A career in market research requires a number of skills, from technical knowledge of how to conduct research to a broader appreciation of how this information will be used within the organisation. Qualitative researchers in particular must balance research objectives with participant engagement. But this difficulty has not stopped qualitative researchers from mastering their craft. So what are the traits that make good qualitative researchers great?
1. A Desire to Always Know More
One of the foundational components of qualitative research is that it is driven by a need for deeper insight. It is the reason that qualitative researchers are always probing further, always asking why. The best qualitative researchers know that the key to valuable insight is understanding the root cause of a feeling or emotion. They will always continue to try to dig deeper to find important associations and emotions.
But this goes beyond conducting research studies. Great qualitative researchers will also always be looking to improve their knowledge of research methods and searching for new ways to innovate and drive the industry forward.
2. An Open Mind and Lack of Pre-disposition
It is always important when conducting any research to keep an open mind and attempt to reduce any potential element of confirmation bias. But nowhere is this more important than in qualitative research studies, where there is often direct interaction between researchers and participants.
The best qualitative researchers will ask questions that do not lead participants to particular desired answers, even though this may often be a temptation when the research does not go as planned. Businesses and brands will get most benefit from honest and accurate representations of consumer opinion, not necessarily what they want to hear.
3. An Understanding of Multiple Research Methods
There is a vast range of qualitative research methods. Each comes with a unique set of benefits and challenges, suited to a range of situations. Focus groups provide detailed opinion in a social environment, whereas diary studies ensure in-the-moment individual reflection. Research communities include a range of participants and allow for comparative analysis, while interviews give in-depth opinions of a single participant.
Qualitative researchers should not only have an understanding of how each of these methods can be used, but also which is best suited to any particular situation. This is much more difficult as it requires researchers to understand the research objectives and which tool will add the most value to such goals.
4. Empathy and Personal Connection
A key skill for any profession which involves social interaction is empathy - the ability to connect and bond with others is vital in market research. Participants have a range of personalities. Some will be willing and open to sharing their experiences immediately. But others will be naturally be more reserved and require encouragement to engage with the research study.
Being able to build rapport and manage individuals with reserved personalities is difficult. But it is worth remembering their point of view is equally valid and they may have valuable insight to share. Thus, great qualitative researchers will not neglect these participants but rather build a personal connection with them and use it to manage the participant’s contributions – particularly in a group dynamic.
5. Effective Management Techniques
Group dynamics feature in a lot of qualitative research studies. It is no surprise either, as many qualitative research methodologies are collaborative in nature. But collaboration can quickly turn into competition, arguments and less than productive discussions. Therefore, qualitative researchers must not only be able to control individuals, but the dynamic of the group as a whole.
Similar skills are required in management to navigate group dynamics and make the most of a team. Participants should not be treated any differently – they are a team, ready and willing to provide feedback, but only if managed in a respectful and professional manner.
6. A Flair for Data Interpretation
Once the research has been conducted, the next step is to interpret its meaning. In qualitative research, there is little place for complicated statistical analysis. The real value comes from understanding and modelling consumer opinion and human behaviour.
Interpreting this and ensuring that not only is the insight is relevant but also that ignores an accurate representation of the opinions expressed is akin to an art form. Every researcher will have their own unique style, but what is important is that is that the information is analysed in a fair manner and an accurate picture is presented to decision makers.
7. Presentation and Reporting Skills
After the data has been analysed, it must be presented – whether that takes the form of a presentation, report or even informal email. Presentation and reporting skills are often neglected by market researchers, but in actual fact this is one of the most critical areas of the market research process.
The purpose of research is to support business decisions, and provide a guiding light to decision makers. However, if those decision makers are unable to engage with the content and results of the report, then market research is failing in its purpose. Thus, the most successful qualitative researchers will actively work on their presentation skills to ensure that their results engage decision makers and influence actions within the organisation.
8. Knowledge of the Wider Business Context
Finally, qualitative researchers must not only apply their craft in the context of market research itself. It is very easy to ignore other aspects of the organisation, but ideally market researchers will apply their findings within the context of the business as a whole.
Some of the best insights can be found, not simply by asking opinions of others but by combining this information with an understanding of the context that the organisation operates in to provide relevant, viable recommendations.
Those were our top 8 traits of the best qualitative market researchers, but we would love to hear from you too. What skills do you think qualitative researchers require to be successful?