Traditional research involved more face to face conversations, often accounted for non verbal communication and has been considered to have richer data points. Digital technology and smartphone penetration on the other hand, has expanded horizons, is considered to be more real time and audience inclusive. It also allows more users to participate anonymously. Please comment.
Face to face, in person, over a phone or digitally are only the context in which you understand your consumer, how you understand the consumer. The power or limitation of the medium should never decide what you aim to understand.
Yes you are right that a face to face helps you pick up non verbal cues which a digital interaction may not, which is why we always choose a medium basis what we want to know. It comes after you have decided what you aim to explore. Many times we want to know a person’s individual feelings and desires, things that are private to them. Here, an in-person conversation helps because the connect has to be human to human. Digital would not work well here. We have had women in ghunghats become comfortable enough to share their family hardships and troubles with us. Same as how we have had girls confess and share moments of joy they have had with their partners. Other times we may want to know how a person reacts to something in a social context. This is where a group setting is invaluable.
That said, digital does not mean devoid of non verbal cues. Today technology helps us record conversations: look for visual cues, check for pauses, shifts in tonality etc. We do this actively while working on assignments even if they are conducted online. Actually, especially when they are conducted online.
To be honest, most studies often require a mix of techniques to be employed. Like when working with a partner on a new chocolate bar we had to not only understand reactions to the idea but also observe how they ate the bar and what that reminded them of. I still remember one of them saying this feels like eating a burger.
The idea is to work with the medium and not force a fit. Each has its strengths and limitations. If you understand your consumer well you know which medium will help them open up most and share.