When budgets get tight and businesses need to get answers fast, many will immediately jump to a survey or other form of quantitative design. Decision-makers just don’t have the time to wait for a lengthy process of in-depth interviews (IDIs), focus groups, or shop-alongs. The trade-off of a lengthier and more in-depth study does not outweigh the need to have data quickly, but like anything in business, more preparation and more attention put to the beginning of a process will almost always pay huge dividends at the end.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative

Quantitative vs. Qualitative is the classic left vs. right brain clash. But instead of picking a side in research, why not use both?

Enter Qualitative Research or the prototypical right side of your brain. Qualitative research often gets a bad rap for being creative-heavy and scientific-light. Therefore it goes over-looked and is viewed as too expensive for its return. Although it is often cut out of the research design in order to jump right into a survey (face it, a new hotel isn’t going to be approved for financing based on two focus groups of 6 people each), using exploratory methodologies before measuring reaps many rewards for the research team and the client. To use a baseball analogy, qualitative research is the really good set up reliever out of the bullpen that gives the flashy closer a chance to earn a save. If you don’t have a good bullpen to set up your closer, you won’t even have a chance to earn a save and a win for your team.

What are the benefits to using qualitative research before quantitative research?

  • Qual provides an avenue to dig deeper and ask whyAs with any good exploratory research, this conversational methodology allows for additional communication between the researcher and the “researchee” (I just made that up). Simple answers can be probed on, examined, and underlying drivers and factors can often be uncovered through qualitative research. As an example, quantitative research would provide you with data stating your most recent laundry detergent purchase was Tide. Qualitative research would provide you with reasons behind your Tide purchase such as noticing laundry detergent on the end cap, comparing the cost of Tide to other detergents in-aisle, and remembering a television commercial talking about the new stain defender technology. Or you just really like the color orange, who knows? Whatever it may be, it will be uncovered using qual.
  • Qual provides an opportunity to be collectively exhaustive through response lists in a follow-up survey. By asking open-ended questions through qualitative research you’ll be able to identify common answer themes from respondents. As a survey writer you can then take those themes and compile the question into an aided response structure to limit the number of open-ends in a survey, which will take the respondent less time to complete and improve the survey experience. We’ve spoken about that here on the Bunker Blog.
  • Qual examines issues and strengths to further address in a quantitative forum. In some instances, when you go directly to quant you miss the opportunity to be exhaustive with your research efforts. Oftentimes, good research leads to more questions than answers. Believe it or not and as odd as that sounds, it often rings true. Your first research project is more of a starting point for answers than an end point. By jumping the gun directly to quant, it does not provide your team with the opportunity to re-address and uncover new ideas. For instance, if you launch a major survey and a reoccurring theme for dissatisfaction is customer service, there’s no going-back to dig deeper. In truth there’s always a way to go back but it’s not efficient or budget friendly. However, if you conducted qual first, you would have been able to uncover issues with customer satisfaction and included a series of questions in the survey to get more measurable ratings on specific aspects of that experience (waiting time, friendliness, knowledge, etc.).
  • Qual offers time to digest, reexamine, and refocus the research. Here at RMS, we use the “break” period between qualitative and quantitative research to refocus our efforts. I say “break” in quotations because that can last as little as a day (or less). What it does do however, is give the entire team an opportunity to reassess objectives for the quantitative study. Are we headed down the right path? Do we need to rethink next steps? Are we addressing the right content for the survey? Are there any new ideas we want to explore? This check-point allows time to digest all of this information.

With all of these benefits stated, in some instances it is still appropriate to cut out qualitative research and go directly to quantitative. In what instances is that true? A situation like a tracker study where the first wave of the survey has already been designed and you are looking to benchmark data, government standardized surveys where wording and answer choices cannot be customized, or situations where hard data is needed almost immediately with no wiggle room on budget or timeframe. If you know 100% of your clientele purchase your product solely because its color is orange, it may be appropriate to pass on qual, and even quant, or maybe even research in general.

Thanks for reading my post. To connect with me on LinkedIn click here or to follow me on Twitter click here. If you are interested in conducting a qualitative or quantitative research project with our firm contact our Business Development Director at Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS). Sandy Baker can be reached at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422.