Not sure when to use qualitative research and when a survey will suffice? Not sure what type of qualitative research to undertake then read on……

There’s a common misperception that qualitative research can be faster, cheaper and easier than quantitative research. There’s a vast range of methodologies within each type, so in some cases that is true, but when each is done correctly, quantitative can actually be significantly faster and cheaper than qualitative for many types of research objectives. To know which methodology is appropriate, firstly you need to clearly identify your objectives.

1. What are your objectives?

Is this research being done just to validate something you already are planning to do? Then a quick quantitative survey will give you an answer much more efficiently than qual unless of course it is advertising concept testing (in this case qualitative research is essential to understand the motivations).

If you just want to know which one respondents prefer or to pick the best option Then it will probably be quant. But if you want to more deeply understand the “why” (and sometimes “how”) use qual.

If you need percentages, tallies or any numerical data at all, you need definitely need quantitative research. Don’t let anyone talk about or report any statistics from qualitative data – it’s incorrect, misleading and can even be dangerous for decision-making.

Now you have decided qualitative research is the correct methodology you need to consider the following

2. Discussion Guides

Discussion or topic guides should be just that – guides. A discussion guide should be an outline of topics to be covered in an indicative order not a formal questionnaire!

Professional moderators should be expert at guiding discussions organically so you get a more authentic and spontaneous view of your consumer while still getting all the research questions answered. Remember -this is not a survey checkbox exercise; this is a conversation.

Try putting yourself in the respondents’ shoes. How interesting would it be to answer a series of closed-ended questions for an hour? Now back to a moderators’ shoes: How much more can we learn by asking for stories, examples and analogies?

Experienced moderators may also design and employ creative exercises that access the unconscious mind (e.g. mind mapping, analogies and visualizations) and observing actual consumer experiences in real life context (such as accompanied shops or ethnography depths).

3. Maximize the value of every respondent.
Recruitment is an essential part of qualitative research.

While it may be important to talk with a diverse set of consumers, qualitative recruiting, by its very nature, is not meant to be nationally representative.

Qualitative research is your opportunity to find the leading edge, the trendsetters, the extreme users, people who absolutely love your product and people who absolutely hate your product. It can help you maximize every consumer interaction because you have something unique to learn from each person (and therefore can recruit fewer respondents overall).

Time spent with each respondent is also highly important. If you’ve taken the time, energy and budget to do the perfect recruit and find the exact few consumers you want to talk to, why limit your time to only an hour, a single interaction or a single location? To extract the full learning value from every respondent and gain the opportunity to deeply understand their life context, consider multiple interactions over time. Depending on the objective, this could range from a day-in-the-life ethnography session, a pre-group activity or an “expert panel” where you engage with a select group of respondents once a week for several months to iterate or co-create.

4. Outcomes and Most importantly Insight
Qualitative research and the debrief session that follows should be planned in tandem by you and your moderator. Think about the outcome needed, the context in which the project is being conducted and tell your moderator!!!

They can then work backwards to purposefully plan the exercises and experiences that will give you the raw input you need to put it all together afterwards. For example, “day in the life” ethnography sessions might be translated into a single story or daily schedule for your target consumer. It takes more time and discipline to plan this kind of research but it provides deeper, actionable insights

How do you get maximum value from your research debrief? Inclusion of learning-processing activities like picture analysis (for consumer collages), mind-mapping, creating consumer hierarchies of need or other mental models helps enormously.

Listening is the easy part; putting it all together to actually extract the insights is hard. An experienced moderator with strong facilitation skills can be invaluable for this.

As a rule of thumb, the more concrete and specific the research objective you set the researcher, the shorter the debrief and vice versa. For example, if you’re doing a handful of interviews to optimize a specific piece of creative, you can probably debrief in an hour or two. However, if you’re doing fundamental consumer segment understanding, gathering inspiration for innovation, or doing in-depth ethnography, consider spending several sessions on debriefing and brainstorming to have maximum insight and value from the project.