Qualitative Research - When to use Quantitative or Qualitative Research

market research quantitative market research focus groups qualitative research

This Blog will take people on a journey from the basics through to the cutting edge of research, insight, foresight and futuresight. (www.jakepearce.com) – Here we discuss the basics.

Disclaimer – The Market Research Doctor

My name is Jake Pearce, the objective of this blog/content is to ensure you have a go to place to get independent questions answered about market research, be they basic or advanced. Now of course I’m hoping that some of you will learn to trust me and in time we’ll work together but in the first instance you’ll see from what I write I’m true to my word. This entry is designed to help people who haven’t commissioned market research before, to give you a helping hand – I’m also going to give you a “Government Health Warning” about market research because it’s far from perfect and carries risk. Each entry will have two parts – The Overview and the Watch outs. If I don’t know the answer to a question, I’ll ask someone who does and share their name/details etc so you can connect direct.

Overview – Qualitative vs Quantitative Research 

So what is a focus group and when should you use one? What is qualitative research? There are 2 types of research:

  • Pen and pencil, set questions – this is called quantitative research
  • Open structured conversation running through topics – this is called qualitative research.

So the image of market research is based on surveying 10’s or 100’s of people and asking them the same questions. It’s useful for asking how many or how much questions. Qualitative research which comprises focus groups (groups of 6-8 strangers in a room talking to a trained conversation head ‘moderator’) or one to one conversations. Qualitative research has a ‘topic guide’ ie a conversation guide but it does not ask 10’s or 100’s of people, it’s about understanding the ‘why’ people do what they do.

When to use quantitative research?

So let’s imagine you run an insurance firm or a food company or a tourist board or a bank or a car show room – when would you use one or the other?

So let’s imagine you own a small insurance company, it’s retail and it has 10 outlets. You’d use quantitative research to answer questions such as PayingTooMuch.com :

  • Which is the most well known insurance broker in the region?
  • What services do they offer?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10 how good is their service?

If you were a food company, let’s say you are a The Mushroom Farmer http://themushroomfarmer.co.uk/ an Isle of Wight based Mushroom farmer and you want to understand how you compare, as a supplier, to other suppliers you might ask:

  • Which is the most famous organic mushroom farmer in the UK?
  • What different types of mushroom do they offer?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10 how much do you trust their organic status?

Or you are a destination, you could be in the USA, say Pella, you could be Calgery in Canada or Port Morseby, Papua New Guinea or you could be Brighton Tourist board https://www.visitbrighton.com/ . Quantitative work will tell you factually what the image is of your destination and how it compares to others so you might ask:

  • Given the following choices which is the main reason for visting X:
  • Children’s attractions
  • Unique Food
  • Beautiful Architecture
  • Natural Landscape
  • Thrill seeking
  • Alternative edgy culture.

And so on for a large bank – You could ask on a scale from 1 to 10 how much is your bank trusted, how well known it is, how well known it is for certain financial products versus another bank. If you run a car show room or a bike show room, like www.harleydavidson.com you might want to know how your showroom compares on providing the Harley feeling, range of extras, reputation for service and events.

So whatever your category, you are after facts – how are you perceived, what do you offer, what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, how well known are you and so on.

The Watch Outs

People in research hate this truth and that’s why I’m going to tell you, people lie all the time in market research and the danger is that because you get statistics which say ‘50% of people think Brighton is more fun than Bognor Regis’ it’s true, or ‘30% of people think Calgery is a more natural city than Seattle’. The real problem is that because people get a number, they think it’s true but if you measure the wrong thing, you get wrong numbers and it’s not always easy to know.

The more you stray into innovation and predicting future behaviour the more you need advanced market research techniques to dilute the ‘lying effect’.

Why do they lie? Well it’s best to put yourself in the shoes, if you can, of answering a questionnaire for 15 minutes about something they don’t really care about, like a utility firm. Now the problem is if you work for a utility firm, it’s very hard to feel/hear that people don’t really care enough to answer a long questionnaire but it’s the truth. The other think if you are a utility firm is you have lots of questions, valid ones -  which are valid about bills, meter reading, speed of telephone response and so on and they really matter to you.

This is where research becomes an art-science.

How do you get around the lying in research?

We’ll come onto that in the next blog because it’s the reason why market research is often not predictive, i.e. you get answers you act on and it doesn’t work. There’s more to it than just length – it goes to the heart of a philosophical problem with research:

  • Does attitude predict behaviour?
  • Or does behaviour predict behaviour?

In other words, are you better off buying research or buying big data showing people’s behaviour? Quantitative research is incredibly useful but it’s critical to understand its limitations, which we’ll discuss next time so you can be confident about when to use it and when not to.





Share this content

About the author

Jake Pearce

Send message View profile

"Different to get better results". Jake is obsessed with marketing ROI. He helps companies amplify word of mouth to get business more easily. He uses Meanomathics to boost Comms cut through 10-30%. He uses co-creation to future proof innovation - he turned around a drinks category providing 15% growth using professional co-creation. And he helps top CEO and celebrities with their personal branding and brand purpose, which links back to Word of Mouth marketing. 

Worked with Vodafone,Kellogg'sMcDonalds,ANZ,McDonalds,Suntory,Danone,HSBC,Barclays,BAT,Meat Brands,Saatchi&Saatchi,Draft FCB,Fairbrother Industries, Les Mills, Holmes Place, Grey and a host of digital start-ups.

Jake Pearce is a specialist in brand planning, development & innovation. Jake is currently working on a Word of Mouth Marketing start-up, a personal branding start-up and new delivery systems for wellness products. 

www.jakepearce.com - for brand development and innovation

www.womtwo.com - for word of mouth marketing expertise


There are no comments. Join now to add a comment. Click to Join

Back to top

About us - Terms of use - Privacy policy - Pay