Once your company has decided to conduct market research and started searching for the perfect research partner, you face several important questions. The most important is: what research method is best, qualitative or quantitative?
The answer depends on your research needs. Do you want to have an in-depth understanding of how a customer thinks and feels, or are you looking to validate how many customers think and feel a certain way?
When to Choose Qualitative Research
Qualitative research is free-flowing and flexible, like a conversation. Types of qualitative research include focus groups, one-on-one interviews and product journals. These types of research are best at capturing how consumers process or react, and why. Rather than showing us the big picture, they offer an intimate perspective.
Here are some situations where quantitative studies are best:
- When you aren’t familiar with customers’ thinking on a topic and need to gather feedback before proceeding with quantitative research. For example, if you want to know reasons why customers might choose one product over the other but can’t generate a list of items to select in a multiple-choice context, you need to conduct qualitative research to know which options to focus on in future research.
- When seeking information on customers’ emotional responses, as when gauging reactions to a new concept or product. In quantitative studies, it’s almost impossible to capture the emotional quality of respondents’ reactions. Even when conducting qualitative research over the phone, you can hear changes in tone of voice and cadence that don’t come through online quantitative studies.
- When you want rich detail to support quantitative results. Qualitative data offers a richer picture of customers’ emotions and ideas. In qualitative studies, you can prompt respondents to elaborate in a more natural way, like you’re having a conversation. In online quantitative studies, respondents rarely expound upon their answers even when asked for the reasons behind their selections.
When to Choose Quantitative Research
Quantitative research is more rigid than qualitative and focuses on a frequency of the population or specific segment: think Young DIYer vs. Older DIYer or Plumbers vs. Electricians. The online survey is the most common type of quantitative research and includes single-choice questions, multiple-choice questions and rating or ranking items. There are few, if any, opportunities for respondents to provide open feedback, often because it’s ineffective in a quantitative setting.
Here’s when you should consider a quantitative study:
- When you are already familiar with a specific topic on a product or service. At this stage, you want to validate information and look for similarities or differences among groups. For example, maybe you already know what your customers’ complaints are. Now you want to know what percentage of your customers have each complaint and which are the top ones.
- When you want representation from a population. Qualitative by design will NOT provide you a statistically solid sample that will allow you to predict the behavior of a population. Quantitative is needed to reach a large sample of a specific target so you can state with confidence the percentage that is aware of your brand for example. Whether it’s homeowners that recently purchased a power drill or homebuilders that recently specified flooring.
- When you have specific objectives that are numbers-driven. The following types of research require quantitative research because the deliverable must be quantified data:
- Pricing Elasticity: to understand optimal price points and feature valuation.
- A/B Test: to know which concept, ad, package or message is preferred.
- Market Size: to determine the total retail dollar volume of a specific product.
When choosing which is best for your research project, think in terms of two commentators of a sporting event. One often does the ‘play-by-play’ while the other provides ‘color commentary.’
Quantitative is the finite, numbers-oriented ‘play-by-play’. Qualitative is the conversational, emotional ‘color commentary’ supporting a deeper understanding of the plays. Together, the two provide a complete picture of not only what is happening, but why.
Still not sure which type of research method is best for you? Click here to contact us. We can discuss which research is best for your needs or provide additional information on different qualitative and quantitative methods.