The recent surge of Qualitative Research with Barbara Gassaway

In this episode of Now that's Significant, we're joined by Barbara Gassaway, Moderator and President of The Research Group. Barbara also owns Observation Baltimore, a focus group research & recruiting firm. Barbara has decades of experience in the market research industry. A differentiator appreciated by clients and colleagues is Barbara’s comprehensive understanding of strategic marketing principles along with current trends and practices in qualitative behavioral science.

We discussed the increase in qualitative research, as well as the deep need for recapturing empathy across our market research efforts. We also discuss technology in the qualitative space, and what’s next for the future of qualitative research.

Barbara shares, “it’s hard being a qualitative researcher because we’ve always investigated the experience economy.” Regarding improving your skills as a qualitative researcher, she says, “I think a lot of moderators use survey techniques to garner responses. My advice is, don’t use yes/no questions, because you’re going to have to ask another question. So just ask the first question that you want [the answer to].”

“Use empathy,” says Barbara, and “walk in their shoes and have compassion. Know the topic area and understand where they’re coming from. Research before you start.” She continues by saying, “if you don’t have empathy as a brand, I don’t think you can survive in this environment, and I think this has contributed to the rise in qual.” Barbara recommends, “people will share more with you when you’re real. You know everything about them, so share some things about yourself that are related to the topic.”

What do we need to be mindful of with technology in the qualitative space? “Since Covid-19, 80% of my work is virtual,” says Barbara. “I thrive on in-person research, but sometimes virtual is what you need for the project. It has broken [down] geographic barriers.” But she does recommend: “You have to hire a qualified moderator. Don’t make decisions without a qualified behavioral scientist who investigates thoroughly, and scientifically crafts questions to get to the answers you need.” She shares another recommendation: “You have to screen your respondents and you have to blind the questions. Bias exists in qualitative research. Don’t just have a survey to qualify respondents, you have to actually talk to them, especially for usage studies.”

So what’s next for the future of qualitative research? “I think in the surge of qual, there’s room for everyone. I think there’s enough client need to satisfy everyone,” shares Barbara. “The future of qual: I think it will remain relevant,” she says. She continues by sharing, “I hope that someone comes up with technology that improves sample quality. I hope this for my clients, who depend on it and make decisions based on it. I think the platforms will improve. I think technology is wonderful, but I don’t think it replaces the human element.” 

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