Researchers have conducted hybrid research since someone first added an open-ended question to a quantitative survey. It’s a tried-and-true, almost traditional way of doing research. But as consumers, data and methods evolve, so does hybrid research. In today’s research landscape, hybrid has the power to do and be much more than you might think.
What exactly is hybrid research?
In its simplest form, hybrid research just means mixing methods. Among market researchers, most commonly this means adding a qualitative element into a quantitative survey. The quant is the primary instrument but a little qual is added to give the research some flavor, some nuance, that coveted voice of the consumer. For many of our clients, this means adding a discussion board, digital chats or Webcam interviews to the end of a quant survey to explore key ideas in depth, probe on survey answers or hear the clarity of the consumers’ own words. In other cases, hybrid can mean blending focus groups and surveys, in-person research with online journaling activities, video IDIs and Pinterest boards or in-home usage with social media data.
As the world of research has changed so have the ways in which we can blend research methods. Today, a significant chunk of the research conducted can loosely be defined as hybrid, whether it’s straightforward quant + qual; more elaborate, phased or longitudinal initiatives; or even a blend of passive data (think social media) followed by a qualitative exploration.
Why is hybrid such a big deal now?
As researchers engage in a never-ending battle to support their brand’s quest for share of mind and wallet, every insight has the potential to provide a competitive advantage. It’s no longer enough to do some research and call it a day – the mission for consumer understanding has become a 24/7, 365 job that requires a comprehensive approach to offset incomplete, one-dimensional data.
Luckily, we can all agree that we don’t lack access to information – some might even say we’re drowning in it. But as big data matures, brands are realizing that relying purely on “big data-driven decision-making” is dangerous. Even though data dependence feels scientific and modern, too often it gives a flat, static view of what are actually dynamic and evolving human beings. Big data is powerful because it’s driven by numbers but companies are realizing that it can lead to false assumptions if it is not rounded out with a qualitative perspective.
The upshot? The companies that win are the ones that have a 360-degree view of their consumer and their competitors. There is no better way to get a complete picture of your customers than a hybrid approach.
What are the benefits of hybrid?
Of course, no one is mixing methods just for fun. But how does using a hybrid approach really improve things? Here are a few examples:
It brings in the real world
Quantitative data, while powerful, often feels sterile. It can be hard to sit in a conference room and really connect with the human beings whose behavior is being broken down into percentage points and pie charts. A hybrid approach resolves this by bringing those people into the room. Whether through quotes that explain why the numbers say what they do or a video clip breathing life and vibrancy into a hard-to-interpret learning, a qualitative element gives quantitative data the urgency, texture and humanity necessary to spur action.
For instance, a premium credit card issuer became concerned about negative client satisfaction scores following changes to the program benefits associated with the credit cards. They planned to launch their monthly satisfaction tracking survey but added a hybrid element to explore the downward trend further. Through this process, 30 of the most dissatisfied card holders and 30 randomly selected users were invited to take part in a three-day online discussion, during which the client probed on themes and trends identified in prior client satisfaction surveys and allowed participants to answer questions via Webcam, which gave stakeholders a true voice of the customer insight. By adding this qualitative approach, they could dive deeper into issues reported in their quantitative survey.
It’s faster, cheaper and easier
For situations when a full qualitative initiative is desired but not feasible, a hybrid approach lets you add in a dose of “why” without derailing timelines and budgets and with minimal hassle. Doing a few online one-on-one conversations or interviews after a quantitative initiative, holding a one-day asynchronous discussion or adding some open ends and applying a text analytics approach, can provide a taste of real-world human insight quickly and affordably.
Take this for example: An international pet care products company launched an innovative stain and odor cleaning product designed to clean the area plus prevent pets from soiling the spot again – yet found that it wasn’t having the impact in the marketplace as anticipated and initial feedback was negative. The company decided to launch a quantitative survey and then route a handful of participants into a live Webcam interview. The interviews included markup activities, through which the researcher found a lack of willingness to read the product label and follow specific instructions and discovered that the instructions themselves were not entirely clear. These critical insights were uncovered in a single day of research and led to changes in on-pack communications.
It maximizes respondent input
Respondent quality can make or break any research initiative. As marketing and product development become increasingly targeted, finding the right audience for your study is more important than ever. A hybrid approach can be a powerful way to optimize your contact with an elusive respondent group. If you already have the people recruited and participating, why not get human insights and not just statistical data from them?
Let’s look at a scenario that illustrates this concept. A company that specialized in online, supplementary tutoring programs for middle school children needed feedback on their curriculum and marketing materials to explore what was causing high attrition rates among subscribers. During the quantitative phase, the company found parents loved the program and children were pleased with the gamified approach to learning. However, when they added a qualitative phase (focus groups, followed by a four-week product trial, then Webcam debriefs) they discovered a flaw with the user experience that only revealed itself when participants were asked to describe their journey while using the product.
It supports diverse interests
Sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it. Or you get a great insight that just points out how much you still need to learn. Or you have to satisfy various stakeholders with diverging interests, all within the scope of the same initiative. In these cases, deploying different approaches can be game-changing.
If you need to know the top five sources moms look to for guidance when starting their baby on solid food, you might field a quantitative survey to get a list. Then if you want to know their perceptions of your brand of baby food vs. your competitors, you can select a handful to engage in an in-person follow-up conversation to generate persona information. From there, you can explore how a new mom is feeling in general and what her fears, desires and goals are. Speaking with her directly will give the most nuanced and complete understanding.
Best practices for executing hybrid
As with all research, getting hybrid right is as much art as it is science. Choosing the right methods, deploying them at the right time and being able to adjust on the fly will play a key role in the success of your initiative. Here are a few tips to make the process smooth and productive:
Do it with intention: Be sure to choose each approach for a clear and valid reason. Knowing how each data set contributes to the larger story is crucial to ensuring you pick the right tools for the job.
Don’t always think you need quant: More researchers are blending different forms of qualitative information, particularly when that information is at-scale (social streams, call center feedback or online ratings and reviews).
Experiment and think outside the box: As researchers, it’s easy to be set in our ways. What worked for your last objective might not necessarily work for this one.
Ensure your vendor partners align: Or better yet, identify a partner who is experienced at blending approaches.
Careful, disciplined and open-minded layering of methods can provide a degree of consumer understanding that goes far beyond what single-method research has been able to yield. Whether using qualitative research as a shot in the arm for necessary but staid quantitative work or blending multiple approaches to iteratively arrive at more complete consumer understanding, researchers should pay attention to ways that they can do more with the methods they already have.
Looking ahead, it is clear that researchers must think creatively about how to combine approaches into ever more insightful research that is greater than the sum of its parts.