Qualitative vs. Quantitative – Which Comes First, the Chicken or the Egg?

21 May , 2017  

Market research is not just a series of ad hoc projects. Good market research for a brand or product begins with a plan to conduct a sequence of research projects. The most effective way to do that is for qualitative and quantitative to work together so that the questions raised by quantitative research point toward specific qualitative projects. In turn, the surprises and discoveries from qualitative research inform and inspire further quantitative research. One project gives birth to the next project and so on. The process is a circular one which leads to the question, “Which comes first: quantitative or qualitative?”

When starting with a quantitative survey such as attitude and usage or segmentation, marketers sit down and come up with a list of objectives for the research, and through this process, they come up with questions that they want to answer. They are looking for brand or product attitudes and usage. They are often looking for brand awareness. They are looking for buying predispositions and brand preferences. They are assessing where their brand stands in relationship to other brands. The problem with this commonly used approach is that it imposes a single framework on all brands and products. Ideally, questionnaires should be customized for each category and brand.

When following this single framework approach, the researchers are unaware of what kind of brand language to use, what is important to people about the product they are researching and what key-words and phrases are important to consumers (i.e., the lexicon). And, most importantly, they are not aware of the Emotional Needs and Barriers that are driving behavior in the category. In a nutshell, how do the researchers know what questions to ask? In many cases they do not know. Instead, they simply guess, relying on their own perspectives and their own framework. This guesswork can threaten the future of the brand.

Sometimes people start with focus groups to “get at” how consumers talk about the products and the brands in the category. But, group dynamics tend to take over and too often groups lead to a collection of rationalizations rather than any in-depth understanding of consumer motivation.

For all of these reasons and more, it is far better to start with one on one qualitative rather than with focus groups or quantitative research. In-depth qualitative research provides information about how the consumer feels about the product, talks about the product, uses the product and makes decisions about products. It also may uncover the attributes of the product and or the brand that consumers feel are important. In-depth qualitative research delivers the following:

  • What is important to consumers
  • What questions to ask
  • How to ask them
  • And, what words to use

This information provides inspiration and direction for writing an effective questionnaire and developing a powerful (qualitative or quantitative?) research design. When you start off on the right foot with qualitative, you will find yourself moving down a path where the quantitative research will return the favor. Quantitative projects designed with the right questions and the right language asked in the right way lead to results that beg for further understanding and explanation. In other words, another round of qualitative naturally flows from this process. In the same way that qualitative research gives birth to a solid quantitative research strategy, a healthy chicken lays a quality egg and so the cycle goes.

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