Don�t Try To Turn Qualitative Research Into Quantitative Data

Qualitative research allows researchers to gain insights into how consumers think and feel about ideas such as products and concepts.�It employs techniques that help the researcher explain key consumer motivators or drivers, and understand how consumers perceive a particular product, service or topic.�Consequently, qualitative research helps decision-makers understand what consumers are looking for in a product or service.�But it is not meant to help forecast outcomes as quantitative research techniques do.

Qualitative market research draws on various disciplines such as anthropology, ethnography, psychology and sociology.�Qualitative techniques such as focus groups were first conducted in the 1930s to assist companies gain insights into how consumers made their purchase decisions.

The most commonly used qualitative market research methodologies are focus groups and individual in-depth interviews, referred to as IDIs or �one-on-one� sessions. Here are some common qualitative research methodologies and when these techniques are useful or not:

  • Individual in-depth interviews conducted by a moderator with a single participant, ideal when dealing with confidentiality. Useful because there are no group influencers, but costly to conduct.

  • Dyads and triads conducted by a moderator with two or three participants, used when the researcher wants to minimize group influencers such as when dealing with a current �hot� topic. Can effectively apply projective techniques, but low turnout severely impacts session.

  • Focus groups vary from 90 minutes to two hours per session with eight to ten participants led by a moderator. Clients usually monitor the focus group session behind a one-way mirror. Ideal for new product development on a short time frame. Turnaround is quick. Clients can observe and hear direct responses. Negative: some participants may be group influencers.

  • Mini-groups Similar to a focus group but with fewer participants, four to six instead of eight to ten. Ideal when there are a lot of objectives that need to be presented to the group. Has the same positives and negatives as a focus group.

  • Focus group panels Multiple focus group sessions with the same participants, used for evaluating a product over a specified time frame. Participants can provide trended perceptions on research topics. The challenge is maintaining the same group participants.

  • Online focus groups are held in a �virtual facility,� and the group is conducted in a written format rather than in person. The moderate asks questions using software that communicates to all participants. A good format for testing visual concepts, it is ideal for participants who are spread out geographically, but it does not allow for the study of non-verbal communication of the participants.

  • Usage testing gets participants to use and evaluate products and services, which is ideal for testing out new technologies.�The researcher can get honest feedback but a poor study design can produce biased results.

  • Taste testing gets participants to taste and evaluate food and beverage products. Such tests have a quick turnaround but usually only evaluate taste of the product and not perceptions.

  • Mystery shopper A researcher experiences a service as a consumer would and provides feedback about the experience, usually in a written report. Used most often in the prepared foods, retail, travel and tourism industries. Ideal for evaluating services such as restaurants, it has a quick turnaround but it�s more costly than other forms of qualitative research.

  • Ethnography research involves observing a participant in the environment that the research is trying to gain insight into, such as observing how a consumer prepares an evening meal at home. Sessions are usually audio or video taped. This is more thorough than other methodologies but the cost is significantly higher and if not conducted properly could be biased by the participant being too careful in his or her actions.

When do you use qualitative research methodologies to address research questions? When you need to explain how individuals� feelings and beliefs, comprehension and familiarity with issues, and experiences influence their behaviors.

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