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Qualitative and quantitative market research: differences and use cases

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What are the advantages, the disadvantages and the differences between qualitative and quantitative market research? In which cases should you chose one over the other?

These questions, often overlooked, are nevertheless essential to the objective study of your market. Too many entrepreneurs (and even well-established companies) neglect (or are unaware of) qualitative techniques, leading to the predominant use of quantitative approaches (especially online surveys). Let us remember that the two methods (qualitative and quantitative) are complementary and should ideally be combined to best approach the reality of the market. That’s why our market research methodology (available free of charge here) sequentially combines them.

Read also: Read our white paper on market research

Let us, therefore, begin by outlining the differences and similarities between qualitative and quantitative techniques.

Would-be-entrepreneurs, think about explaining your market research methodology in your business plan

More than the results themselves, your business plan must also include a section dedicated to the methods used. Indeed, it is the rigour of the market research methodology that will make your results credible (and reassure your investors). For example, use our 7-phase method. It can be adapted to any situation and is within everyone’s reach.

Similarities and differences between qualitative and quantitative techniques

Objectives

Qualitative studies aim to identify, explore and understand complex mechanisms. Quantitative studies are used to measure, count, estimate and characterise. On the one hand, we are therefore trying to develop hypotheses and identify correlations; on the other hand, we are trying to confirm or refute them.

Techniques used

Qualitative market research is based on specific methods such as individual interviews, focus groups, anthropology, language study. Quantitative techniques are associated with quantitative questionnaires, and their result is online or offline surveys and polls. Quantitative techniques can also include models based on Big Data.

Sample

Qualitative studies are based on small samples (around 15 to 30 in most cases) while a quantitative survey, to be representative, will generally be based on samples of several hundred respondents (or even millions in the case of models based on Big Data)

Advantages and disadvantages

The qualitative phase is generally longer and more complicated than the quantitative phase in the sense that it is by nature less structured. It, therefore, requires a great deal of discipline to analyse a qualitative phase over time. The qualitative phase will last longer than the quantitative survey

You will find another comparison of these 2 families of methodological approaches in the table below. If you have any suggestions for completing this comparison, please do not hesitate to let us know.

QUALITATIVES QUANTITATIVES

BASE

GLOBAL VISION

Words

Identify

Explore

Understand

Numbers

Measure

Analyse

Valid

SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Identify the phenomena, conscious or unconscious, expressed or latent.

Explore its contours, interactions and functioning.

Understand the psychological mechanisms that govern the conduct of individuals.

Measure and relativise orders of magnitude.

Counting, characterising targets.

Verify the assumptions and assess them.

Measure the past/estimate the future.

METHODS

No preconceptions, openness to the emergence of spontaneous and often indirect approaches.

Psychological and sociological bases.

Psychological and sociological collection.

Non-representative restricted samples.

Human exploitation (audio / video database).

Punctual studies.

Elaborate, highly structured, mainly direct approaches.

Mathematical and statistical basics.

Collection especially “closed” and supervised, limited spontaneity.

Larger samples, representative or not, but statistically controlled.

Computer and statistical exploitation.

Ad hoc or regular administrations.

OPERATING PRINCIPLES

Exploration.

Development support

Hypotheses research.

Description.

Support for action decision making.

Validation of hypotheses.

Cases where qualitative and quantitative methods are used

7-step market research methodThe differences and similarities between the two methods having been established, it is now necessary to address the crucial point of their use. In other words, in which situations to use one rather than the other, or a combination of both.

Let us begin by saying that from a methodological point of view, in an ideal world, it would be appropriate to use one and then the other. (see on this subject our excellent ? online guide to market research and in particular the computer graphics opposite). However, some situations require the use of one or the other method. In our market research guide, you will find a chapter dedicated to choosing the right methodological approach. In the cases already identified, it seems to us that the following situations deserve to be examined:

 

B2C market research

While B2C market research generally tends to be more quantitative, the use of a new or innovative product is the perfect case that justifies the use of a qualitative methodology. A quantitative approach requires that the respondent (in a quantitative survey, for example) has the knowledge or experience to answer the questions asked in the questionnaire. However, in the case of a new product (think of a new food product, a new recipe) how to quantify such a sophisticated consumption experience without first understanding how it is structured. This is where the qualitative phase comes in. It allows the consumer to be confronted with the new product, observe his reactions, collect his impressions (verbal and non-verbal), and thus understand which aspects of his behaviour to quantify (as long as it can be quantified of course).

B2B market research

Professionals are certainly the most complicated target to reach when conducting B2B market research. Their agenda is so full that recruitment is difficult. Quantitative B2B surveys, therefore, often fail due to a lack of answers. For this reason, it is often more appropriate to focus your energy on qualitative interviews that will be easier to organise and will provide more valuable information.

Conclusion

It is essential to understand the objectives that can be achieved with each of the methodologies; in other words, before starting your market research, you must immerse yourself in the spirit of both approaches to choose the one that best suits your situation.

 

 

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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