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Quantitative vs Qualitative Market Research: Which Method Is Best for You?

Posted by Colson Steber on 01/17/2017

quantitative vs qualitative market researchWhile there are many important decisions to make when planning a market research effort, one of the most crucial  is whether to conduct qualitative or quantitative market research. In brief, quantitative market research refers to the process of collecting large amounts of data through surveys, questionnaires, and polling methods. Qualitative market research, conversely, involves determining customer motivation through close observation –– typically in a small group or face-to-face encounter.

What deciding between the two even trickier, is that many of the people conducting market research –– either for their employers, or as consultants –– do not have in-depth expertise with both methods. As such, they stick with the one that they are familiar with, regardless of whether it is the best option. Or if they integrate both quantitative and qualitative methods into their approach, they are biased toward certain strategies and tactics -- which ultimately renders the outcomes anywhere from less-than-optimal, to outright misleading.  

The only way to avoid heading down the wrong road -- and undermining the market research effort and investment –– is to objectively determine whether a quantitative approach, quantitative approach, or integrated approach (and if so, in what proportion and for what purpose) is required.

Below are some high-level guidelines to point you in the right direction and help you make this critically important decision.

Quantitative Research

The purpose of quantitative research is to glean reliable, standardized facts and statistics to guide key business decisions, such as “is there a strong market for our product?” or “how many of our target customers care about this benefit?”

Often, primary research quantitative data is captured through surveys and questionnaires. However, it’s vital to ensure that the pool of respondents is sufficiently large, and that reasonable effort is put into ensuring the quality of information. For example, exclusively using mobile surveys to capture quantitative data is likely to disproportionately filter out people not on mobile panels, while conducting surveys by calling landline phones is likely to disproportionately filter out the nearly two-thirds of households that entirely or mostly use cell phones.

Furthermore, capturing data is just one piece of the quantitative research puzzle. To leverage it as actionable and reliable business intelligence, it must be organized, analyzed and communicated to decision-makers (e.g. executives, board members, business owners, etc.). Most organizations -- and virtually all small businesses -- do not have the resources, technology or expertise to do this in-house.

Qualitative Research

The purpose of qualitative research is to go deeper into understanding insights into customer motivation and emotion. In this sense, if quantitative research is mainly about the “what” of customer behavior, qualitative research is about the “why." This approach can be useful for revealing aspects such as how customers regard a brand, why they like certain marketing messages and dislike others, and so on.  

There are many ways to conduct qualitative market research, such as focus groups, online bulletin boards and in-depth interviews. There are advantages and drawbacks to various strategies and tactics, and it’s important to make adjustments to avoid bias or end up with plenty of raw information, but precious little actionable insight.  

3 Questions to Help Make the Right Decision

In additional to the information shared above, you may also find it helpful to ask these three questions as part of your decision-making process

1. Is our market research exploring perceptions, or testing a hypothesis?

If you are exploring perceptions, then you need qualitative research. If you are testing a hypothesis, then you need quantitative research

2, Do we need an in-depth understanding of why customers have certain opinions, or do we want to measure their opinions?
If you want an in-depth understanding of perceptions, then you need qualitative research. If you want to measure opinions, then you need quantitative research

3. Do we want to map out the experience of an individual respondent, or make assumptions about a larger audience?
If you want to map out the experience of an individual, then you need qualitative research. If you want to map assumptions about a larger audience, then you need quantitative research.

Integrated Market Research

Typically, a robust and complete market research effort involves qualitative and quantitative methods, since they both offer valuable perspectives and can be combined to generate valuable insights. Naturally, the right mix is based on each business’s unique needs, timeframe, scope and budget. There is no one-size-fits-all answer or template, and the determination should never be based on what a market researcher or consultant is familiar with (or simply knows how to implement). The determination must only be based on what the business requires, and what the integrity of the market research project demands.

Learn More

To learn more contact the Communications For Research team today. We will help you better understand the differences and distinctions between qualitative and quantitative research, and ultimately help you make a determination that is optional for your business objectives and research needs.

It is important to communicate the value of market research to your clients, so download our FREE eBook to learn more about how to do this: 

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Topics: quantitative research , qualitative research

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