Qualitative Research, Quo Vadis? A Wake-Up Call: A Disregarded Competition Takes Over The Market Research Business

Are you aware that an entire research industry is massively growing which takes over our core business of consumer understanding and in-depth research? Say hello to UX research. It might not be on your radar yet, but UX research outgrew its infancy of just testing digital products and turned into a serious competitor in explorative research, our bread-and-butter business.  

 

At home in both worlds

I am a well-trained qualitative researcher, in the business for over 15 years and with a track record of working on the key accounts of some of the largest FMCG players worldwide. By coincidence, I stepped into UX research: As interim manager, I lead the UX research department of Germany’s biggest vehicle online marketplace (an ECG company) for 6 months. I built the UX research department for the German e-scooter start-up TIER Mobility from scratch a year later.

 

But let me be open and honest. I had strong and dismissive preconceptions about UX research before these two experiences. In my previous understanding, UX research was conducted by people who have little to no research background, merely test digital products and only deliver descriptive and not highly analytical results. Nothing compared to the beautifully designed, carefully conducted and skillfully analysed research we offer as market researchers. 

 

I stepped into the world of UX research and was proven wrong. It is a lively scene of passionate researchers who do an amazing job. 

 

While we worshipped our unique specialisation, UX testing grew into UX research

Certainly, UX research started with a focus on testing. However, it developed into way more. The research topics my teams worked on went deep into the realm of classic qualitative market research: explorative research for relaunches or future product development. Companies now ask UX Researchers in their product departments to find out what they would have hired market researchers for only 5 years ago. 

 

UX researchers cannot be as specialised as qualitative market researchers. Since their responsibilities expanded, UX researchers often have to be swiss army knives, being likewise fearless in qualitative as well as quantitative research (from user interviews down to A/B testing) and even a little bit in the design. Thus, qualitative skills cannot be as extensively developed as if you did nothing else than fostering them for decades. However, the UX researchers I have worked with are, as a result, pragmatic, flexible, innovative and especially skilled in overcoming the thick wall we have bred over the years in market research between qualitative and quantitative approaches. 

 

Access to research budgets 

So where is the problem? There might be the valid argument of a peaceful coexistence of UX and market research. However, be aware that a new generation of stakeholders and decision-makers are growing up in companies (start-ups as well as well-established companies) that now turn to UX researchers in order to have all their questions answered. Market research is not on their mind as they are now used to get all the answers they need from UX research. And the UX researchers (aka swiss army knives) are constantly refining their skills in explorative research. A non-negligible proportion of the qualitative research pie will be taken care of by a competing discipline which market researchers have ignored far too long.  

 

It is time to tear down these walls

There is hope. We are not at the point of no return (yet). But we should not make the mistake of isolating ourselves. Rather, we have the chance to build a bridge, foster exchanges, share knowledge and also learn from these fresh minds who don’t carry a ‘we have always done it that way’ burden. 

 

There are large areas where we can learn from each other. When it comes to strategic and analytical reporting, traditional market researchers have the more thorough expertise whereas UX researchers, on the other hand, are much more flexible and able to deliver on a tight budget and timeline.

 

As market researchers, we can clearly profit from keeping an open mind about a seemingly different world. Senior research skills are desperately looked for in the fast-growing though still quite new area of UX research. Offer your skills, share your knowledge and open up to new stakeholders and industries. After all, a broad-based approach towards new methods and skills might just be what you need to score more jobs in a global economic crisis. 

Go out into the wild. Check your local UX research scene; visit their meetups and try to be on the stage to share research how-tos. Become visible as market researchers. Your potential stakeholders might not even know you exist!Unrealistic? I’ve been to a UX research meetup in Berlin, socialising. A Designer & UX researcher asked about my background. 

 

Me listing: “Researcher at Point Blank, TNS Kantar, Research International.” 

A disinterested shrug of the shoulders “What do these companies do?

“Research!”

“There are agencies out there which are only specialised in research? I did not know.” Nothing more to add to that. 

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