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The Market Research Process:

What is Qualitative Research?

In business, completing a focused and successful market research process is a challenge because it takes time, and knowledge, to do it right. As a business owner or manager, you need to know, and understand, what is qualitative research and the differences between qualitative and quantitative research design and how (and why) to apply it in business.

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Qualitative research helps you answer the question 'why'; quantitative research design helps you answer the question 'how much or how many'.

The other question to ask is which one to use for your research: which is better?

The answer is that each has a specific purpose that is quite unique.

The market research process is quite different (not better or worse, but different) for each of the qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

However, each method does complement the other.

All market research processes are developed
from a similar foundation:

  1. Define the problem.

  2. Develop the appropriate research design.

  3. Collect the data.

  4. Analyze the data.

  5. Write the market research report; and present.

What is Qualitative Research?

It is about focusing on the 'what' and the 'why'; the issues, the problems, the questions.

Qualitative research gathers both structured and unstructured information from focus groups, interviews, comment forms, notes, videos and more. It doesn't focus on statistics or numbers (that is what quantitative research does).

For example, a qualitative survey might look at what causes buyers to choose one brand over another (price and quality being perceived to be equal).

It can be a slow process to 'sift' through the data to find relevance to the subject being researched.

Qualitative research gathers information on attitudes, values, behaviors, motivations, culture and lifestyle.

When to Use Qualitative Research?

Often businesses feel that the research process takes too much time and/or skill, however consider outsourcing your research needs - there are a number of consultants and agencies that specialize in market research. If cost is an issue, consider building a free online market survey - there are a number of tools available online to help you develop a no-cost and/or low-cost survey to research your markets.

Qualitative research is most appropriate to use when trying to study and understand attitudes, values, behaviors, feelings and perceptions. In your business, it is particularly strong at capturing customers' needs, language and messaging.

Specifically, this research is successfully used in new product development, product line extensions and improvements, brand improvement, product positioning, product differentiation, marketing strategy development, buyer decision analysis, marketing promotion effectiveness, market segmentation, and measurement of perceptions and attitudes, and more.

Use qualitative research when you need to understand what is important (and why) to your customers. This research is most useful when you can speak to a large, and diverse, number of respondents; this will ensure that you receive a broader and deeper perspective on what matters to your customers (or other respondents). Look for response patterns and similarities; and strong responses (whether negative or positive).

What is Quantitative Research Design?

Quantitative research design needs to be used when it is necessary to measure, count, and verify statistical information. It is also useful in ranking or determining the importance of customer needs or satisfaction parameters.

Quantitative research uses a scientific approach and mathematical modeling.

The advantages of quantitative research are that it can be designed quickly, is accurate (and provides measures of error), can be conducted fairly quickly, and analyzed quickly as well.

Whereas qualitative research can provide more depth, more data on perceptions and feelings, and behaviors than quantitative research, it takes longer to design, to conduct and to analyze.

Ideally, the market research process will include both qualitative and quantitative research design.

Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Qualitative research is often subjective and used best at the early stages of a project: for example, new product development, new product launch, change of services, etc. Whereas quantitative research is designed to be objective and used best at the later stages of a project: for example, confirmation that what customers said they wanted (in the qualitative survey) is what they actually are buying or doing.

Make sure you clearly understand the differences between the two research methods and that you understand the advantages and the disadvantages of using them in your market research process. The decisions you make, and the actions you take, for your business need to be based on good research for your specific issue or challenge.

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Additional Reading:

Understand Competition Analysis and how to manage your competitive tactics.

Effective marketing includes targeting your market and sometimes using Guerilla Marketing tactics.

Use a Marketing Plan Outline to develop an effective strategic direction.

Find out the Importance and Definition of Marketing.

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Marketing and Life–Cycle

Marketing is a requirement for all businesses: without marketing strategies and tactics your business will struggle to survive.

Not all marketing activities are planned: you might be building your brand recognition through a social media campaign (that's marketing); you might be conducting market research to analyze your competitors and/or segment and target your potential market or to develop the most desirable features, advantages and benefits of your products or services (that's all marketing).

Marketing is pretty all–encompassing; and a challenge for many business owners. The additional challenge is recognizing that the different stages of your business life–cycle: start–up, mid–cycle, mature or late–in–life.

During start–up you need to develop your marketing strategies to grow sales; for example, you might want to use a market penetration pricing strategy to build sales quickly.

During mid–cycle, you need to grow your customer base (often through lead generation) and that need requires different marketing strategies, such as cold calling on prospective clients, email marketing, newsletter and blog sign ups and distribution (all to grow your list of prospects).

During the mature cycle, you need to build your marketing efforts around your brand; your competitive advantage can be in your reputation, history, and identity and on what differentiates your business from your competitors.

Marketing your products and services is not something that you do once (such as a marketing plan) and then never change or do again. You need to be continually researching and building your strategies and tactics to be ahead of the market, and ahead of your competition.

The market is constantly evolving; ever more rapidly with the impacts of globalization and technology. You need to invest resources into marketing to ensure that you build and sustain your business.

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