Quantitative versus qualitative research
May 16, 2013Ashton Bridges
Virtually all market research can be broken out into two categories: quantitative and qualitative. While studies often combine the two, understanding how to use them will ensure you get the most out of your market research spend. Here we outline a few more details – and the advantages – behind each methodological option.
Virtually all market research can be broken out into two categories: quantitative and qualitative. While studies often combine the two, understanding how to use them will ensure you get the most out of your market research spend.
As the term suggests, quantitative research relies primarily on the collection and analysis of numerical information.Qualitative research, in contrast, focuses on smaller samplings with a richer depth of data drawn from interviews, discussion groups, or careful studies of relevant source materials, such as books, articles, videos and existing research. Here are a few more details – and the advantages – behind each methodological option.
Quantitative Research: Overview and Advantages
The primary aim of quantitative research is to collect, count, measure, and assess the meaning behind specific variables—and ultimately, devise statistical explanations for what the researchers have learned. Quantitative researchers gather information from a much larger number of representative individuals than their qualitative counterparts, spending less time with each individual.
Quantitative researchers typically begin with more clarity behind the questions they want asked – and want answers to. Their approach is based on numbers and pure data and relies heavily on scientific methods rather than intuition, personal observation or subjective judgment. Performed properly, quantitative research yields results that are objective and statistically valid.
When to Use Quantitative Research Methods
As a rule, quantitative research is the method of choice when the object is to measure and analyze concepts, trends, product consumption, product usage, and other variables with mathematical precision. Examples include:
- Measuring awareness and usage of a product, service or brand across a large audience
- Statistically validating a hypothesis—e.g. female doctors are significantly more likely to prescribe anti-depressant medication than male doctors
- Measuring and segmenting the market for a specific product and opportunities for a new product or service
- Evaluating preferences for ads, concepts, packaging, and communications
- Testing market preferences
- Comparing the desirability—and likely demand—for a product concept within a target market
Qualitative Research: Overview and Advantages
The purpose of qualitative research is to create a robust, detailed description of behavioral patterns, consumer trends, market needs, and human motivations. If quantitative research seeks to confirm an existing hypothesis, qualitative research seeks to collect information that may support the creation of a hypothesis or invalidate an existing theory.
Toward that end, researchers focus on a smaller number of people and spend more time with them, eliciting their thoughts and opinions rather than statistical data or yes-or-no answers. The researcher’s observations, subjective interpretations, interpersonal skills and interview techniques thus figure critically in the process, and in the quality and relevance of data collected.
When to Use Qualitative Research Methods
A qualitative approach often makes most sense in the early stages of a research project, in an effort to rebrand a product or service, or when the goal is to extract information from consumers about the deeply rooted motivations behind why they make particular choices. In particular, it is a useful tool for:
- Understanding how usage of one product or service can be contextualized into a person’s broader lifestyle and belief system
- Gauging what the choices they make say about a certain person, or group of people
- Identifying unmet needs in your target market
- Generating ideas on how to improve an existing product, brand or service
Quantitative versus Qualitative: How to Decide?
The decision on what type of research should be made solely based on your current needs. If you’re looking for depth of insights and new ideas, qualitative research is often the right choice; when you are seeking to quantify and validate, more often than not quantitative research is the right option.
To summarize, qualitative research is generally used as an exploratory tool—to uncover thoughts, generate ideas and form hypotheses. Quantitative methods can subsequently be applied to test and validate those early findings.
In deciding which to use, achieving a complete picture will require the use of both approaches. A market research company can help you determine your specific needs, and how you can get the best results from both approaches.