Today’s world is more data-driven than ever, with statistics determining how the entire corporate world, and its customers, construct their daily activities.  However, not all data deals with numbers or figures.  Qualitative data is a type of data that is rooted in social sciences and communication.  It provides researchers with an understanding of human behavior by analyzing data gained through personal interaction or observation.  This includes focus groups, interviews, ethnography, product trials, innovation forums, and mock trials.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Data

There are two main types of data: qualitative and quantitative.  Quantitative data is what one typically imagines when he or she thinks of data: numbers, statistics, and figures.  It looks to answer the question of “What is the significance?”.  Quantitative data is also used to confirm theories and assumptions.  Qualitative data, however, answers a different set of questions, such as why and how a significance is occurring.  It can also be used to collect insight or feedback, as well as gauge the effectiveness of a solution or product.  In short, quantitative data is expressed in numbers, while qualitative data is expressed with words.

Another difference between these two types is the recommended sample size.  Quantitative research typically requires a larger sample size in order to capture as much information as possible without letting outliers skew the data.  Qualitative research, according to a 2006 whitepaper, is best kept to a much smaller sample size for the sake of time and data saturation.  Data saturation occurs when enough samples have been collected that information begins to be repeated.  Both forms of data have their own value in market research.

Benefits of Qualitative Research

According to a 2020 study by FuelCycle, over 90% of market researchers use qualitative data, with a third of them conducting these types of studies on a monthly basis.  This is because qualitative research has a variety of exclusive benefits that are lacking in other forms of analysis.  The first unique aspect of qualitative research is that it is the most open-ended form of data collection.  Because this data is expressed with words, it can offer insights that numerical data cannot and is generally much more flexible in nature.  It also provides more targeted or direct responses to research questions, rather than drawing conclusions based on statistical significance.

Qualitative research also excels at detecting change over time within its sample sizes, such as opinions of a particular product or social issues.  Another major advantage of using qualitative methods is the speed at which information is collected.  Rather than having to run a survey or observe change over a matter of weeks or months, qualitative data is collected instantly through verbal communication or observation, keeping the time and cost expenditure low by comparison.

Qualitative Research Methods

When holding a qualitative study, there are several methods of obtaining data, each with its own unique use cases and outcomes.  Here are a few examples of the most commonly used qualitative research strategies:

Focus Groups

A focus group involves a small selection of people who are brought together to discuss and provide feedback on a particular topic.  This is one of the most widely used approaches to collecting qualitative data due to its group setting and efficiency.  Participants are grouped by demographic or psychographic characteristics, such as age, gender, education, career, or beliefs, in order to create a comfortable dynamic.  The discussions are typically moderated by a researcher and may be recorded for later analysis.  Focus groups allow for the collection of rich, in-depth data on the perceptions, attitudes, and experiences of the participants, which can be helpful in identifying strengths and weaknesses of the product, as well as potential areas for improvement.

In-Depth Interviews

Interviews are another highly-focused information gathering technique.  Unlike focus groups, interviews are typically conducted in a one-on-one format.  These are also used to gather thoughts and opinions on specific issues or products.  While conducting multiple interviews may be more time-consuming than focus groups, participants are typically more open and genuine with their answers because they are not surrounded by a group of their peers.  Interviews are also ideal for discussing niche topics or receiving more detailed responses to a set of questions.  Additionally, the interview can be individualized to fit the style or needs of each respondent and his or her background.

Observational Research

Observational methods vary greatly from other qualitative techniques like focus groups and interviews.  Participants are typically observed in a natural setting or one that emulates a natural setting, with researchers using their five senses to gather information.  The goal of these studies is to note specific behaviors, actions, or processes of individuals involved.  One of the main benefits of observation is that it has the potential to provide genuine and valuable data that other qualitative methods cannot, and at a low cost.  Examples of observational studies include case reports, cross-sectional studies, and ecological studies.

Ultimately, the most optimal qualitative method will depend on the research goals, resources, and guidelines of the study.  It may be useful to use a combination of different methods in order to get a more comprehensive understanding of how a particular product or service is perceived and used by its intended audience.

Beyond The Table Research

For those seeking a high-quality market research facility to host or attend qualitative studies, including focus groups, mock trials, think tanks, and interviews, look no further than Beyond the Table Research (BTTR).  BTTR features updated technology, a truly professional environment, multiple large rooms with behind-the-glass viewing, a welcoming reception area, and accommodating staff.  We perform research for a variety of industries, including the Legal, Retail, Political, Communications, Manufacturing, and Healthcare Industries.  Contact us for more information about our capabilities and experience or to get a quote.