Editor’s note: Steve August is chief innovation officer at research firm FocusVision, Portland, Ore.

Every research question has two sides to the story. On one side, the quantitative story shows how the question plays out on a macro or market level. On the other side, the qualitative story reveals the human experiences underlying the macro findings. Each side is critical for decision-making. And yet, quant and qual rarely work together seamlessly. But what if the both sides could be fused in the same study? What if quant could be humanized and qual could be validated in an integrated way to understand a complex topic?

The possibilities of integrated quant+qual – specifically video-powered techniques – were explored in a recent research project designed to understand how consumer decision-making occurred within today’s families. 

It’s no secret that families have changed drastically over the last few decades. The changing demographics, family composition and rise of Millennials into the ranks of America’s parents have all been well documented in our industry and trumpeted in the press. What is not as well understood is how these enormous changes will affect modern family consumer habits: how families choose brands and how product marketers should be communicating with them.

Our hypothesis was that understanding the modern family required an understanding of the family as an ecosystem in which decisions are made collaboratively. In other words, the investigation needed to center around how and what the family agrees upon as a whole – not just what individuals in the family want. The key goals of the research study were to:

  • provide a full family view including mom, dad, kids – observations among all family members would be necessary to uncover interactions;
  • fuse the quantitative data with the rich insights from qualitative research;
  • provide families with the tools for expression to show us how they feel vs. what they think; and
  • engage families in a natural way as participants tend to be less expressive or frank in the presence of a researcher or controlled environment.

The study interviewed 600 Millennial and 600 Gen X families. Quotas were in place to balance ethnicity, gender and age. Parents were interviewed first, followed by a child (6-to-17-year-olds) to get the full family view.

When deciding on the methodology it was immediately apparent that capturing the interplay of today’s family would require a different approach to research, as a complex web of interaction takes place between parent and child when making purchase decisions. Traditionally, online surveys have employed open-ended text questions to provide some context on answers to closed-ended quantitative questions. However, for a topic as rich as the inner dynamics of family decision-making, bringing the full richness of respondents’ underlying reasoning to life was a must. For this reason a two-phase study was used. Phase 1 featured a 10-minute survey, while Phase 2 utilized a five-day immersive digital qualitative study. Each phase involved both parents and their children as participants.

Phase 1: Humanizing quant

To get the necessary level of richness, the report deployed a device-responsive survey that enabled respondents to submit video open-ends via a Webcam or mobile phone. Respondents were asked a set of semantic differential questions in one part of the survey. At the end of the survey, the respondents were shown their answer to one of the semantic differential question and asked to provide a video response explaining their choice on the question. In this way, the research team was able to obtain rich video explanations for specific rating scale responses that communicated the real emotions behind the responses.

For example, one response to a question about education (Do you believe education is more about developing life skills or getting good grades?) included the following narrative: “Although it would be nice for my son to be able to develop a social network [at school] … if he’s a blithering idiot without an education he’ll be left with nothing. So I think it is better for him to get a quality education.”

The videos submitted during the quantitative portion of the research were used as a recruiting ground for the qualitative phase. While the survey data profiled the appropriate mix of participants to recruit, the video testimonials helped find the most articulate and engaged participants as well as interesting insights for follow-up.

Phase 2: Validate qual

A subset of the respondents was recruited directly from the survey to participate in an immersive digital qualitative research study. Both kids and parents completed activities that enabled them to share and express feelings on a series of topics like “family first,” “education” and “living a healthy life.” In addition to the video testimonials, exercises included letter-writing, photo uploads and metaphor picture choice.

Delivering quantitative and qualitative results

The research helped discover new insights into the realities of modern families. Today’s families have evolved from a top-down hierarchy, where the mom is the gatekeeper of all decisions, to a more complex web of collaborative decision-making among family members. Both quantitative and qualitative data were situated to drive and communicate this message.

Half of Millennial parents view their child as a best friend, while just over a third of Gen X parents view their child as a best friend. And the number of moms today saying they have the final say on family decisions has fallen to one in four compared to previous generation of parents. Many family decisions are made with the parent seeking and weighing the child’s input first.

Lessons learned

From a methodology point of view, there were important learnings as well. In this particular study, approximately 20 percent of respondents used the video response tool in the first phase of research, and this created a pool of possible participants in the qualitative portion. This percentage equaled 240 individuals out of a total sample of 1,200. While there was a range in terms of video and response quality, even a 10 percent participation rate would have equaled enough individuals for a balanced qualitative sample.

For researchers that are looking to integrate more video responses into outreach, there are several things to consider:

  • Ensure that participants know up front that there is a video component involved as this can improve response rates. Making it a requirement of participation can lower the dropout incidence rate.
  • Examine the audience. Video may not be the best approach for the harder-to-reach audience and may instead be best used on a panel with participants pre-marked as “video-willing.”
  • Provide detailed instructions on the best ways to submit video, such as filming in a quiet, well-lit room or space in order to garner as much information as possible from the recording.

With so many consumers entrenched in video culture – making their own videos, viewing videos on mobile and online, sharing video on social platforms – it’s time for marketing researchers to jump on board. There is no other way to get the depth and complexity of response that video offers, allowing deeper, actionable insights for businesses, product developers, marketers and more.