It seems like every week, I get an email or see an announcement from a new technology platform that will revolutionize the way we do research and make focus groups or surveys, or all of what we do in research, obsolete. This has been going on for a couple decades but has gotten more intense in the last few years, it feels like.
I know something about this. Back in 1997 I arguably ran the first bulletin board for research purposes. (Jeff Koslowski makes this claim as well, and it could be he is right--we did these within days or weeks of each other.) Neither of us made the claim that bulletin boards would replace focus groups then. We were too involved in the practice of qualitative research in all its forms to seriously believe that. But not long after, as techies began driving new research platforms it started. I won’t name names, but each one was the “killer” research app and destined to send traditional research methods into the dustbin of history. Even non-tech disciplines or methods have had their “we will make research obsolete” moments: Big Data was destined to replace all this fru-fru attitudinal and emotional data with real behavioral data, social media data would completely replace those obnoxious surveys. Ethnography would replace all other forms of qualitative.
And yet, traditional focus groups are a bigger business than ever. Surveys appear around every virtual corner and at every touchpoint. Research continues to be practiced in new ways and old. And research will continue to be practiced for years to come. Much of it will be in traditional ways--surveys and focus groups. And a growing portion of it will likely be done in new, innovative ways.
It’s not that the pie is getting bigger, it’s that we have more pies to choose from, and we are getting more and more hungry for pie. (Appropriate metaphor as I literally have pie crust dough cooling in the fridge right this moment.) What used to be a choice between apple and pumpkin pie is now a broad menu including coconut creme, key lime, Gummi Bear (for real), silk chocolate, and a host of other flavors--each of which will satisfy a specific craving. However, even with all these choices, we will often choose the classic favorites because there is nothing like a good pumpkin pie.
In my opinion, focus groups and surveys, while they might arc towards more effective tweaks to make them better will continue to be the mainstays of research. They remain the apple and pumpkin pies of the research world.
New platforms and methods will not diminish their use, rather the new will add new flavors to choose from.
New technologies and methods have expanded the reach of research by providing unique benefits that make it more useful for specific circumstances, more accessible for those not previously using research, and creating insights that are more actionable and accessible because they reach new audiences.
I love traditional research methods. I grew up on them. I also love new innovative methods--a love manifest by being instrumental in driving some. To this day I have a keen interest in both new methods/technologies as well as using new technologies to enhance traditional methods. It all just helps provide more meaningful insights.
Now, go have some pie. I know I will. Just what flavor?
PS If you contact me about doing some research, it's ok to tell me that you are interested in pumpkin pie research or are more looking for a nice non-traditional flavor with berries. I will understand. And I might throw in an actual pie.
PSS Here is the finished pie referenced in this post. Blackberry, raspberry and apple. It turned out to be the most delicious of the three pies I have made for the first time this year.