The USA is the country of unlimited opportunities – and for market researchers, it is the country of unlimited challenges. The 2016 election campaign of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump showed once more how deep the trenches between the 350 million Americans really are. While the avant-garde of the industrial and intellectual world celebrates a progressive life style in the coastal states on the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, most people in the “flyover states” have a provincial-traditional way of life.
But the trenches are not only caused by political opinions and the social environment in people’s hometown. The country is also marked by ethnical cracks and an enormous gap between the rich and the poor based on dramatic differences in income. This diversity has always characterized the US and does not only pose considerable challenges to politics but also to market research: How can the complexity of the country be captured and conceptualized in the context of a particular market event? Is that even possible?
In the pre-digital era, conducting market research in the US presented a logistic challenge that often left market researchers with the unsatisfactory impression of only having been able to capture a fracture of the country’s diversity. But the rise of the internet finally seemed to offer the long sought-after solution to this research misery. Suddenly, plenty of material could be collected on the internet, and online focus groups could provide a way to overcome geographical challenges.
Reality, however, could not keep up with the expectations. Online surveys often reveal only superficial information due to the lack of feedback channels. And focus groups, meeting in a virtual space, are unable to develop the same dynamics and depth regarding contents that can be observed in real-life human interactions. Online communities on the other hand provide an abundance of material but only show limited potential for the analytical depth required for profound market research.
Nevertheless, the internet offers one way to dip deep into the souls of American consumers with an acceptable amount of logistic effort – by conducting interviews via video chat (usually Skype). In many studies, the online face-to-face interview has proven to be the most useful tool to generate insights in a highly efficient way.
The respondents stay at home or at their workplace during the interviews. They have to put their phone away in order not to be seduced by any kind of distraction. The calls usually take place in two blocks, 45 minutes each, for reasons of attention economics. The break allows interviewers to prepare probing aspects. Respondents are usually asked to carry out a certain task before the interview to make sure they do not begin the interview unprepared.
Skype (by far the most frequently used application) enjoys greater acceptance in the US than in Europe. For many families, scattered across the country, the software is a vital medium to keep in touch with their loved ones and talk about everyday life and emotions. On a psychological level this means that respondents go into the interviews with a very positive and open mindset – there is no stranger anxiety.
In addition to that, people of all age groups use Skype. Compared to other forms of online research there is no risk to mainly reach and talk to young, technophile respondents.
For concept m, Skype interviews in the US have become the equivalent of personal in-depth interviews, providing the best compromise between efficiency and depth of content. On a geographic level, the online video interviews enable us to collect data on a much broader level, reflecting a larger variety of the United States than logistics would possibly ever allow us to achieve with face-to-face interviews. At the same time the respondents’ familiarity with the medium makes sure that interviewers do not encounter an invisible barrier but can engage in dialogue with people who are happy and willing to open up. And at the end of the day, this is the basic prerequisite to generating valuable qualitative-psychological insights.
The article was pubished at marktforschung.de on 29.08.2018
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