The mind is a strange thing.
Now that a chillier season has begun to emerge with its snowcapped mountains and storm-brewing days, we are feeling an increased need for warmth at the office, or at least, the impression of warmth.
Last week, my boss reminded me of the previous winter when he had inspired me to turn on a youtube fireplace because I was definitely feeling cold in my location sandwiched between the windows. Later, when he saw me with the fire crackling on my second screen, he said, “You know, walking by and seeing that fireplace going makes it seem warmer in here!”
Sure enough, he tried it out again this year and still claims that it really does the trick to making him feel warmer! Now of course, it’s not a real fire. I’m obviously not arguing against that. However, I am arguing that it doesn’t actually have to exude warmth to provide a sense of warmth. I believe that when we see the constant flames and hear the firewood crackling, even from a computer screen, our brain associates these senses with warmth.
Within market research conducted online, there are ways to get the brain to associate with a “sense of warmth” or an “inviting atmosphere” without actually being in-person. Yet it is not uncommon for clients and market researchers to get stuck on how different online is from in-person. I agree that it is different. But I also believe that it offers similar and additional benefits.
Like my fake fireplace, you can simply trigger people’s senses with what they are already used to, causing them to react in a similar way and receive a similar benefit. For example, the youtube fireplace is visually and audibly cohesive with what people are used to seeing and hearing. So even though they are not getting the entire package, two primary things are still consistent with the real-life experience. Plus, you don’t even have to chop firewood, or stoke the fire, or worry about getting too warm!
In the same manner, online market research offers elements to “trigger” respondents senses.
- Feature a photo of yourself as well as a video format of the introduction or even some of your questions. Additionally encourage your participants to share photos and video from their end to build rapport.
- Within your writing, communicate an engaging tone of voice and style. The way you interact doesn’t change just because you’re online.
- There are ways to encourage your respondents to occasionally respond to and piggyback off of each other’s comments the way they would in a live discussion together.
- Online interaction is a comfort zone for many people nowadays. The percentage of digital interaction on a day-to-day basis has rapidly increased and led today’s generation toward a mindset of having a large part of their social circle online.
- Genuinely acknowledge everyone’s contributions to reinforce their willingness to participate and ease them into feeling comfortable with sharing their thoughts.
Additionally, online market research offers further elements that create a “sense of warmth” in a way that perhaps in-person cannot:
- The platform and interaction levels allow for anonymity in potentially sensitive or awkward topics and situations.
- People can answer conveniently in their free time despite their funky work hours or demanding children.
- Introverts or those with adverse opinions are equally heard. They are less intimidated to bring something up against the grain or contrary to the dominant ones.
So yes, online research is different than in-person research. But it is not a completely different, foreign, out-of-this-world kind of thing. It is very much patterned after the techniques and purposes of in-person. And although you may miss some facial expressions and body language and that “intangible something” in the room when literally face-to-face with respondents, you can still capture the essence of all of that is meant to create: trust. Them trusting in you so that they will share thoughtful and genuine responses.