The Importance of Qualitative Research in Research, Development & Investment

We are all influenced even today by the positivist and dualist scientific method that imposes the need to quantify scientific questions. As such, qualitative methods have fallen by the scientific wayside as they don’t offer statistically significant data. Under no circumstances is the aim here to question the importance of positivism for the current client but to highlight the importance of the qualitative methods that have been gaining ground in recent years and been seen to be very useful in the Research, Development & Innovation (RD&I) departments of cosmetics companies the world over.

A far cry from numbers, percentages and rates, what’s worked with in cosmetics is well-being and subjective questions which cannot and should not be expressed in numbers. Liking a product as it has a dry feel can up to a point be quantifiable, but what does a dry feel mean for the product’s users? What does a consumer understand by greasy hair? Is frizz the same thing for all redheaded women with short hair? Do all the users of a reducing cream have the same perception of its effectiveness?

As I induced a critical and qualitative way of thinking, the answers to these last questions were probably similar for the majority of readers, but the truth is we are not creatures whose sentiments and perceptions can easily be rendered as numbers. I have been arguing for a more human performance from R&D professionals for years. Going into the field to observe consumer behavior is as important as knowing about the growth of the nail varnish market. Equally so is seeking understanding of the motives influencing nail varnish consumption. Again, equally important is knowing the subjective characteristics of a varnish being liked or nor could be the decisive factor for leapfrogging over the competition.

The reality for most RD&I professionals is the creation of new products based on trends suggested by research departments, marketing departments or suppliers. Products are created for virtual consumers and an ideal type who will consume those products is imagined. Anyone outside this reality has to adapt the product and not vice versa. You could disagree, but if you don’t adapt for the consumer, he or she is the one who will have to adapt. It’s worth exploring the universe of qualitative research a little more to offer products that better meet the needs of consumers. Among the methods used are participant observation , in which the researcher enters the consumers’ world; in-depth interview, where the consumers answer open questions on their ideas and opinions on a specific product or theme; and afocus group, in which a group of consumers discuss a theme or product, accompanied by a moderator. Although the results of this research are generally confined to marketing professionals, whether through lack of communication or lack of interest on the part of RD&I professionals, it’s vital that an RD&I researcher gets out of the workplace. Leaving the office or lab for a short period and having contact with consumers makes all the difference.

We have to get closer to consumers, understand their true motivations and wishes in order to serve them. They speak. They relate everything. They suggest new products. They enjoy taking part in the process! They help our work. It’s no coincidence that the trend of customization is also a growing one in the cosmetics sector: everyone wants to feel unique. After all, from the doctor, the madman and the anthropologist, everyone has something.

Gustavo Boaventura is the editor of the blog Cosmética em Foco.

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