This article first appeared in Business First on 6th October 2023.

Market research. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. No matter what time of the year your project takes place, the data and those insights will help you to make informed business decisions well into the future, writes Fiona Norman, managing director at FN Research

Here at FN Research, our clients come to us from across Northern Ireland from many different and complex industries – from finance or tech to environmental groups or advertising agencies. We see a whole array of issues, challenges, opportunities and questions that need answered. For us, it’s bread and butter – but for a new client, it might seem a little daunting.

Of course we’re here to guide you on the process, make sure you get the most out of it and reap all the rewards but rather than starting out on a complete leap of faith, we wanted to provide a quick and digestible contrast of the two main types of research you might end up utilising – quantitative or qualitative – and explain why having a basic understanding of both is essential to unwrap the right solution for your business.

Quantitative Research: all about numbers

Think of quantitative research as the hard data, the numbers that provide concrete answers. It’s the data collected through structured surveys, questionnaires, and objective measurements. This approach quantifies your business challenges – they’re percentages, figures and stats. So, what can quantitative do?

1. Measure Trends: Understand market trends, consumer behaviours, and patterns with statistical precision.
2. Statistical Analysis: Make data-driven decisions with the help of charts, graphs, and statistical tools.
3. Objectivity: Reduce bias as responses are often pre-defined, allowing for an impartial analysis.
4. Business Metrics: Evaluate the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, pricing strategies, and more.

Qualitative Research: all about how our minds work

Qualitative research dives deeper into the “whys” and “hows” behind the data. It explores the nuances and emotions that numbers can’t. Qualitative research methods include interviews and focus groups, and it’s your go-to for:

1. Understanding Behaviours: Uncover the motivations, beliefs, and perceptions of your target audience.
2. In-Depth Insights: Gain a comprehensive understanding of customer experiences and preferences.
3. Exploratory Research: Identify new trends, opportunities, or potential issues before they become quantifiable.
4. Strategic Decision-Making: Shape product development, brand positioning, and customer engagement strategies.

You might be wondering now, when is the right time for each type? Well, it’s important to remember that the choice between quantitative and qualitative research is not about picking one over the other; it’s about finding the right balance. More often than not, businesses might use both to thrive in today’s dynamic marketplace.

In product development, quantitative data may tell you what products are popular, but qualitative insights can help you understand why and how to improve them. In terms of customer satisfaction, quantitative data can show you a drop in satisfaction scores, but qualitative research can uncover the reasons behind the decline.

If you’re an advertising agency, you might combine quantitative metrics like click-through rates with qualitative insights on consumer perceptions to refine your strategies. Quantitative data may pinpoint potential markets, but qualitative research can help tailor your approach to specific cultural nuances.

So, as you prepare for the festive season, don’t forget to add “research strategy” to your business wish list. Whether you’re delving into the numbers or connecting on a human level, the right research approach can be the shining star atop your business tree.