During a Zoom happy hour with my parents at the height of the pandemic, we lamented that seeing each other virtually “just wasn’t the same” as being together. That’s probably a familiar sentiment to most people at this point, but what is it about meeting in person that is so different than over video—technology aside? And how does this feeling impact how we conduct business in a digital, often remote, world?

Since I started my research career approximately 30 years ago, changes in technology have fundamentally shifted the way market research is conducted. I now routinely conduct qualitative research interviews using web-enabled video platforms instead of meeting face-to-face in focus groups. While video interviews come with advantages like lower cost structures, the ability to connect with hard-to-reach respondents easier, and more scheduling flexibility, the most significant disadvantage is not being able to directly experience what I like to call the aura of the respondent.

The ties between aura and conducting qualitative research

I hadn’t thought much about auras before the Zoom call with my parents. I call it an aura, some call it a vibe, but at the end of the day, it’s a distinct atmosphere, quality, or feeling that emanates from and surrounds a person, place, or thing. Humans thrive on contact—and we have for millennia. It is part of the essence of being human. That’s why meeting with family, friends, and even respondents through video lacks the level of intimacy and aura we need to feel genuinely connected and tuned in to discussions. And, because of the distance associated with video interviews, we need to give special attention to how we connect to respondents.

As a market researcher and strategist, there is nothing like connecting with the respondent in the room. Not only can I ensure that we are present at that moment and focused on each other, but I can use and read body language more effectively. I can reach across the table for a handshake or lean in to show I am actively listening. For focus groups, it’s easier to signal directly to the respondent my interest and curiosity and to signal to others when I want them to engage (or not). Being in the room simply helps communicate empathy and understanding easier and more effectively than it can through the lens of a camera.

The same goes when The Connell Group team debriefs after a focus group. This is where the magic really happens for our clients. Our in-person, backroom discussions give us a chance to build better team relationships, read each other’s body language, and work in real-time when the information is freshest in our minds. The less downtime between research and debriefing, the more thorough and precise we can be when formulating a brand strategy.

Tapping into the ‘aura’

So, how do we, as market researchers, get closer to the ‘aura’ while conducting remote qualitative research? There are two key ways to make that happen.

First, we need to find more creative and unique ways to tap into the essence of aura through online platforms. If we can do this, we can quickly build trust and rapport. How that’s done depends on your team, your attitudes, and the aura you want to exude. The more positive it is, the more likely the respondents’ auras will reflect it.

Secondly, don’t completely discount in-person focus groups for those particularly important and personal topics. Remote interviews have become the norm post-pandemic, but that doesn’t change how effective in-person focus groups can be. Group sizes may be smaller, but their insights are still enlightening.

Give off the right aura

Without establishing a positive aura, we can’t effectively conduct our qualitative market research, and half-hearted research doesn’t do anyone any good. The Connell Group team knows how important it is to connect with respondents, and we’ve made the moves to ensure that the essence of our aura radiates onscreen.

  1. We set up “pre-calls” with respondents. Getting to know them before the actual interview goes a long way to establishing rapport and building trust. By the time the real call comes around, it’s like reaching out to an old friend.
  2. We take the time to know our respondents from the moment the interview starts. Longer initial introductions help everyone settle in and help them re-establish the aura from previous calls.
  3. We spend time talking about the respondents’ personal lives to make a connection that goes beyond our product or idea. Then, it’s time to get on to the interview.


By focusing on what matters, like developing rapport, confidence, and trust, you can continually have productive interactions with respondents and conduct successful qualitative research. Interacting with their aura will only improve your chances of success–whether it’s online or in-person.

Ready to take the next step in tapping into the aura? Contact us to learn more.