4 March 2024 999 words, 4 min. read Latest update : 11 July 2022

Qualitative and quantitative research: differences and uses

By Pierre-Nicolas Schwab PhD in marketing, director of IntoTheMinds
In this article, I explain the differences between qualitative and quantitative approaches. You'll find a summary and concrete examples to help you choose the right methodology.

What are the differences between qualitative and quantitative techniques? When should you choose one or the other? In this article, I answer all these questions. I also conducted an advocacy campaign for qualitative methods, which must be better known in marketing departments. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact our market research agency. I’ll answer them personally.

Contact us to conduct your quantitative and qualitative research


Too many entrepreneurs (and even well-established companies) need to pay more attention to qualitative techniques, leading to the predominant use of quantitative approaches (especially online surveys). The approaches (qualitative and quantitative) are complementary and should be combined to get the best possible grasp of market reality. That’s why our market research methodology (available free of charge here) combines them sequentially.

So, let’s start by outlining the differences and similarities between qualitative and quantitative techniques.

Criteria Quantitative Data Analysis Qualitative Data Analysis
  • Measure and quantify trends, relationships, or comparisons.
  • Count and characterize targets.
  • Check hypotheses and weigh them.
  • Measure the past / estimate the future.
  • Identify phenomena, whether conscious or unconscious, expressed, or latent.
  • Explore their contours, interactions, and functioning.
  • Understand the psychological mechanisms governing individual behavior.
  • Explore deeper meanings, experiences, and subjective understandings.
  • Pre-determined and structured.
  • Usually involves experiments, surveys, and predefined metrics.
  • Flexible and emergent.
  • Can evolve as insights emerge.
  • Often uses case research, interviews, observations, and open-ended questions.
Approache Deductive approach: Starts with an existing theory or question that is assessed. Induction is possible (explanatory data analysis, etc.) Inductive: Starts with the data and looks for patterns and themes to build a theory. It can also be deductive.
  • Elaborate, highly structured, mostly direct approaches.
  • Mathematical and statistical foundations.
  • Mostly “closed” and supervised data collection, with little spontaneity.
  • Larger samples, representative or not, but statistically controlled.
  • Data processing and statistics.
  • Occasional or regular administration.
  • No preconceptions: open to spontaneous emergence; often indirect approaches.
  • Psychological and sociological bases.
  • Psychological and sociological data collection.
  • Restricted, non-representative samples.
  • Human exploitation (audio/video basis).
  • Punctual research.
  • Statistical software (e.g., SPSS, R, SAS, PowerBI, Tableau).
  • Databases and spreadsheets.
  • Online survey platforms.
  • Specialized qualitative analysis software (e.g., NVivo, Dovetail, MaxQDA, Atlas. ti).
  • Content analysis tools.
  • Transcription tools.
  • Larger sample sizes for statistical significance.
  • Emphasis on random sampling for population representativeness.
  • Smaller, purposive samples for in-depth understanding (see our qualitative sample size calculator).
  • Targets specific individuals or groups based on characteristics of interest, not representation of the overall population.
  • Statistical techniques for summarizing and finding patterns (mean, median, standard deviation, correlations, regressions, and so on).
  • Focuses on testing relationships between variables for prediction.
  • Coding and thematic analysis to identify themes and patterns. Interpretation of language, narratives, and behaviors.
  • Focuses on developing rich descriptions and understanding context.

Similarities and differences between qualitative and quantitative techniques


Qualitative research aims to identify, explore, and understand complex mechanisms.

Quantitative research aims to measure, count, estimate, and characterize. On the one hand, we seek to construct hypotheses and identify correlations; on the other, we attempt to confirm or refute them.

Techniques employed

Qualitative market research relies on specific techniques such as individual interviews, focus groups, anthropology, and language studies. Quantitative techniques are associated with quantitative questionnaires and their result: online or offline surveys and polls. Quantitative techniques also include modeling using massive data (Big Data).


Qualitative research is based on small sample sizes (around 15 to 30 in most cases). In contrast, a quantitative survey, to be representative, will be based on samples of several hundred respondents (or even millions in the case of modeling conducted using Big Data).

Advantages and disadvantages

The qualitative phase is longer and more laborious than the quantitative phase because it is less structured by nature. Therefore, much discipline is required to analyze a qualitative phase over time. The qualitative phase lasts longer than the quantitative survey.

Examples of the use of qualitative and quantitative methods

Now that the differences and similarities between the two methods have been established, it’s time to address the crucial issue of their use. In other words, when to use one rather than the other or a combination of the two.

From a methodological point of view, it would be appropriate to use one and then the other in an ideal world. There are, however, situations where one method or the other should be preferred. In our market research guide, you’ll find a chapter dedicated to choosing the right methodological approach. From the cases already listed, we feel that the following situations are worth examining:

B2C market research

While B2C market research tends to be approached more quantitatively, using a new or innovative product is the perfect case to justify using a qualitative methodology. A quantitative approach requires the respondent to have the necessary knowledge or experience to answer the questions posed in the questionnaire. But in the case of a new product (think of a new food product, a new recipe), how can we quantify such a complex consumer experience without first understanding how it fits together? This is where the qualitative approach comes in. It allows us to:

    • confront the consumer with the new product
    • observe their reactions
    • collect gather impressions (verbal and non-verbal)
    • understand which aspects of their behavior to quantify

B2B market research

Professionals are the most complicated target group to reach with B2B market research. Their diaries are so full that recruitment is difficult. Quantitative B2B surveys often need more responses. For this reason, it’s often better to focus your energies on qualitative interviews, which are easier to organize and deliver a wealth of information. Remember that financial incentives are an effective way of ensuring successful recruitment and research.


It’s vital to understand the objectives that can be achieved with each of these methodologies; in other words, before you start your market research, you need to get to grips with the spirit of both approaches to choose the one that best suits your situation.

Posted in Marketing.

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