Horses for courses

Some debates we’ve had with clients recently brought this adage to mind. You know the kind: is online qual better than face to face qual, and is ethnography better than self-reported behavioural analysis?

But here’s the thing:

No one method is always better than another. All have different pros, different cons, and are best suited to different tasks – and different people. 

We all know that ethnography (whether mobile, digital or in-person) is great for in-depth understanding of behaviours. Especially unconscious behaviours, or feelings that are very top of mind. It gets you a really clean read on what people do now, and a glimpse into what they feel now. What is doesn’t do is deal with the future.

Online qual is also great for behavioural understanding, and even more great for getting a clean read on concepts, comms ideas and pack designs, without the risk of group effect. What it doesn’t offer is full understanding of the ‘why’ behind this, or how to optimise whatever is being tested. 

In face to face qual (whether online or in-person), we can still gather spontaneous, individual responses, albeit not quite as clean or detailed as we might get from an online individual response, and Lucid’s techniques allow us to get very close to this. And while online can be great for accessing implicit and spontaneous system 1 responses, there is a lot to be gained from seeing facial expressions and body language – as well as feeling the energy in the room – in a face to face environment.

Where face to face really comes into its own, however, is the depth of understanding that can come when people have the stimulus of others’ feelings and views – and the ability to work with the future, and with optimisation of ideas

On top of this, there is the major consideration that different people are most comfortable in different settings. Some – including some religious, ethnic or neurodiverse groups – give of their best when typing into a phone or laptop and feel less relaxed in a group setting, while for others the reverse is true, and for still others it’s somewhere in between. Some (especially gen z) are at their most natural when making videos, but for others being on-camera really inhibits them. Some need time to think, but some lose the thread if things are not discussed immediately. 

That’s why there is no ‘best way’ for every project, all the time. And why it’s vital to be flexible, keep an open mind, make the best use of methodologies as time and budgets allow and make sure we always do our utmost to ensure we get the very best from people, however we engage them.