FocusVision + Revelation: A New Day for Qualitative Research

Merge road sign

On May 30, 2014, Revelation, the web and mobile qual research applications company I founded in 2007, became part of FocusVision, the global standard in video streaming of focus groups and in person interviews.  While this merger is obviously a very significant and positive event for our two companies, I believe it also is a major event for advancing the possibilities of qualitative research itself.  The foundations of this belief are two fold, the first existential and the second economic.

Let’s start with the existential.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the buzz surrounding Big Data has reached a crescendo.  And some might question whether qualitative research is really still necessary. Qualitative market research has always been the smaller part of the industry compared to quantitative methods, but has fulfilled a critical role – delivering the “why” behind data trends.   And ultimately understanding why something is happening is the key to knowing what to do about it.

Fundamentally, the patterns and trends identified in big data efforts are only different from other quantitative research in the scale of the data to be mastered, and still require explanation as to their underlying reasons. Behind every data point is a human story that holds they key to that understanding.

In a world drowning with ever-bigger mounds of data, clients still feel a need to see their customers’ faces and hear their voices and stories.  Qualitative research brings the human element to a data driven world. There is irrefutable power in how stories can illuminate the why behind the patterns in the data, and give companies insight on how to move forward.  From an existential point of view, qualitative research sill plays a critical role in insights.

Now, let’s look at the economics of technology for qualitative market research.   According to 2013 ESOMAR Global Market Research Report, qualitative research represented $6.6B or 17% of the $39 billion dollar total global market research spend.  To put the $6.6 billion spend on global qualitative research in perspective, while it is certainly not the size $150 billion consumer electronics industry, it is roughly 50% larger than the $4 billion revenue that the US National Basketball Association generates.  Qualitative market research is also a significant industry.

Where things get really interesting is when you look at what makes up that $6.6 billion in spend.  Within the global qualitative market research spend, 70% consists of focus group discussions, 12% in depth interviews, 12% on other methods such as ethnography, and 6% online qualitative.

Which means that nearly 20 years into the web and digital revolution, 94% of all qualitative spend is still dedicated to in-person methods.

There is no bigger believer in the power of digital qual methods than myself, but the reality is that digital qual remains a niche inside of qualitative research.

This lack of scale has proved to be limiting for the development of qualitative research technology overall and, in a sense, for qualitative research itself.  Even taking into account the inherently interpretive nature of qual, it remains an inefficient process for its practitioners.  The frustrating aspect of it is that the foundational technology that could significantly speed the collection, analysis and communication of insights actually exists, but there hasn’t been a single company with the resources to pull it all together.

With apologies and respect to all of the companies in the digital qual category (and I include Revelation here), we all do specific things very well, but none of us have achieved the economic scale necessary to make the investments to deliver the big leap.

Here’s what’s necessary for a qualitative research technology company to achieve the critical mass necessary to deliver on the possibilities:

  1. With 95% of qual still conducted face to face, a company needs to be able to support and integrate data from face to face research as well as web and mobile, including both real time interviewing and asynchronous over time methods.
  2. The company needs to be able to integrate collection and analysis.  One of the biggest sources of inefficiencies in qualitative analysis is that it often requires moving data from collection systems to analysis systems, resulting in lost time and repetitive tasks.
  3. With research increasingly global, having the scale and support organization to support customers around the world.
  4. There needs to be sufficient scale of business turnover to sustainably support all of the above.

There hasn’t been a company in the qualitative research technology space that could check all the boxes above until now. With the merger of FocusVision and Revelation, qualitative research now has a technology company that can achieve critical mass.   This is a company that can wed the worlds of in person and digital methods globally, as well as collection and analysis.  With 130 dedicated people and offices in key markets around the world, FocusVision has the reach and resources to realize the possibilities. This is why I am as excited as I have ever been since I first started Revelation in 2007, and why I believe it’s a new day for qualitative research.

Steve August is the founder and CEO of Revelation, a Portland-based market research software company that develops and markets Revelation | Next, a qualitative research platform. You can follow him on Twitter: @SteveAugust.

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