Qualitative vs. Quantitative: What Type of Research Is Best for Your Product
In life, we are advised to seek quality over quantity. In business, however, the choices are a little more nuanced. There are two broad categories of useful market research. Methods have historically been either quantitative or qualitative market research, and predictably, there is a debate over the merits and appropriateness of each approach.
Quantitative research – aims to measure and quantify information, using numerical and statistical analysis. Working from a set of prescribed variables, it samples a broadly based target group to measure opinions, attitudes, and behaviors, and then quantify the results.
Using tools like online surveys, longitudinal studies, interviews, and systemic behavioral observations, researchers ask quantitative questions of the sample group, incorporating terms like “how long, how many, and how much.” The result is a broad set of data that can be analyzed and applied to a larger population.
Qualitative research – looks at information that often describes emotional and subjective responses using words, rather than numbers. Delving into motivations, opinions, and rationales, qualitative research attempts to explore the reasons for certain choices and behaviors. It uses a more open-ended approach than quantitative surveys, favoring market research focus groups, observations, or interviews in malls, schools, and homes.
Qualitative research is generally used with smaller groups, but examines its subjects in more depth. Each of the two different approaches has its own proponents, in part because researchers tend to specialize in one direction or the other. A full understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of market research requires a closer look at each method.
Pros and Cons – Quantitative Research
Quantitative research has the advantage of surveying random samples and providing statistical data that can be quickly assessed, then applied to a general, broader group. It has the scientifically valid aspect of producing repeatable data that can be trusted for forecasting and other planning purposes.
On the other hand, original quantitative research is not always possible due to its higher cost. It can be difficult or impossible to probe beyond the initial surface answers in order to examine responses in more depth. The goal of taking a broad, representative sampling of a population may not be fully accurate because there is self-selection going on toward those who are willing to respond, leading to a potential bias.
Pros and Cons – Qualitative Research
Using qualitative research leads to more in-depth insights into subjects’ motivations and thinking. It does not require surveying as large a number of people, instead selecting smaller groups, who share some qualities or characteristics. Using tools such as online focus groups, it is significantly less costly than quantitative research.
It does not set out to confirm previously held beliefs, but seeks to uncover actual motivations and perceptions. It can reveal hidden trends, providing valuable insight when determining product development and marketing approaches.
Drawbacks of qualitative research include the basic fact that it is, in fact, not quantitative—in other words, it does not give a specific measure of the numbers of people who feel or choose one way or another. By the same token, it does not allow for extrapolating results and applying them to a broad public audience.
“Quali-Quanti” Research Methods
The longstanding debate over the merits and validity of each method—qualitative or quantitative—has given rise to an evolving new approach. Combining aspects of both methods, qualitative-quantitative studies can be devised that pull techniques from one discipline to complement weaknesses of the other.
Qualitative research is often used to measure feelings and difficult-to-quantify responses, such as what one consumer or another “likes,” and whether they like a product a little or a lot, or would describe their reaction as “love.”
Applying a quantitative approach within a typically smaller sampling to get a numerical rating on a scale of 1 to 10, for example, can produce more useful data. As part of the new product development process, this approach can be helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of potential consumer response.1
Similar techniques can be used in gathering information for product improvement by pulling respondents from a high traffic area, such as a shopping mall, for taste tests of food products. Their answers to a series of questions are then gathered on a questionnaire, resulting in a measurable set of rich data collected in a highly cost-effective way.1
In trying to decide where to invest limited research dollars for costly new product development, aspects of both qualitative and quantitative methods should be considered for a fully informed picture of market potential. Perhaps you need a deeper understanding of how consumers interact with your product, or how they feel about it—all qualitative concerns. If instead, you are looking for hard numbers on product adopters, you will be better served by quantitative research.
The right path to understanding creating a well-defined product for the market is not always clear-cut, and more often, good decisions are made using a blend of both research approaches. Now, qualitative analysis can be used for larger online samplings using mass input from social media participants, and adapting quantitative methods like instant online polling to generate open-ended discussions.2
Quantitative researchers, in turn, might use qualitative methods to generate deeper responses through surveys. An insightful, creative research agency should offer the kind of advice that clarifies the best choices and blend of methodologies to achieve a positive outcome.