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Market Research: When Qualitative is the Way to Go

Many times, clients and colleagues alike have asked us, how do you know to use a quantitative survey or a qualitative approach to uncover the right insights? The truth is, it often can be boiled down to a pretty simple comparison.

Are you looking for statistically significant results? Something to help you pick a winner, base a media buy on or track if your marketing is moving the needle? If that’s the case, then quantitative surveys are always the first choice.

However, if you’re looking to uncover the “a-ha’s” to get beyond what you think you already know or have measured, that’s when I’d recommend a qualitative approach. The most important words in qualitative research are “what” and “how.” What do you think makes that important? What makes that trait a strength or a weakness to you? How would you describe that? In qualitative research, the intent is to open up the journey for participants to provide their perspectives and not to narrow the study to your perceived point of view. The role of qualitative research is to learn, not to measure.

Although both quantitative and qualitative research are versatile in how they can be conducted, qualitative methodologies generally are more flexible and immersive than their head-counting brethren. With qualitative, you can talk with customers, prospects or stakeholders through traditional face-to-face focus groups. But online bulletin boards can help to overcome the geographical challenges of conducting groups. Experiential tactics like ethnographies let you observe how your customers interact with your products or services, using both verbal and non-verbal observation. Other options include in-depth one-to-one interviews, collaging and journaling. Qualitative research also can produce conversation analysis of online social media interactions. The list is quite extensive and quite flexible.

The true beauty of qualitative research from a marketing perspective is it provides a holistic picture of your customers, prospects or stakeholders in their own words. As a marketer, that information is invaluable. If you want to know what to say, what taps the emotion you want to tap and the subjective way your customer speaks, this is where to start.

Qualitative helps us uncover the experiential process and the motives. Unlike quantitative’s unbiased results, qualitative research relies heavily on the biases that exist in the customer’s thought process. Qualitative often is the first step we recommend in exploring strong brand messaging, new product development, shopper marketing and customer journeys, or understanding barriers and objections. We would not recommend it for picking the winner of creative concepts, levels of brand awareness or benchmarking against your competition.

Qualitative research is just one of many approaches to gather the right insights to move your marketing forward. The methodology often relies on your challenge.