How online creative development research reduces bias

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.

It’s no surprise that many creative agencies are nervous about creative development research since they’ve probably seen many a seemingly good idea killed off in unforgiving focus groups. Sometimes this happens because one person in the group persuasively destroys an idea and then others follow suit. Similarly, in the heat of the moment, as shadowy clients lurk behind a one-way mirror and everyone in the group stares, a research participant might struggle to express how they really feel.

Creative development research carried out online is easy and quick to set up and can allow ideas a fairer hearing and prompt more valid feedback. Here’s how:

Online qual reduces ‘groupthink

Most online qual platforms (at least those worth their salt) allow you to get private responses from people. If a participant shares their answer without seeing (and therefore without being influenced by) others’ responses, you can be more confident that it’s their individual reaction you’re getting (rather than their reaction to others’ reactions!). You can always set unbiased questions, meaning people can only see others’ responses once they have given their own. This ensures that people give their own spontaneous thoughts and feelings before commenting and building on the group's responses.

Online qual helps people articulate their true feelings

Context has a powerful influence over how we present our feelings and attitudes. If you’re in a room being stared at by a moderator and seven other participants (not to mention being observed by unknown clients behind a one-way mirror and every move being recorded on video) you could be forgiven for feeling somewhat self-conscious. With online qual research, you’re in a natural context in the comfort of your own home, so you are naturally under less pressure and in an environment that allows you to express yourself more openly. Therefore, online qual research encourages people to be frank and open when sharing how they feel. People also tend to give longer, more detailed responses in online qual research rather than in face-to-face groups.

Online qual facilitates real-world reactions to digital touchpoints

So many ideas have a digital, online or mobile component these days. Although you can show people an online stimulus in a group discussion (e.g. by putting it on the TV screen or giving people iPads with links to follow), it is nevertheless an artificial environment. Whereas in online qual, people can view links to branded content (or whatever you choose) and they’ll see it in a natural, real-world context. This means their reactions will be more reflective of their thoughts in reality than when it’s viewed as part of a shared experience with a group of others in person.

In conclusion, the anonymity, privacy and opportunity for more natural reactions to digital touchpoints afforded by online qualitative research enable you to obtain less biased responses from participants. This allows the ideas you test to receive a fairer hearing and can help your work make a more constructive impact.

If you’re interested in finding out more about carrying out successful global online qual projects, please come along to the next Masterminds training session. Email to find out more.

Get monthly email updates

Sign up to receive regular emails containing reports, event invitations and inspiration from market research experts.

You can unsubscribe at any point, for more information on how to unsubscribe, our privacy practices, and how we are committed to protecting and respecting your privacy, please review our Privacy Notice.

Contact us at or call us