Market Research Research Methods

How Different Market Research Methods Impact Your Brand Decisions

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Stephanie Douglass

Sr. Director, Marketing and Operations

Market research is never a “one-size-fits-all” endeavor. The difference between getting accurate insights you can put to work for your brand and obtaining a volume of interesting but impractical findings is often the difference between quantitative and qualitative market research methods.

Both have their time and place. Both are extremely useful for answering important questions about your brand and target audience. However, using the wrong methodology wastes time and squanders your investment.

Here’s how various market research methods can impact your brand decisions.

How & Why vs. How Much, What & Which?

How you approach your overarching business question is the first major clue to the methodology that will suit your study best. The choice between quantitative and qualitative market research is usually obvious early on, simply by paying attention to your question.

“How” or “why” questions are best answered by conducting qualitative research. However, if your questions center on “how much” or “what” or “which one,” you’ll achieve clearer insights through a quantitative study.

When writing proposals for qualitative research, we often use words like: “explore,” “understand,” “identify,” or “probe”. This will generate results revealing emotionally-driven consumer motivations to use as a launchpad for your brand. Qualitative market research works best when seeking insight into:

  • Optimizing and refining ideas
  • Getting to the core drivers behind behaviors
  • Understanding the emotional connection between brand and consumer

Objectives for quantitative research are usually listed as: “measure” or “determine,” which generate a discreet answer for yes/no decision-making or to provide proof points to achieve stakeholder buy-in. Quantitative market research is better suited for the following:

  • Choosing between options
  • Ranking importance of specific factors
  • Verifying qualitative findings

Neither one of these research methods is meant to exist in a vacuum. They often work in tandem, fleshing out a bigger picture and creating a through-line between consumer decision-making and observable action.

Read more: Case Study on Branding and Re Positioning for Ochsner Health System.

Qualitative Research: Not Just Focus Groups

When many marketers think “qualitative research,” their minds immediately jump to focus groups. This popular methodology opened up a new way of capturing consumer perspectives; however, today there are many more equally useful and cost-effective solutions available.

Online qualitative tools are an effective method of connecting with geographically dispersed consumers without the expense or time drain associated with travel. These digital qualitative methodologies enable respondents to engage on their own time, not limit their participation to a two-hour focus group time window.

Options include online metaphor elicitation that surfaces non-verbal consumer attitudes and explores conscious and non-conscious associations. Online insight communities include activities such as journaling, video and photo blogging, and creative markup tools to demonstrate respondents’ unfiltered, real-time reactions.

Quantitative Research: More than Surveys

While surveys are a classic methodology still widely used to collect large amounts of data and cut said data by various factors, quantitative market research methods have evolved significantly over recent years, thus enabling marketers to drill down past the basics.

Implicit Association tests measure not just participant responses but can use the amount of time taken to issue a response as a crucial data point to determine the strength of certain brand associations and category areas a brand can ultimately own. Our Ad Tracking tool reveals the lift in brand awareness and intent to purchase, pre- and post-advertising campaign. Prove-It™ copy tests help to determine which of multiple ads is most likely to move the needle, capture an emotional response, and influence purchase intent.

System 1 vs. System 2 Research: Which Is Right for You?

Beyond the binary categorization of simply “quantitative and qualitative market research,” new ways of looking at research have emerged. Methods that uncover the brain’s automatic, intuitive, and unconscious thinking mode are referred to as system 1 research. This type of “gut-reaction” thinking is where 90% of human decisions are made.

System 1 research impacts your brand decisions by providing a look into your brand’s emotional impact on customers. This insight can explain why consumer behavior appears to be counterintuitive.

For example, we worked with a telecommunications provider to uncover the feeling consumers have about leaving their cable company. When asked to select from a range of images, participants pulled an image of a dark forest and a picture of a baby hand reaching for its mother’s hand. One participant explained, “Leaving my current cable company makes me feel very uncomfortable. It’s like a security blanket for me.”

Even if presented with better price options and consider themselves “likely to switch” providers, strong emotional drivers continued to impact consumer behavior, thus adding key context to what we had discovered in our quant study.

Conversely, system 2 research is a controlled, analytical method of thought processing where we “stop and think,” and reason reigns supreme. This type of research includes surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews, online communities, ad tracking and UX design testing.

Because the questions are unfamiliar, respondents are usually employing system 2 thinking when participating in market research studies. Researchers must aim to develop surveys and other research methods that generate automatic responses, thus ensuring respondents are offering true reactions, not controlled responses that are irrelevant to their real-life brand behaviors.

Your research partner can help

Determining the ideal methodology to use for your study is not your task. Let your research partner guide you. It’s fine to approach your research partner with your initial ideas but be open to their suggestions. Be honest about the full scope of brand decisions you would like to address, letting this discussion inform the type of study (or studies) you ultimately conduct. Selecting the right methodology ensures you push past “interesting facts” and obtain truly useful business intelligence.


Let’s talk about how our expert market research analysts can help you get reliable consumer insights to guide your brand forward.

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