Qualitative vs Quantitative Market Research

Primary market research is often broken down into two main categories: qualitative and quantitative, or qual and quant for short. While both qualitative and quantitative research have the common goal of understanding people better, they are focused on understanding different things and thus have different methods, analysis, advantages, and areas of challenge.

At the outset of a research project, before deciding on more specific methods, researchers first need to figure out whether their objectives are best met through the use of qualitative methods, quantitative methods, or a mix of both.

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is exploratory in nature to answer “why?” Generally, qualitative research is used to understand reasoning, thoughts/thought-processes, emotions, motivations, behaviors, and other less-structured types of human response. Typically, qualitative research is conducted through conversations, discussions, observations, and word-based feedback exercises.

Some examples of traditional qualitative research are:

  • Focus groups are usually made up of a limited number of participants, say between 8-10 per group, and is led by a moderator.
  • In-depth interviews are one-on-one conversations between a researcher and a respondent.
  • Ethnographies immerse researchers in cultures and environments with the goal of observing, and potentially introducing, concepts to understand behaviors and performance within a more natural setting.

Data from qualitative research is typically referred to as “unstructured,” meaning that areas of exploration within qualitative methods are more open-ended, which results in rich sets of data that are not as easily aggregated and require more interpretation than quantitative data.

In addition to typically requiring more in-depth analysis due to its unstructured nature, qualitative research is meant to be more descriptive than predictive since data is more unstructured and samples are often smaller than larger, predictive quantitative studies. Additionally, qualitative data is more subjective than quantitative data. Other perceived disadvantages of traditional qualitative research is that when properly done, it is often seen as expensive or time-consuming.

Using a technology platform can dramatically reduce the time needed to evaluate qualitative research results, which in turn reduces the cost.

What is Quantitative Research?

Quantitative research is, as the title suggests, more focused on “quantities” or numbers. Quantitative research traditionally relies on a larger base size of respondents and questions/analysis depend on more numerical data and hard facts. Typically, this type of research gathers data in aggregate, rather than individually (as with qual.)

Surveys are the most common form of quantitative research. At their core, surveys are essentially a list of closed-end questions deployed to a sample (a group of respondents). This sample is optimally a random sample, though researchers can recruit specific segments (based on demographics, product/brand usage, behavioral data, etc.) that best represent the population that is important to them. Surveys are most often conducted face-to-face, through direct mail, over the telephone, or online.

There are two main types of surveys:

  • Cross-sectional surveys run over a specific point in time in which respondents answer a number of closed-end lines of questioning. These can be focused on a specific piece of stimuli (or multiple pieces) or be more focused on broad topics, (i.e. daily life, politics, media consumption). Oftentimes, responses are compared across segments or stimuli, but the point in time when the survey is administered is fixed.
  • Longitudinal surveys are conducted across various time periods or over a duration of time to observe changes in response, behavior, or thought over that period of time.

Which Is Better, Qualitative or Quantitative?

The short answer is…both. Qualitative research is useful in helping to uncover underlying opinions, thoughts, and feelings on the part of respondents, getting to the root of “why” respondents feel or think the way they do. It is helpful often in deep exploration of specific topics or in formulating hypotheses for further research. And many types of qualitative research allow for probing further on a topic as surprises or shifts in the conversation arise, thus enabling researchers to let the research determine the path of exploration.

Whereas qualitative research is exploratory in nature, quantitative research is often seen as more statistically valid. Quant’s larger base, more structured data, and decreased subjectivity (compared to qualitative) can help researchers feel more confident in findings and trends. Since data is numeric, it can be measured and compared more rigorously through mathematical, computational, and/or statistical analysis or run through scenarios, models, and other techniques to better predict behavior of a population.

However, the most complete research projects usually have both qual and quant as part of their research plan. And the order in which each phase is run depends on the objectives of the project.

For example:

  • Qualitative research may be done before quantitative research if the research team needs to formulate a hypothesis for the project through more open exploration of a topic. Another reason for introducing qual first may be to optimize concepts, products, packages, media, etc. that will be placed into quantitative testing. In this instance, qualitative responses are used to understand specific areas where these pieces of stimuli are performing well and where they may need to be tweaked to ensure the best possible stimuli is being tested in quant. Quantitative research is then used to test and measure to find the most successful concept, product, package, media, etc. for introduction.
  • Quantitative research may be done before Qualitative research if, perhaps, a team has a too-long list of potential stimuli to be tested. Quantitative research, in this instance, can be used to cull the stimuli list down for further testing before putting it into qual testing. Another reason may be for internal buy-in. The research team may need to prove a market exists for a specific concept, product, package, media, etc. before getting too deep into testing.
  • Additionally, qualitative research and quantitative research may be done simultaneously, as is done at Invoke. In an Invoke session, both qualitative and quantitative lines of questioning can be administered and both types of data can be analyzed in real-time. And due to Invoke being able to handle large base sizes and its ability to segment data out according to client needs, teams can feel confident in the insights they are gathering and know they are hearing from the consumers, customers, and partners most important to them.

And these are not the only possible combinations of qualitative and quantitative research. There may be multiple phases of research in a given project that requires moving from one type of research into another, and then another after that. For example, in the instance of quantitative research being used to cull down a list of stimuli then moving into qualitative, the team would most likely move into another phase of quantitative research to prove market acceptance or predict market success.

Thus, using a blended qual/quant methodology like Invoke will enable clients to do the qual and the quant research simultaneously, get results in real time, and make a data driven decision immediately. Invoke’s technology brings you the depth of qual with the scale of quant. Inclusive and conclusive.

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