Not sure which research method best suits your marketing objectives? Let’s explore the difference between qualitative and quantitative marketing research. Choose wisely and you’ll leave two-thirds of your competition behind!

In the ultra-challenging and competitive marketing landscape, one thing always wins—knowing your customer better than they know themselves. To do that, you must select the right research methods to understand your customers’ mindset and get a clear understanding of their emotional state. I call it knowing what’s in your customers’ hearts.

Regardless of your target customer—B2B, B2C, B2B2C or D2C—most of the time purchase decisions are made with a good dose of human emotion. Think of it like this: Before hitting “buy,” a purchaser confirms her or his choice by thinking…

“This makes me appear smart.”

“This makes me look hot.”

“This makes me seem like an expert.”

“This makes my life easier.”

Go ahead, in any situation for any product or service, fill in the “this makes me/my” blank for your target audience and you’ve tapped into their emotional reason to press the buy button. Easier said than done. I’m not suggesting taking a wild-flying creative guess here. I’m saying go the extra mile to tap into your customers’ buying behaviors with well-planned and executed market research.

“How do we truly understand our customers’ emotional triggers before they even know they want or need a product or service? ”

The challenge for marketers: How do we truly understand our customers’ emotional triggers before they even know they want or need a product or service? The answer falls in selecting the right research method that gets you closest to your audience’s mindset.

Before we look at the options, consider this. Reading this blog with the intent to research your customers means you’re already ahead of most of your competition. According to a B2B study by Considered Content, only 36% of marketers take the time to research their customers to really know and understand their needs. That means most marketers are acting on assumptions, giving marketers like you, willing to commit time or budget to valuable knowledge, an enormous advantage.

Qualitative Research: Interpretive Data

Qualitative research goes deep into understanding human behavior through observation and interpretation. If you haven’t already guessed, this research is subjective. Data is collected through observation of smaller samples and applied to broader audiences.

One classic example of qualitative research in marketing (and one of my least favorite research tactics) is focus groups. In focus groups, participants are brought together to discuss a particular product, service or marketing campaign. A moderator guides the group conversation, probing for insights into participants’ thoughts, feelings and experiences. Let’s just say, this research has many trap doors—dominant participants, leading questions and the overwhelming power of mob mentality.

Other examples include interviews and ethnographic studies. Face-to-face, one-on-one interviews offer in-depth insights into individual perspectives. Unlike focus groups, these interviews allow for a more detailed and personal exploration of participants’ opinions and experiences. Ethnographic studies go even further, as researchers collect data in the customer’s natural environment. Imagine observing your target customer in a grocery store and tracking their behavior aisle by aisle. This method relies on actions, experiences and routine practices to draw broad behavioral conclusions.

Advantages of Qualitative Research

  • Contextual data: Deeper detail and depth than quantitative research
  • Adaptive: Flexible to changes and new discoveries to go deeper during the study phase

Disadvantages of Qualitative Research

  • Time consuming: Requires more time to collect and analyze data
  • Subject to bias: Interpretive analysis leads to subjectivity, leaving the door open for bias; in focus groups, strong-willed participants can overrun the collective discussion
  • High costs: Time is money; because of the hands-on nature of qualitative research and time-consuming analysis, costs add up

Quantitative Research: By the Numbers

Show me the data. When it comes to analysis, nothing is more concrete or straight forward than numerical data. Forget interpretation. Quantitative research relies on numeric patterns to emerge without subjectivity (for the most part) getting in the way. It also opens the door for larger sample sizes.

Think of surveys, A/B testing and website analytics. Where there is data, there are conclusions or observations to be made. Surveys can be one time or longitudinal, with data—collected over multiple periods to see if behaviors change over time. A/B testing relies on singular changes in one variable and tracking the desired outcome, such as open rate. Over time, website analytics can provide a predictable behavioral trendline for making better user experience decisions.

Advantages of Quantitative Research

  • Quantifiable: Numbers don’t lie
  • Efficiency: Faster data collection, large sample sizes and less costs than one-to-few qualitative approaches

Disadvantages of Quantitative Research

  • Limited flexibility: Early design and structure is critical as changes and additions to data collection will result in starting over
  • Surface-level data: Forget probing deeper with this methodology; follow-up questions, unless preplanned, cannot be built into this approach

Choosing Between Qualitative and Quantitative Methods

Usually, research methods aren’t pick-and-choose, like selecting your favorite flavor of ice cream. Research methodology should be driven by your objectives. Exploratory initiatives aimed at uncovering fresh ideas and feedback, such as product launches, benefit from the qualitative approach. On the flip side, confirmatory research, such as how well a product or idea was received, is best suited for quantitative methods. And the most comprehensive research involves a mix of both, improving accuracy.

Mindset Analytics Process (MAP): The Best of Both Worlds

Finding the time and budget to conduct quantitative and qualitative market research can be challenging. Typically, 80% of the resources and time of traditional market research are allocated to data gathering.

Responsory’s Mindset Analytics Process (MAP) research integrates both qualitative and quantitative approaches (we call it quant/qual), creating a robust framework of interpreting and quantifying customer discussions. Numeric data of those discussions shine a light on what your customers and consumers really think, delivering quantitative reports on qualitative data. Unlike traditional research, our MAP platform efficiently and effectively gathers data using machine learning and AI techniques. In comparison to traditional marketing research, only 20% of time and resources go into data gathering, with more energy and attention to data analysis, recommendations and actionable results.

MAP research is all about discovery. It doesn’t make assumptions, state hypotheses or rely on questions/responses. It’s strictly about tapping into organic, unbiased discussions that are already happening in the digital universe.

Advantages of MAP Research

  • Less time & costs: With less time needed to gather data, MAP research can be conducted at a fraction of the cost
  • No bias: MAP research never frames questions; it’s a process of discovery, interpreting organic discussions that are already occurring
  • Data verification: MAP research comes full circle when we use traditional research methods to validate results or go deeper into understanding what the data reveals

Disadvantages of MAP Research

  • Cannot directly follow-up: Data collection is anonymous and one direction; MAP can go deeper, however, through additional analysis or applying more traditional research methods
  • Requires trained data scientists: AI and machine learning are just tools; human intelligence comes into play to distill millions of data points into actionable strategies and tactics

Since You Made It This Far…

You’re ahead of the game. Regardless of which research method you choose, reading this deep into this article puts you ahead of at least two-thirds of your marketing competition. Remember—one research method is better than none, but a one-two punch of quantitative and qualitative approaches creates deeper and more accurate understandings of customers that few marketers are willing to invest in.

Which research method will you choose?

Select a method that meets your marketing objectives. Then come back to your team and clients armed with insights that align strategies, tactics and campaigns to what your customers are telling you.

Want to know more about your customers or competitors—more than they even know about themselves? Contact us to discover which research method best answers your burning marketing questions so you can have confidence in your data-driven decisions.

About the Author

Jeff Nowak is a storyteller whose medium of choice is data. He brings a scientific approach to content creation and has introduced a groundbreaking quantitative/qualitative research method to Responsory — the Mindset Analytics Process (MAP). This proprietary platform uses machine learning and AI as part of a fine-tuned toolset to gather millions of customer and consumer discussions revealing unvarnished truths for better decision making. In his free time Jeff is all about the outdoors. He enjoys the solitude of Wisconsin’s Northwoods with his family and outdoor sidekick, Leo, his beloved mini Sheepadoodle.