The Wonders of a Frontierless World
Online interaction between consumer and researcher has some relevant strengths:
- It allows more comprehensive coverage: it makes working with larger samples feasible, allowing different regions of the country and the world to be covered. This is particularly important in Brazil, a large country marked by strong regional differences.
- It allows greater openness when discussing and analyzing studies of exploratory nature, such as a habits study. For example, during the course of fieldwork and analysis of posts from a blog or online community, the digital medium allows the researcher and, in some cases the client himself, to ask or suggest additional questions and test hypotheses.
- It favors adhesion of those who are familiar with the medium: the internet is a natural terrain for many audiences, which increases their interest and engagement in the study.Moreover, Brazilians love technology and statistics show growing notebook, tablet and smartphone sales, which will certainly have an impact in the population’s involvement with the digital environment.
- It opens up the possibility for more honest viewpoints: anonymity encourages respondents to express themselves more openly, without holding anything back.
The Limitations of a World in Which Anything is Possible
Digital tools need to be considered with caution, because they carry some important drawbacks which need to be taken into consideration when making decisions on research methodology, the audience to be investigated and the questions that will be answered by the study.
- Superficiality of answers: Brazilian consumers in particular, when interacting autonomously with a digital platform, tend to be uncommitted towards completing the tasks and shallow in their responses, always seeking the easier way out: shorter, more obvious, less creative answers.Accordingly, to ensure productive depth in online assignments, we must:
- Research an audience with higher qualifications and educational level.
- Allow a longer time period for fieldwork conduction and completion, which goes against the ever-increasing demand for tighter deadlines.
- Stipulate a higher cash incentive, which makes research costs go up.
- Allocate a research professional to continuously follow up on the respondents and encourage them to make their posts and generate relevant contents – and this is a challenging task, because Brazilians have a hard time saying ‘I can’t do this’ and tend to leave everything for the last minute.
- Follow the respondents closely: to encourage respondents to do their best we need to closely and constantly follow up on the interactions to check the quality of the posts and, more often than not, ask respondent to elaborate more on their responses. Because the moderator will not be connected 100% of the time to the platform, it is much easier for the respondents to be evasive in their answers.
- Prioritize simpler questions, even if in larger number, over the more open, complex questions.
- Low quality of the texts: especially (but not only) when it comes to less educated audiences, we commonly find poorly worded texts with truncated or illogical argumentations, which hinders a minimally reasonable interpretation of what the consumer put down and tried to express.Differently from what might occur in European countries, the average Brazilian consumer has a hard time and/or willingness to write (and read as well!)This difficulty is even worse when the consumer is on his or her own in a digital platform: in these cases, questions with a more philosophical or metaphoric character tend to intimidate and discourage the respondent, who are likely to give up or simply ignore the questions.
- Low credibility of the information posted (compared to face-to-face declarations): the consumer can (and often do so) look up information on the internet before putting down what he/she really knows, feels, thinks or recalls about a participant theme, product, service or brand.In online interactions the consumer has more room for rationalizing: he can elaborate on his answers, look up information on the theme, share thoughts with someone else, or even copy opinions from other users, resulting in distorted profiles, viewpoints and opinions.When it comes to the digital world, the consumer ‘cheats’ a lot! And is likely to put down opinions that reflect a temporary, last-minute knowledge.
Moreover, out of influence from the social networks, the digital world is surrounded by an aspirational aura, in which people express and show themselves the way they want to or wish to be seen.
Consequently, the risk of ‘masking’ reality is much higher than in face-to-face contact, where there is no time to sustain disguises or plan answers.
A third factor that compromises credibility of digital output resides on the inherent anonymity of this environment: in forums, blogs and chats the researcher cannot be sure who is in fact interacting with him – is it the target consumer? is it a friend? a relative?.
Another aspect to consider is the use of the digital environment to discuss delicate, controversial themes, such as sexuality among teens: the question at hand is: to what extent do youngsters, when participating from their home, are not being censored in their views by their parents?
- Impossibility of performing tests related to the senses such as the evaluation of organoleptic attributes (taste, aftertaste, smell, texture, consistency, etc.)
- Limitation of the audience in study – unfortunately, a representative part of the Brazilian population still:
- Do not have internet access
- Do not have a computer at home
- Do not have internet access on their mobile phone (and do not own a smartphone)
- Do not know how to use online tools and have a hard time understanding the lingo (apps, blogs, download, upload, wifi, etc.)
- Do not feel comfortable in front of a computer
Consequently, restrictions are imposed on recruitment – less people are eligible for that research project.
- Limitations of the Brazilian telecommunications infrastructure: this aspect is particularly critical when using smartphone research apps.The speed and instability of internet connection often makes the experience a nightmare, with an endless number of unsuccessful posts and uploads.For that reason, in studies employing an APP as a complementary research tool, we often resort to the more reliable email to complete the tasks within the timeframe established for the project.