Doing More With Less

Need to do More with Less?

Last weekend I sat with my family by candlelight as we observed Earth Day. We reviewed the things that we have done as a family to lessen our footprint on the earth. This included things like continuing to focus on supporting small businesses in our local economy, seriously reducing single use plastics, switching to Tru Earth laundry strips and silk dental floss. We started to compost our own organic material, and are planning our vegetable garden. After reviewing what we’ve been doing we talked about the many things that have happened around the world due to COVID-19 which have had a positive climate impact; less travel, less use of utilities by offices/commercial space to name just a few.


It got me to thinking that many people who are managing brands and businesses are being forced to do the same or more with less. We hear situations where budgets are smaller, or there are fewer team members doing the work, sales targets are larger, or business models have seriously suffered due to COVID and they are trying to sort out a new way forward.


Doing More With Less in Market Research

When it comes to market and user experience research, we see this same trend; many clients are needing to do more with less. We’re seeing industry trends like clients using DIY tools, smaller sample sizes, or even making decisions without research.


On the flip side, we’re also seeing many of our clients use online qualitative research in more purposeful ways to do more with less. These methods are not new, in fact the Upwords team has been talking about the ‘budget stretching’ and ‘in the moment’ advantages of online qualitative research since our inception in 2008, but it took a global pandemic for some clients to take the leap and realize these benefits – we’re so happy they did!


Below are just a few of the ways that our clients have been stretching their budgets using online qualitative methods. And here we are NOT talking about putting 8 people and a moderator in a Zoom call. That’s definitely not the way to use technology to your advantage! We’re big fans of using technology to enable us to get closer to the moments that matter most. This often means using an online discussion board coupled with mobile-enabled activities. Or, mixing methods like discussion boards followed by Webcam enabled In-Depth Interviews.

Benefits of Online Qualitative Research to do More with Less

Now, on to my list of benefits (the 4 C’s) …online qualitative research is…


  • Collaborative

    • Diversity of sample: You are not limited to recruiting people who live close to a focus group facility and are available at the time of the session. And, there are many people who want to share their perspective but do not feel comfortable speaking up in a group environment. Using online qualitative methods enable us to recruit a much more diverse sample, often making for richer more inclusive research findings.
    • Entire team is engaged: This is a benefit that many do not think about. While the ‘back room’ of a focus group can be a place for rich discussion and engagement, I’ve been part of many projects where not all team members were able to attend the focus groups; either due to travel budgets or availability. Using online discussion boards and other methods that are not in real time provides a huge benefit for teams to collaborate in the ‘virtual back room’ – without the downtime involved with in-person methodologies. Everyone, even junior team members, benefit from hearing the voice of the customer and they can share their ‘notes’ about specific comments for other team members to build.



  • Comprehensive

    • More data is collected faster:
      • Conducting 4 focus groups that are 2 hours each with 8 participants per group results in 8 hours of participant data for 32 participants, that’s less than 15 mins per participant if you factor in moderator speaking time, and this isn’t even factoring in showing stimuli.
      • If you put those same 32 people in an online discussion board and ask them to participate for 2 hours you will have 64 hours of participant data… for the same participant incentive. And, each person answers each task, in detail!
      • Let me say that again… 8 hours of participant data vs 64 hours of participant data, for the same number of participants using online methods!


  • Candid

    • Reduced Bias: We find less interviewer bias or social acceptability bias; many participants tell us they felt more comfortable in an online discussion compared to participating in a focus group. Here’s what we hear from participants…

Thank you… , I felt you were reading, understanding, and relating. I got so much out of it. It was wonderful to feel the honesty and sharing from the heart. I have felt so connected over the past 10 days. It has not felt like a chore to get to the tasks. It’s been an honour to be a part of everyone else’s journey… and it’s been such a super experience. 

    • More comfortable ‘talking’: Participants are incredibly open in online discussions, even when asked to share experiences related to sensitive topics. Online methodologies provide amazing opportunities for moderators to develop creative and interesting qualitative techniques, which can easily draw out rich stories from people. These activities are specifically created to be used in online qualitative environments, like discussion boards where participants can take their time, sharing their responses in many formats (text, video etc.).


  • Convenient

    • No Travel: This is a benefit on SO many levels;
      • In recruiting we can draw from a much larger participant pool, making research more accessible and therefore increasing diversity
      • Clients can engage more team members/stakeholders when the research is asynchronous (not in real time) as they can join the conversation whenever they have time – with minimal impact to other responsibilities/work.
      • Without having to factor in travel time, it can be easier to schedule moderators.
    • Participant engagement: We are able to engage with participants at times when they are ready to share. It allows us a non-invasive peek into their world. We get participants sharing photos and videos of their homes and families in their ‘natural state’. Getting someone to show you via a short video or photo what’s in their bathroom cupboard or their freezer can be SO much more revealing than asking them to describe it during a focus group.


I think many who have taken the leap to well-designed online qualitative research will say that they’ve been able to expand their qualitative toolkit thanks to online methods. It can be liberating to realize that while there will always be a place for focus groups, not every qualitative project needs to default to that method. And to those who say they’re missing something, or that they need to ‘see people’s eyeballs’, I like to share that line that I’ve heard most people agree with:


The book was better than the movie


Well-designed online qualitative research results in incredible depth. Asking people to write a break-up letter to a brand they have recently stopped using results in amazing essays, laden with depth and metaphors that speak to their perspectives and experiences with the brand. You might think we recruited poets if you heard the analogies our participants created describing how they relate to a potential piece of brand communication. The comfort of being in their own environment, without the pressure of other people in the room and time to think yields incredible honesty and depth from online qualitative methodologies.


I hope you’ve been able to expand your research toolkit during COVID to explore new more efficient ways of generating insights. It’s no wonder many are saying they will continue to consider online qualitative tools moving forward to continue ‘doing more (or at least the same) with less’.