Director, Account Service
Digging past the superficial to uncover true consumer insights has always posed challenges for researchers. Quantitative and qualitative market research methods have both evolved over time, each bringing more opportunity to drill deeper into consumer truths.
With its emphasis on numbers, statistics, and quantification, quantitative research reveals empirical details about a brand or product, answering “how much,” “how important,” and “this-or-that?” questions. This data is important for evaluating decisions within a known context.
However, to achieve a broader understanding of consumers, the white space for a brand, or how a brand fits into customers’ lives and culture as a whole, brands must turn to qualitative market research. This is where new inspiration and ideas come from. It’s how to move beyond the “what” and arrive at the “why.”
Why the “why” is important
Qualitative research helps brands reveal the causal relationships between how customers think, feel, and act the way they do, providing critical context to make smarter brand decisions. For example, if quantitative research reveals customers prefer the color red, a brand may be inclined to simply shift their color scheme to red. However, qualitative market research methods may show customers respond to the idea of power and authority – as demonstrated by the color red but not because of it. Correlation is not causation. The broader context of the “why” matters.
Qualitative consumer insights go further
Understanding the personal and cultural context surrounding the brand and the lifestyles of consumers equips leadership to position the brand for a more resilient future. Brands that do not take proactive action risk becoming usurped by competitors who have a deeper understanding of what the market demands and are willing to step in and fill the gaps. Qualitative insights reveal key context that informs overall strategy, not just day-to-day decision-making. Disruptor brands bank on possessing a better understanding of consumers and culture to fill unmet needs and gain market share. Brands turning a blind eye to personal and cultural context risk getting left behind.
How to use qualitative research to your advantage
Qualitative market research methods can be most effective if employed before diving into a quant study. The impulse to obtain data-heavy research figures may be strong, but if you find yourself going on gut regarding what you are asking in quant, you should stop and consider qual. Not taking the time to determine what stands out to consumers – or what consumers want that hasn’t yet been considered – squanders the full potential of any quantitative study.
Types of qualitative research methods
As mentioned above, qualitative research methods have advanced significantly over the years. There are many avenues available today to obtain deeper insights than ever before – for a fraction of the investment.
Focus groups are the most traditional qualitative research methods. Gathering individuals from the target market together to discuss ideas and opinions is a valuable tool. However, this approach may present challenges, from group-think to budget and time limitations.
Online insight communities/discussion groups provide the same level of insight as focus groups without the cost, time, and location constraints. This digital structure enables brands to reach more consumers in more markets. Online communities also help brands obtain a more profound understanding of consumer perspectives by providing the opportunity to return repeatedly for additional probing.
Online metaphor elicitation (OMET) exercises ask consumers to share their opinions about brands and products using pictures. This visual-based approach helps consumers articulate their thoughts and feelings about pictures they select that represent the brand, not the brand itself. Conversations like these provide a much more colorful, detailed look at the consumer perspective.
One-on-one in-depth interviews create an opportunity to dig deeply into the personal relationship consumers have with a brand. These intimate online or in-person exchanges allow researchers to probe
many layers of a topic and instantly pivot the course of the conversation to follow relevant leads that may be otherwise lost in exchanges with a more rigid structure.
Mobile ethnographies are a tool used in online communities where consumers are asked to use their phones or other photo/video resources to share firsthand experiences. These exercises are perfect for providing a “fly on the wall” look at the consumer’s life during key activities such as shopping, interacting with products, or participating in relevant brand activities. Giving participants specific tasks but allowing them to dictate the pace and flow of their thoughts and actions provides an unbiased look into their perspective that may be otherwise unattainable.
Avoid tunnel vision
Initiating a study with qualitative research enables brands to gain a baseline set of true consumer insights for testing, instead of falling into the trap of testing preexisting assumptions. This approach provides greater flexibility to uncover what consumers are really thinking and feeling, empowering brands to change the direction of the study to align better with what consumers actually want. By examining consumer attitudes in a more exploratory fashion, brands avoid getting inadvertently locked into further testing that doesn’t reflect reality.