Qualitative Research: Clothing The Numbers In Empathy

Oct 18, 2022

For some reason, and I’m not sure who led the charge here, but data and numbers run the show. Not emotion, not the N of 1 insight, not nuance—numbers.  

Sure, X percentage of this target said they would be “highly likely” to purchase a new product. That’s cool. But why? Why are they buying it? What drew them to the concept? Will they continue to buy it? What role does it serve in their lives?  

While I understand the role numbers need to play in confident decision-making, the numbers-only approach has always scared me. Really, it does. It’s not a crazy phobia. I love a good quadratic equation and some multiplication tables. It’s more about “what are we missing” and “what aren’t we learning” in these numbers that drives that chill up my spine. 

The answer to what we’re missing is empathy. 

But today’s global world is losing its empathy, and we need to find a way to bring it back.   

In 2010, the University of Michigan combined 72 prior studies to aggregate data about empathy levels in 14,000 college students over time. What they found was shocking. Students in 2010 showed 40% less empathy than college students surveyed twenty or thirty years before. The study declared this an Empathy Crisis. 

More than a decade after that study was released, Rob Volpe published his book, Tell Me More About That, which further detailed the empathy crisis and expanded that research into today’s world. He calls on his readers to become “Empathy Activists” and to learn more about themselves in order to illuminate ways to strengthen your empathy muscle.  It’s little changes over time that can make a big difference. 

And with all the disagreement and division we see currently in the world, we need to find ways to connect so that we can create a bridge back to each other. In the market research world, that bridge is Qualitative research.  

After all, what if the data isn’t correct? What if we’re missing something outside of the questions we asked? What are the numbers NOT telling us?   

Qualitative research provides context, nuance, and gives us an opportunity to understand the “why” behind the numbers. It allows us to broaden the aperture of our learning focus to access both the hearts and minds of consumers. This is the fuller picture we need to complement and complete the numbers.   

Does a product allow a user to save time in the morning so they can walk their kids to school? Does it provide a confidence boost to the newly single person back in the dating world again? What does it mean to this human, and how would they be impacted if they weren’t able to find it or if the costs were increased greatly due to inflation?  

Think of quantitative data as the canvas on which qualitative data paints the picture. Or, to paraphrase Beastie Boy’s Ad-Rock, qualitative is cheese, and quantitative is the macaroni. 

At GutCheck we believe strongly in the power of emotion and continue to bring research methodologies to market that reflect the deeper human experience. We call this Agile HXI. 

This includes our qualitative research. We’ve recently refreshed our qualitative offerings including an interactive “gamified” respondent experience, and modernized creative activities and exercises to get at the underlying emotional drivers that are so important to decision-making. 

Our asynchronous platform provides a safe, non-threatening space to share ideas, thoughts and to discuss and collaborate on sensitive topics. The multi-day approaches provide flexibility in questions, and allow time for reflection and introspection, which is instrumental for deeper insights that fuel innovation and understanding.   

While we have multiple qualitative options for our clients ranging from foundational and exploratory through to creative refinement, in-context experiences like in-home usage and in-store shopping exploration, each project is tailored to your specific audience, insights needs, budget, and timing. We also know that a sophisticated platform alone won’t get you what you need, which is why we have trained expert moderators drafting the discussion guide questions and keeping the respondents engaged and active throughout.    

One of the newest additions to our qualitative offerings, Agile Creative Think Tank, was co-created with one of GutCheck’s clients to provide them with the agility and flexibility they needed in approach, combined with cost and time savings. They saw the need for more of the “why” in a variety of areas of their learning process and GutCheck developed an approach they love: Now that is empathy in action.  

So, as you think through your Q4 learning focus and prioritize needs for 2023, take a few minutes to pause and reflect on the ways qualitative insights will help you: not only as a researcher, but as a human, and as Rob Volpe coined, as “an empathy activist”. 

If you’d like to learn more about how GutCheck’s qualitative research offerings can complement your quantitative projects, or to discuss a standalone qualitative project, please reach out to your GutCheck research or sales partner or click this link here.

Written By

Molly Wright

Molly Wright

Vice President, Strategic Accounts

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