The importance of conducting qualitative research before quantitative

qual before quant

When companies conduct market research, they can often feel tempted to dive straight into the quant phase – i.e. the ‘surveying’ bit.

And this is understandable. After all, a lot of our research clients come to the table with a good idea of the topics they’d like to cover; and, because they’re nearly always reaching out to their customer demographic, they also feel confident of the answers they’re likely to get back.

In fact, the role of quant surveys can amount to little more than exercises in confirming, at scale, the assumptions which clients already make about their customers. But what happens if those initial assumptions aren’t the whole story?

If you dive in too quickly, you could very easily end up with results that confirm your own cognitive biases rather than revealing your customers’ true beliefs – and here’s the really bad thing – you’d never know it.

As companies make business-critical decisions on the back of market research, getting to the truth matters. So, to ensure that you avoid this pitfall, and achieve the most accurate and actionable insights possible, we at Incisive Works adopt a smarter approach.

Rather than diving straight into the quant, we advise clients to start with some qual.

The pros of qualitative research

Well run qualitative research can be the difference between success and failure, as General Mills found out several decades ago.

The company, which manufactured cake mixes, logically assumed that making their products quicker and easier to use would increase sales. So they created cake mixes which required only the addition of water, a stir, and then baking time – simple.

But, for reasons they didn’t understand, sales fell.

A team of psychologists was brought in to find out why, and their qual research discovered something no one had thought of.

Customers liked the convenience of the cake mix formula, but whenever their spouse or friends praised the cakes they were making, this convenience also left them feeling ashamed because they knew that they actually had a very little role in preparing them.

Presented with this new insight, General Mills took the fateful decision, against all logic, to remove the egg powder from the cake mixture. As customers now had to add in their own eggs, they suddenly felt more involved with the baking process, more ownership over the end result, and less guilty when complimented on their work.

Sales took off.

This shows one of the main benefits of qual. It can highlight important factors you hadn’t even thought of, meaning that when you come to run your quant survey, you’re testing relevant factors rather than irrelevant assumptions.

Qualitative Methods

Qual research is all about quality. Because you’re targeting a much smaller group of people than you would for a quant survey, you need to make sure that they’re highly relevant. At Incisive Works, that’s something we excel at.

Through the readership databases of Incisive Media’s market-leading publications, we can approach a vast contact book of key decision makers, be it pension scheme trustees, independent financial advisers, wealth managers or IT decision makers.

The qual phase of a typical research project usually comprises 5 to 10 one-on-one interviews with a targeted sample of interviewees. Each interview typically lasts between 10 and 15 minutes and is structured to follow a pre-prepared discussion guide – a sort of loose script for the interviews, developed in partnership with our clients, which sets out key topic areas and questions, along with rough timings for how many minutes to spend on each.

This means that the interviews shouldn’t get bogged down in irrelevant detail, and nor should they skim over topics which merit more exploration. And ‘exploration’ is the important word here. Anchored by your discussion guide, the interviews are your chance to explore respondents’ views in a way which doesn’t lead them, but exposes what they actually think.

Qual research allows you to gauge the consensus among respondents, and allows you to frame your survey so that this consensus can be tested and proved at scale. So, instead of diving headfirst into your next quant survey, use qual research to look before you leap.