In designing a qualitative research approach, striking the right balance between ‘realism’ and ‘control’ – between capturing natural unbiased behaviours, and exerting the necessary level of environmental or experimental control – can be a challenge. One of these comes at the expense of the other, so there’s always some kind of trade-off (see the accompanying chart).
Passive ethnography, or ‘shadowing’, for example, allows us to capture real life behaviours and tendencies, but does not allow us to manipulate variables or ask questions. In-depth-interviews (because they rely more on recall or simulation) on the other hand, cannot give us the same level of accuracy or nuance in behaviours, but can support the exploration of multiple competing ideas, across a variety of possible scenarios.
Typically, we lean toward the leftmost tools when we’re trying to understand the underlying programming that drives behaviours, and we lean towards the rightmost tools when we’re looking to thoroughly map out existing approaches to carrying out an activity of interest. Then sometimes we’ll combine two of these approaches when we need to do both.
However, after eighteen months of amazing advancements in immersive VR technology, we are realizing a future where this trade-off does not need to exist. Today’s VR systems support such high levels of sensory fidelity, they truly do instill that sense of ‘presence’, that sense of really ‘being there’, which is critical to eliciting the responses you would get in real life. And, at the same time, because the stimuli are actually digital, they can exist as multiple alternate concepts that are easily created, managed, and modified as necessary over the course of a project. Then of course, because the research sessions are actually held in a lab setting, as opposed to out in the field, in-depth discussions, data collection techniques, and analytics are supported.
But although it is an incredibly powerful tool, uniquely positioned to answer important questions in both marketing and design research, it’s only worth applying to certain types of projects. We’ll outline the top use cases for VR in marketing and design research in an upcoming post. So if you have any questions about any specific applications of interest, let us know, and we’ll address them.