Qualitative research marketing is the process of acquiring deep, meaningful insights that can aid decision making.
Using a range of methods including focus groups and in-depth interviews – and we cover methods in further detail lower down this page – qualitative research gets beyond the numbers and trends and into the questions of why.
In this page, we will look at key elements of qualitative data analysis, compare it to quantitative, list the types of qualitative research and provide examples.
We will also take a few words to detail why we stand apart as a market research agency, including how we have embraced innovative methods to acquire the qualitative data research that can help you make informed decisions.
Qualitative research seeks to gain opinion and insight from individuals and groups rather than looking at the broader trend of how many people do something, or act in a certain way.
This form of research is often used once you have the numbers from quantitative research, you have found out that a certain percentage act in a certain way, or prefer a certain option.
Now you want to know why this is. What is it about the product, what makes it useable, what don’t they like about the other option.
The role of qualitative is best shown by some quick examples.
A company that makes running shoes might get 200 keen runners to try their new trainer options on the treadmills and then ask people to rate their favourite.
The numbers will be of interest, but only to a certain extent.
What they need to do is find out why people liked or disliked certain options and dig for deeper insight.
How can these findings then be used, what if many picked a trainer as their favourite because it looked best, whereas the performance of another was actually better. The numbers alone would miss this key information.
In medical research, it might be found that only 60% of patients remember to take their prescription medicine. That of itself is a concern, but it is so much useful to know why this is the case.
Had 98% said they remember to take their meds, there might have been less need to dig deeper, not taking medicine therefore not a common issue.
The quantitative research, the numbers, has found that there is something to delve into further. Qualitative research will then use this data as the starting point.
Why don’t people remember to take medicine and what can be done to prevent this problem. Which methods for remembering might people find useful.
This could, for instance, lead to a key feature being added to a health app.
There are six methods for this form of data collection and we wrote about all six in a recent post.
We won’t repeat the entire article here, but will give a brief overview about each option.
Phenomenology uses methods such as observation and interview to try to work out why people make the decisions they make outside of purely logical reasons.
This form of research seeks honest reasons people act in a certain way – why do they choose a brand over another one when the other option might be cheaper and the product demonstrably as good.
The form of data collection can be interview, observation and surveys among other forms.
Researchers using the ethnographic research model look to observe how people act, or how they use a product rather than how they might self-report they use it.
To use a website example, if you ask people if they found what they needed, they might say that they did, but through observation, you discover they took a rather circuitous route.
In product development, it is vital to know how people really use a product to then know how to best iterate on it and improve.
Observation is key to this form of research.
When using grounded theory approach to qualitative research, the aim would be to see what questions and theories emerge from the data set.
The research may start with either a question, or just a quantity of research data.
This would then be studied and theories allowed to emerge. Emerging theories could be grouped and then further analysis developed.
The research can be undertaken and data is collected through interviews, observation, surveys and questionnaires, potentially in person, over the phone or online.
A case study model focuses in on one thing – an individual, a family, a business or other and takes an in-depth view.
A TV streaming company might observe how a family use the existing service and then build personas from these observations.
The historical method uses past events as a means to explain the current.
A clothing company might examine sales trends from last summer to inform decisions for the upcoming summer season and then combine this with interviews with individuals and focus groups work to expand upon this.
For this method to be possible it is necessary to acquire data at the time that can then be used in future.
Website analytics is a good example of this – you can only study website usage trends if you are committed to capturing data for the long term.
The narrative model is a form of qualitative research that is formed over time, observations and notes taken at every stage similar to the narrative of a story.
This method requires data to be captured over the long term to then be turned into an accurate and compelling narrative.
An example might be the complete journey of a car buyer, from planning to buy, through buying, and then through use and eventual sale and purchase of a new car.
Data needs to be captured at every stage along the way – at the time it may not be possible to know which bits of data or insight will be the ones that are worth examining at a later date.
Whether working with customers, users or others, there are multiple ways to access qualitative insights.
The following are all popular
These will typically be one-to-one and face to face, led by an experienced researcher.
The questions are often open-ended. The researcher must also have an understanding of the topic in order to be able to ask sensible questions that elicit responses that provide usable information.
Most people will be familiar with focus groups. A small group, often around 6 to 10 people, discuss topics and questions.
Often, the group dynamic draws out responses that would not develop in individual interviews, the group will build on points and share experiences.
A focus group can have a mixed demographic, but another tactic can be to see how specific groups provide different responses. For instance, a car manufacturer might carry out a focus group with young drivers, then another with those who are older and have a family.
Mixing the two together in a singular group could lead to only half-formed ideas.
These are similar in type to focus groups, but can be larger and also use the benefits of online communication to draw people together.
This method makes it possible to get feedback from a group of people but without the need or expense to somehow get them all into the same room.
At Acumen, we are specialists in new approaches that have the benefits of traditional research methods, but utilise modern technology.
Often, the best way to see how customers use something and to get their opinion is to observe them at their most relaxed, at home.
Someone might use technology very differently at home than how they would if you placed it in front of them in a more sterile setting.
Experienced market research experts have other methods too – these might include customer and stakeholder events, accompanied shops whereby a member of the research team would observe shopping patterns, and PhotoEthnography whereby the researcher takes pictures and videos of user participant instead of asking them questions.
Real skill is needed to analyse this form of market research – you may have been able to collect data from consumers or users, but then how to interpret it?
Whereas quantitative data might fall into nice neat yes and no types responses and you can count which is most popular, qualitative wonâ€™t fall so neatly.
There will be a wealth of information and observation, some from interviews, some taken in field research.
Data might have been acquired in multiple forms – surveys, interviews, case studies and observations.
Not every observation is equal – you might have carried out a number of interviews, not every answer will as be as well thought through.
Equally, it may not be that the most popular answers are the most insightful, just one responder might give a certain response but it could be of huge value.
Weight must be applied to the observations to determine the useful from the less valuable.
Two main approaches are deductive and inductive.
Deductive is used when the researcher can predict to some extent which responses they might receive and they are asking questions designed to draw out certain bits of information.
For this approach to work, the researcher must fully understand the brief and be skilled in sourcing research data so that it fits within their framework.
Inductive is more freeform, the researcher gathering information with less of a clear pattern – and yet this information still has to be useable at the end, rather than a huge stream of incoherent observations that are impossible to make any conclusions from.
This is not to say inductive is less valid, it could be used for a different stage of a project, finding information at an early stage without preconceptions shaping the project.
In all cases, the basics apply that the data must be properly recorded, stored and organised.
This enables further insights to be drawn out as the data can be repeatedly referred to as a means to analyse new questions.
Many modern research agencies including a data analysis team within their qualitative research unit – this is the approach we take at Acumen, ensuring that data is stored in a way that makes it easy to query at any stage.
Our large qualitative research agency team are on hand to help with all your research queries.
Â Weâ€™ve got years of experience working with big brands, large agencies and boutique market research companies.
Our award-winning research team has been recognised throughout our industry, with a reputation for lateral thinking and problem solving that seeks to answer the questions at the heart of your brief.
We provide a tailored approach which begins from our earliest conversations and continues with your dedicated project manager who will keep you updated throughout the research process.
Weâ€™e happy to discuss any research methodology and will provide transparent and practical advice on the feasibility of your project. Some of the more common types of qualitative market research services we regularly provide are:
Please call us on 0161 234 9440 or use our Contact Form to discuss your requirements for market research.