While both qualitative and quantitative market research methods have several unique benefits, there are some situations where one may suit a research goal more than the other.
In many, there’s also a strong case for using both (AKA, “hybrid research”). However, for the research to be effective, it’s important to understand all of the options available.
We’ve previously discussed common forms of quantitative research, but what about qualitative options?
Below, we’ll discuss some of the most common types of qualitative research, and the strengths of each type.
1. Focus Groups
For many people, focus groups are the first thing to come to mind when thinking about qualitative research – or market research as a whole, for that matter.
Focus groups have been portrayed in plenty of popular media within the past few decades, so it’s not surprising even the general public has a basic understanding of what they are and what they aim to achieve.
And, in some cases, those popular media depictions capture the essence of the method fairly well. All kinds of companies see the benefit in fostering a group discussion amongst consumers about whatever materials or products they hope to promote.
Many focus groups will also involve some kind of stimulus (a prospective advertisement or commercial, for example), presented to a group by a moderator who will guide the discussion.
Some groups have a higher level of moderation and guidance than others, depending on the specific methodology chosen.
Of the different types of qualitative research, focus groups are one of the best for targeting demographics.
This can be incredibly beneficial when you want to hear from a wide range of communities, but want something more in-depth and personalized than a quantitative survey.
Another benefit is that not only are you getting the perspectives of different demographics, but you get insight into ongoing conversations.
The diverse group environment fosters unique conversations between group members sharing their opinions and responding to or building on shared ideas.
Another benefit of focus groups is that they can be completed remotely or in person.
An online focus group can be a great way to lead a guided conversation between groups that may geographically be unable to attend an in-person session.
That said, some may prefer the hands-on feeling of a traditional in-person group. Meeting in person lends itself to using different types of stimulus that may be inaccessible online, such as a taste test.
We cover the differences in more detail in our blog post, Traditional Focus Groups vs. Online Focus Groups.
Take a look at our video to learn more about how focus groups can benefit a company:
💡 The Key Takeaway: Focus groups are one of the types of qualitative research that provides personal, hands-on feedback. They’re also ideal for gathering information from a variety of demographics.
2. In-Depth Interviews
In-depth interviews (IDIs) are similar to focus groups in that their primary function is to be a moderated discussion, although typically one-on-one between the interviewee and the moderator.
Like focus groups, they can be easily conducted online or in person, or even on the phone. Qualitative research questions for IDIs have to provide space for detailed answers.
IDIs can be useful when you want to hear a very specialized perspective.
For example, pharmaceutical companies will often conduct IDIs with medical professionals to get informed and in-depth expert opinions on prospective new treatment methods.
While they could choose to conduct a small focus group with experts, the level of feedback and attention to detail may not be quite the same as speaking to professionals individually.
An IDI guarantees that the subject will not be biased by others in a group discussion in any way.
(Although in such a situation, it could be especially beneficial to conduct multiple types of research– perhaps both IDIs and focus groups one after the other, or even a quantitative survey followed by qualitative IDIs.)
💡 The Key Takeaway: IDIs are a unique form of research that allows researchers to talk with participants one-on-one.
3. Diary Studies
All the types of qualitative research listed above have something in common: a strong reliance on verbal discussion.
An in-depth chat or call is certainly invaluable when it comes to collecting qualitative data. But for long-term projects, scheduling daily or weekly calls can be very inconvenient for both parties.
There’s also a lot of value in the written word – some people are much more comfortable expressing their thoughts in text versus speaking in real-time.
Mobile diaries are typically just that: diaries, but with exclusive shared access to the research team and the respondents.
They are typically hosted in platforms such as dScout, where researchers can set up writing prompts and interactive tasks for respondents to complete at their own pace (or a strict timeline–there are often many options for how diaries are structured).
Respondents will usually receive an invitation to join the platform, and over the course of days/weeks/or even months, they will respond to the tasks and prompts in accordance with the timeline set up by the research team.
Diaries can be especially useful for projects where you want to stay in touch with respondents for longer than a single discussion, and also allow busy respondents to take a slightly more self-paced approach when it comes to thinking through their responses.
💡 The Key Takeaway: While there are many different types of qualitative research, they all have one main goal: gathering important feedback. Diaries are excellent at doing this, and they’re also one of the most convenient methods for both researchers and respondents.
4. In-Home Usage Tests (IHUTs)
This one is a participant favorite!
In-home usage tests (IHUTs) are a unique opportunity for respondents to get hands-on experience with a new product in development.
A large number of IHUTs will allow the respondents to keep the product after the testing is done as well, but even if they are required to return it, it’s often a very interesting experience.
There are many benefits of in-home testing.
Typically, usage tests will last at least a few days, weeks or months. This gives participants plenty of time to get familiar with the product and find issues that may not be apparent until after multiple uses.
The types of qualitative research that rely on hands-on testing have the potential to yield tremendous feedback.
Typically, participants will be asked to use the product with a certain frequency, and check in with their experiences periodically so that data can be collected over time.
For example, an IHUT for a new sunscreen may ask participants to apply the product every time they go outside and report back weekly. There is a lot of room for flexibility with this type of testing, depending on the product and the goal of the research.
💡 The Key Takeaway: IHUTs are a unique form of qualitative research methodology that relies heavily on physical activity. An engaging task for participants, IHUTs yield in-the-moment feedback.
We’ve previously covered the details of shop-along studies here at Drive Research, but we’ll throw in a refresher.
A shop-along is a highly interactive type of qualitative research that can branch into both qualitative and quantitative areas.
Similar to a usage test, shop-alongs allow researchers to get a very in-depth understanding of participants’ experiences as they browse a store.
This immersive method yields qualitative insights into aspects of the shopping experience that may not be obvious to researchers.
For example, the layout of a certain display in a store may feel too cluttered for a respondent walking through an aisle, but they would not be able to give this feedback from viewing a picture of the display alone.
Shop-alongs are excellent options for retailers and small businesses looking to get objective data on their customer experience.
💡 The Key Takeaway: Shop-alongs are ideal for getting in-depth feedback about a consumer’s retail experience. This method is based on real-time feedback from the participant, allowing retailers to understand what motivates shopping decisions.
There are many different types of market research, but the list above is a general overview of some of the most popular forms of qualitative research design, and the details vary greatly depending on the nature of the specific project.
For more insights on the best qualitative market research study for your team, try contacting a market research company like Drive Research. We are a full-service market research team that can provide our recommendations alongside full project management.
To learn more about our services, contact Drive Research today.
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Finn’s creativity and curiosity lend themselves to what they call a “research brain”. Their background in creative and academic writing fuels their love for learning and communicating with participants on all kinds of projects.
Learn more about Finn, here.