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Central to the success of any new product is how well it addresses a customer need. That’s why it’s critical that brand stakeholders and customer-facing employees develop empathy for their customers. But brands cannot accomplish this without building genuine connections with customers — and customers can increasingly tell when a brand isn’t being genuine.

Fortunately, today’s customers want to do more than simply buy. They want to participate in a brand experience. Consumers increasingly see brands as a means to a broader culture of participation. Modern qualitative research methods make this journey possible for customers.

Graduating from Traditional Research Methods to Democratized Systems

Qualitative research and innovations in the industry are transforming the way we connect with consumers. Traditional research processes are notoriously rigid and expensive. They exclude less prominent members of marketing teams from participating. They limit or add rigidity to customers’ experiences with these methods as well.

These barriers keep whole teams at arm’s length from their customers. Marketers need access to more equitable qualitative research tools. They need to remove the friction from qualitative research to support a more cooperative, everyday relationship with customers as well.

When multiple team members conduct rich and open conversations with customers and then share detailed insights from those interactions across the organization, they can foster a culture of empathy. In this way, brands achieve a rapid and deep-seated understanding of customer perspectives. The “agile empathy” those teams cultivate enables brands to make better real-time decisions, reduce time-to-market, apply more effective marketing, and even create more successful products.

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Both Brands and Customers Are Embracing Digital Qualitative Tools

Naturally, the digital tools that facilitate these processes must be online. As technologies become more robust, brands are shifting typically offline practices — such as in-person interviews and focus groups — online, connecting to customers quickly and at lower cost. These new digital environments are more accessible and automated, and they provide greater access to tools to help marketers disseminate their findings across their organizations.

By automating processes and leveraging ubiquitous technologies like webcams, web browsers, WebRTC, VoIP, social media, natural language processing (NLP), and others, qualitative methods become less restrictive to team members and more natural to customers. What’s more, the process can be carried out both asynchronously (with solutions like text-based communities) and synchronously (with video conferencing). Brands are able to connect with consumers contextually, who also interact from their own home and work environments. This opens doors to near endless possibilities and use cases.

In this way, brands can dramatically amplify the research process. The high usability of modern tools reduces the learning curve and boosts adoption within the organization. This gives brands more opportunities to connect with consumers, at greater frequencies.

Best of all, digital tools increase the sophistication of data capture and analysis. Even as marketers engage customers naturally — and in ideal contexts — automated features make qualitative data sets easy to review, share, and analyze, both broadly and individually.

The Future of Qualitative Research is Customer Centricity and Context

Both B2B and B2C brands are already working to create this natural relationship-forming process with their customers. They are developing a deeper understanding of their customers’ perspectives, aspirations, and motivations, and they are disseminating their findings across their organizations. It’s by adapting research methods to customer contexts and broadening access within the organization that companies will yield the best investigative results.

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