10 Tips for global online qual success

Tom Woodnutt

Tom Woodnutt

Feeling Mutual

Tom Woodnutt is Founder of Feeling Mutual, the agile online and mobile qualitative research specialists. He helps clients and agencies run global studies and offers training in the space. Tom has been a Digital Skills trainer for the Association of Qualitative Researchers (AQR) and is a regular speaker at industry conferences, including the MRS, MRMW and IleX.

Normally I try not to promote the idea that online qualitative research saves you money. This is because to get the most value you really need to invest in online qual properly (which means it’s not necessarily a cheaper option than face-to-face).

However, in this post on global market research, I’m willing to change the record. Global online qual, when set-up properly, maximises what you learn as well as reducing costs. Here’s why…

global online qual research saves you money

The cost of global online qual software is far lower than the direct costs associated with in-person research. There are no taxis, no simultaneous translators, no viewing facilities, no hotels, no flights and no client dinners. These differences save thousands of pounds and free up more of your time to work on projects (and be at home with family and friends).

…global online qual meets diverse research objectives

I’ve used online qual in global projects on everything from brand positioning research to customer journey, NPD, packaging and creative development. In each case it’s worked extremely well because of the sheer quality and depth of feedback you get (as long as it is incentivised and structured properly).

There are of course times when face-to-face is preferable to online in global projects. For example, in-person moderation can be helpful if you have vast reams of stimulus that require detailed explanation, or if you’re dealing with a particularly boring topic that needs constant prompting to get conversations going. That said, as long as you get it right, online qual will give you what you need. So how can you make sure you get it right?

Here are ten ways to make your global online qual research project a success:

1. Proactively build a global researcher network

You need a global team of researchers who have enough experience to price and deliver online qual well. It’s better to build a network in advance of a live brief so you can discuss costs calmly without the pressure of needing an immediate solution. 

2. Give in-depth strategic briefings

The more your moderators understand the challenge, the more they can help you solve it. Treat moderators like the consultants they are and give them as much strategic context as possible (with NDAs in place naturally).

3. Use open but detailed analysis templates

You need feedback to be standardised across markets. So give them a detailed template with a clear expectation on the number of quotes and level of analysis required. However, you must give them room to express their expertise and interpretation too.

4. Consider freelance moderators

In my experience if a moderator can have a career as a freelancer, they tend to be of high quality. Tapping into freelance networks to avoid paying agency overheads means you can increase both the profit and depth of output you get.

5. Trust moderators to selectively translate quotes

You do not need a full translation of everything every participant says. Rather than pay for full transcripts, trust your local moderator to select the quotes that are strategically relevant and just translate them. It saves money and focuses your findings.

6. Back-translate the discussion guide

It’s worth asking moderators to back-translate the guide, and potentially the stimulus, to make sure it says what you and the client think it does. Also, be prepared for local tailoring of the guide in case it ignores local conventions.

7. Stagger the markets

As with face-to-face research you learn lots in ‘phase 1’ that can be fed into ‘phase 2’. So give yourself some space between phases if you can. If you have time, you might consider revising concepts between phases as well.

8. Score concepts

It’s harder to get an intuitive read on which ideas work best online compared to face-to-face. Somehow the in-person feedback creates a clearer impression than text alone can. Therefore, getting people to score concepts helps as it gives you an aggregate measure to work back from.

9. Get image-based feedback

All cultures can draw and pick images out. So image based exercises are a brilliant way of bringing insights to life. They give you a visual, emotional perspective that words alone cannot provide. So ask people to draw how they feel and see how the ideas vary across cultures.

10. Employ a trusted recruiter

As we all know, projects with poor recruitment break down. So you need to make sure you have a decent recruiter on hand. It’s best to centralise this and have one partner that can coordinate all markets for you. Liveminds has developed Behavioural Recruitment™ powered by Facebook which finds fresh participants based on the biggest data set on human behaviour ever created

These ten tips should help you run successful global online qual projects. Please email me at to find out more about Masterminds, our series of one-day masterclasses in online qualitative techniques.

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