How Qualitative Research Can Improve Your Customer Experience
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How Qualitative Research Can Improve Your Customer Experience

January 3, 2023

Read on to discover five powerful qualitative research tools that will drive informed and strategic decision making for your brand.


At Kelton (now Material), our goal is to propel your customer relationships from transactional to transformative, whether you’re a world famous brand or a new business. We’ve spent decades helping brands solve major pain points and develop customer centric experiences. Our solutions usually involve a qualitative research component—and for good reason. While quantitative research and metrics will always be important, incorporating in-depth qualitative research can foster empathy for current and potential customers and inspire strategic decision making and forward-thinking business plans.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research encompasses a broad range of research techniques to solve critical business challenges and inform new strategies for growth. You’re probably familiar with the basics of qualitative research, but it can be challenging to understand how different methodologies can explain and predict consumer behavior in various target markets.

Qualitative research enables us to gather solid qualitative data to understand the drivers, motivators and factors behind current and potential customers’ purchasing decisions. Brands can then communicate more effectively, shape perceptions, and form powerful brand narratives. We’ve compiled a list of qualitative market research tools to help you create unforgettable customer experiences.

Five Qualitative Market Research Tools for Customer Experience

Focus Groups

Focus groups are a key part of qualitative research: these groups of people are comprised of a sample size of about six to eight respondents with different backgrounds and viewpoints. They usually have one thing in common: they use or don’t use a product, are familiar or unfamiliar with a brand, etc. In these in-depth group discussions, consumers are guided by a moderator. In person focus groups are held in a facility with a one-way mirror for observation, and post pandemic, many now take place online. We sometimes use more creative or immersive settings when the project calls for it. Group discussions encourage open conversation, diversity of opinions, and idea-building inspired by a range of ideas and perspectives.

You can use focus groups and group discussions to test creative or advertising copy concepts, discuss brand perceptions, new products or services, and ideate with customers to optimize portfolio offerings. It is also typical to conduct focus groups in a variety of geographical areas (domestic or international) to enhance the quality of opinions from a range of respondents and facilitate data collection and data analysis.

Co-Creation Sessions

Co-creation sessions are another important facet of qualitative research. They’re different than focus groups and are more focused on the iteration of ideas and concepts. The facilities are locations that foster creativity and inspire differentiated thinking. These sessions can be used to understand new products, their overall look and feel, design functionality, and differentiation between other similar products. There is typically stimulus involved to immerse participants in the product or concept development/iteration process.

Co-creation sessions are an incredibly valuable element of qualitative research, because they allow customers to actively work with the products to identify pain points and suggest additional features. By involving consumers in the creation process, your product inevitably becomes more consumer focused.

SmartCommunities (Online Focus Groups)

An online platform that acts as a prolonged focus group, Material’s SmartCommunities are another great tool in the market research toolkit to encourage further ideation and provide rich insights. A brand can gain more varied audience representation since recruitment isn’t limited by geography, demographics, or socioeconomic factors. There is usually a larger base of participants, which is more cost- and time-effective. These respondents are encouraged to think through their answers to questionnaires, rather than provide opinions on the spot, which can elicit a more accurate account of specific preferences and experiences. Material’s SmartCommunity platform reveals invaluable insights and provides important qualitative data.

Ethnographic Interviews

Ethnographic interviews are one-on-one, in-depth interviews that include a participant and a moderator. This type of research typically occur in a consumer’s home, where the individual is more likely to be comfortable enough to speak openly about their lifestyles, preferences, and beliefs. Ethnographic interviews help companies understand their consumers at more emotional and functional levels, fostering empathy and helping to uncover unmet needs or pain points.

Visiting with a consumer in their home allows us to see how shoppers interact with categories. In this type of research we observe how they navigate their kitchen, closet, or bedroom, for example. What hygiene products, cooking utensils and technology do they use? What do they see as necessary or unnecessary? What are they saving for? What do they see as a waste of money? During this fascinating ethnographic process, we also explore their motivations and discuss what propels their purchasing decisions.


Shop-alongs are an extremely powerful tool that can be used to see the purchase journey come to life in real time. We spend time with participants in a store to observe how they interact with displays, and how they respond to the various products they encounter. We can understand how they shop for specific needs/wants, browse, make decisions, while also understanding the influence of packaging and in-store advertising. Immersive observation allows us to uncover consumer behaviors and motivations that customers don’t even consciously realize, and this information feeds into actionable strategies for brands and products across many categories.

In a nutshell: whether your brand is a startup, small business or a global company, we’re confident that our toolkit of research techniques and cutting edge methodologies will ultimately help you develop powerful marketing strategies, reach your target audience, and change your customer relationships from transactional to transformative.

When you’re ready to partner, contact Kelton (now Material) by filling out this form.

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