What is qualitative research?

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In the world of market research, we can only get so far by relying on hard, numerical data.

Hard metrics like (generated from quantitative research) are extremely useful and should form a core part of any business strategy. But they only tell part of the overall story.

To dig deeper and gain a fuller picture of why our customers behave the way they do, it’s important to consider supplementing quantitative research with a more  qualitative approach. Qualitative research is based on conversational and open-ended communication and aims to dive a little deeper than quantitative metrics and explore the why behind customer’s actions.

If you want to get the most out of your research, you should be using both approaches. In this guide, we’ll take a look at what qualitative research is, what makes it so useful, and how you can employ it in your own work.

How is qualitative research different from quantitative research?

Quantitative research:

  • Is more data-based, relying on hard data points and objective measurements
  • It uses statistics and numerical data to identify trends and patterns
  • Allows you to quickly establish what’s happening, and look at possible causes 

Quantitative studies are extremely valuable. They allow us to gain a reliable, accurate understanding of what’s happening in our market  and amongst our customers, and make clear-headed decisions that influence the bigger picture. But quantitative data alone isn’t enough.

Qualitative research is more human-focused. It’s less concerned with numbers and figures, and more focused on what customers have to say. It can take the form of interviews, focus groups or online communities  and its goal is to dig into the more intangible and subjective reasons why customers behave the way they do.

Why is qualitative research useful?

Qualitative research is useful because it helps us dive into the human factors driving our customers’ actions. People are complex and often unpredictable, and our behaviour can’t really be boiled down into a series of metrics..

For example, we might know that sales for one product are outperforming another. But why is this happening? Our hard metrics can show us the overall trend and might allow us to pinpoint certain glaring patterns, but they don’t tell us what’s going on in our customers’ minds.

For this, we need qualitative studies. We need to gain insight into the microtrends that lie beneath bigger patterns. 

The benefits don’t end there, though. Qualitative research means getting to know your customers and their motivations better. Here’s how that helps:

  • It can help you to understand customer needs, generating new ideas for products and services. 
  • It can provide valuable feedback on your existing offering. Using qualitative research you can explore pain points and barriers to use, helping you understand how to improve your current products and services.
  • It can be a useful input to your marketing. By truly understanding your audience, you can take a more personalized approach, speaking their language and talking to your customers in a way they can really relate to. It can also provide useful input to campaign or content development. By understanding customer needs you can create marketing content that solves specific problems for your audience and delivers real value in response to the challenges they face and the pain points they grapple with.

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Qualitative research methods 

Qualitative research is made up of a range of different methods and techniques. Each has its own use cases, and the best approaches will combine several methodologies based on your customers and your goals. Here are some of the main methods:

  • Focus groups. This is where you bring a small number of customers (usually less than 15) together in a group to discuss a particular issue. By tapping into the power of group dynamics, we’re able to uncover rich insights around attitudes and behaviours, and explore underlying motivations, need states and perceptions.
  • One-to-one, in-depth interviews. Here, researchers speak to customers directly, in a one-to-one setting. It’s a good way to get truly in-depth on a topic, delving into the participant’s opinions and gaining valuable feedback and insight. In depth interviews can be carried in person, on the phone or online. 
  • Expert interviews. Similar to in-depth interviews, expert interviews involve speaking to industry experts to build a rich understanding of the market and where it’s heading. This approach can help you explore the impact of emerging trends to help future proof your business.
  • Ethnography. This is where researchers immerse themselves in customers’ worlds to understand more about their day to day lives and the role that brands and products play. Ethnography can take different forms, from visiting consumers and accompanying them as they go about their day, to mobile self-ethnography where consumers complete video tasks to show us how they live. 
  • Online communities. This is where groups of consumers are brought together over a series of days on an online platform to explore specific issues. Consumers then complete individual or group tasks, enabling the researcher to uncover rich insights. Like mobile self-ethnography, online communities can involve photo and video tasks and are a great way of bringing an audience to life for key stakeholders. What’s more, as online communities consumers over a longer time period than an in-depth interview or a focus group, they allow you to explore complex or sensitive issues and uncover deep insights into attitudes and values to inform your decision-making.

Traditionally qualitative research was done according to the grounded theory method. This is a framework for research that involves collecting qualitative data through the above methods and then using that data to form a theory or hypothesis. However, it’s easy to underestimate the sheer amount of data you can collect through qualitative research and this is particularly true of online methods such as online communities. As such, it’s often not feasible to use the grounded theory method. At Kadence we take a different and more structured approach, exploring hypotheses with key stakeholders and designing the research so that we can test these. This means that the research is tightly focused on the areas that matter most to stakeholders, ensuring that the insights we uncover are actionable.  

Some examples of qualitative research questions you might ask:

  • How important is corporate responsibility to our customers?
  • What are the main reasons people use social media?
  • Why do people want to work for our organization?
  • How do adult males feel about hair loss?
  • What are the key motivations for  undertaking a weight loss programme?

Qualitative research is essential if you want to truly understand your customers and improve your product or service to deliver what they want and need. It goes hand in hand with more quantitative methods of research and helps add context, explanation, and depth to the more numerical and data-based metrics.

At Kadence, we can help you get the most out of qualitative research, to better understand your customers and market on all levels. To find out how, get in touch with us.