating on the discussion and listening to what others are saying? Or might some of them be looking at emails, browsing the web, or glancing at their phone while other people are talking (how many of us can honestly say we’ve never done that during a Zoom call?). In reality you are far more likely to get everyone’s undivided attention if you seat them round a table in a viewing facility. Online focus groups may be good enough for many purposes, but nothing beats the level of interaction that you get from a face-to-face group.

2. Eyewitness accounts

Ethnographic research – that is, meeting people face to face in their homes or workplaces, or accompanying them on a trip to the shops or some other out-of-home activity – allows you to experience what is going on in their lives first hand in a way that is simply not possible through online research.

This kind of in-depth research with real customers is a great way to begin the process of developing a new product or service. One of FieldworkHub’s regular clients specialises in developing customer-facing digital solutions for established companies, but they often start a new project by conducting ethnographic research with customers in the client’s target market explore the challenges that they face and thus come up with a range of possible solutions. We have organised literally hundreds of home and workplace ethnographic interviews for this client on a huge variety of topics from corn farming in the American Midwest, to financial services for lower-income households in France, and personal mobility in the UAE.

3. The power of your senses

The third USP for face-to-face qualitative research is the way in which is enables clients to obtain immediate feedback on products that need to be experienced through one or more of the participants’ senses. In some cases you can mail products out to people’s homes and ask them to try it and complete an online survey, but if you only have a few prototypes , or you need them to try the product in a controlled environment it’s usually far better to bring people to a central location. This type of research also has the major added benefit of allowing you to see the participants’ facial expressions and body language as they conduct the test.

One of the first projects that FieldworkHub undertook was a series of face-to-face focus groups with parents of young children in London, Paris and Munich on the topic of talking toys, specifically the Toniebox, a squishy musical storybox which kids aged as young as two can operate by place a character figurine on top (see https://tonies.com). Those of us who observed the groups still remember the excitement that was generated in the room when, part way through the group, the moderator produced two Tonieboxes and passed them round the circle of parents so they could touch, feel and listen to the product. The enthusiasm expressed in these groups demonstrated just how valuable it can be to let people experience your product in person and provide instant feedback.

We hope this blog has given you insight into the types of qualitative research that benefit from a face-to-face approach and what it can offer compared to purely digital research. For more advice on conducting research face to face in any major market worldwide, please contact FieldworkHub.

FieldworkHub is an agile, knowledgeable market research fieldwork agency providing high-quality focus group recruitment as part of our full range of qualitative and quantitative fieldwork services.
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