Imagine the insight world without online quant research. Hard isn’t it? And for a whole generation of market researchers, practically impossible.

Almost as soon as it arrived, online quant became a go-to approach. So, it’s interesting that, while online qual has been around for a similar amount of time, the journey to more general use has been slower. This has as much to do with researchers using the technology and developing ways of working with it to deliver insight that clients need, as it has to do with the technology itself (if not more).

In the past 5 years ALL of that has changed.

Today online qual and, in particular, pop-up communities are re-shaping how customers can be reached, how we access and share experiences as they happen, how we run international research, and how insight is communicated. Pop-up communities are ubiquitous and with the ever-increasing amount of time we spend online and on our mobile phones, they’re not just a good alternative but very often a better way of reaching consumers than more traditional approaches.

We know that’s a big statement, but pop-up communities definitely make it easier and more cost effective to gather in-depth, culturally relevant feedback. They’re great for identifying trends, understanding experiences, recognising barriers and triggers, creating new ideas, developing products/services and developing brand/communications concepts – all in an internationally scalable way.

Before we get into some benefits and examples, let’s be clear what we’re talking about:

A pop-up community is a carefully profiled group of your target audience, available to participate in a range of activities over a set period of time in closed digital space.


  • Include anything from 10 to 100+ members.
  • Run for 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months or longer – it all depends on the scope and scale of insight required.
  • Are always targeted – our philosophy is to look for the right people to do the right activities for the right amount of time
  • Can include an extensive set of activities, from short projective tasks to long-form diaries, ethnography or observation studies and loads more in between.
  • Are mobile optimised and accessible 24/7 for ‘instant’ feedback.

All sounds great, right? So why has it taken so long for the approach to become more widely adopted?

It all comes down to technology and the people who use it. The market research world today is full of technology that should help you understand your customers better but without the expertise to use it properly you get lots of data but no insight. Being able to create, moderate and analyse activities in a way that helps members articulate and express themselves and knowing how to analyse the use of language and its underlying meanings, has changed everything.

What’s more, one significant benefit of pop-up communities is the ability to adopt a more iterative and collaborative working style. By this we mean linking multiple methods and being able to pause, analyse, reflect and add new tasks in response to feedback – knowing how to do this properly is a skill that is developed over time.

The three examples below show, in different ways, how this combination of technology and research expertise can help us do things now that 10 years ago wouldn’t have been possible. Using pop-up communities, we have:

  1. Had conversations with 74 C-Suite decision-makers from across the globe for two weeks about how they choose where to expand or relocate their business.
  2. Gathered real-time feedback about the role of music in the lives of Chinese consumers and the influence of music streaming – all from 5,000 miles away.
  3. Built relationships with ‘vulnerable’ customers, so we could speak to them in more detail about the situations that make them feel vulnerable and what FS businesses could be doing to help.

As you can probably tell, we love pop-up communities! We use them for ad-hoc work and we use them for deep dive qual as part of on-going community panels. They help us deliver great, in-depth, culturally and socially relevant insight in a way that is faster, smarter and more cost effective for both local and global projects.

You never know, maybe in another 10 years there’ll be a generation of researchers who can’t remember a time when pop-up communities weren’t the go-to methodology for qualitative research.