Do You Know The Value Of Qualitative Research?

I have to share something with you — I’m upset. Why? Because many clients have no idea of the value of good, solid qualitative research, nor the investments needed. Recently, I was discussing a prospective qualitative research project; upon revealing the cost of such a project, one of the group members replied, “That is the same price as for a quantitative project; how can you justify that price?”

The conversation reminded me of my favorite quote from the movie You’ve Got Mail: Tom Hanks inquires about a book with hand-tipped illustrations and asks, “That’s why it costs so much?” and Steve Zahn retorts, “No, that’s why it’s worth so much.”

So, why is qualitative research worth so much?

Because there is a lot of skill involved in uncovering insights from qualitative research. Qualitative research is not about putting a couple of quotes on a page. It requires time, thought, and creativity to produce successful insights. What and who you put into your qualitative research process will determine what you get out of it. And it requires special skills. Unfortunately for us qualitative researchers, there aren’t many tools to help us with data analysis. Usually, it’s a manual process combined with a natural ability to read between the lines to pull out those impactful findings — combined with a creative mind to transform these into a compelling story.

In a recent blog post entitled “How to know you’re asking the wrong questions,” Tom Webster highlights how Lexus successfully broke into the luxury vehicle market by asking consumers about their lives rather than playing “the features game.” In this case, asking the right questions made all the difference. 

But why are qualitative insights so valuable?

Because they change the game. But unless you invest money in the proper resources, you can expect subpar results from your qualitative research projects.

However, if you’re still not convinced, there is another big reason why qualitative research projects are worth just as much as quantitative projects. Understanding the “why” requires a lot of time and resources but is an important element for any marketing or advertising strategy. It’s only when a researcher immerses himself or herself in the project, understands the industry and the market dynamics, and develops a feel for consumers’ needs and drivers that the “why” will uncover real opportunities — not just fancy pictures or quotes. And these new opportunities often give the organization a competitive advantage.

I’d love to hear about your qualitative research experiences and if you believe qualitative research is undervalued.


Great Insight

Thanks Lindsey, some great insights there. As the Technical Architect of NVivo (QDA software package), qualitative research is a subject dear to my heart. You mention in your article the lack of "tools to help with data analysis", and at the risk of playing the "feature game", I'd love to hear your thoughts on how software tools such as NVivo could support the process better. Our whole push at QSR is to enable the researcher, providing as much automation of laborious/time consuming tasks as possible, yet giving the researcher the space to follow their hunches and intuitions.


Qualitative Research

Actually, we think Qualitative wins hands down. Getting people to talk to you -- really talk to you -- produces wonderful paths that lead sometimes to nowhere, but other times to opportunities you haven't even thought of for a client. Well written. Thanks, Lindsey.

Great article Lindsey. Some

Great article Lindsey. Some would say that a talking to many people during a qualitative exercise would be the way to really capture the insights. What do you think about combining quantitative and qualitative research? i.e. Many extended conversations with many people. More and more, we are hearing from clients that they want to know the why behind the numbers. Is that consistent with what you are hearing? Cost aside, it seems to make the most sense. (Disclosure: my thoughts)

How you've inspired me!

YES! I recently started doing infographics for companies, but have trouble getting them to understand that all that data they are drowning me in is NOT good for marketing. Now I realize that I have to market myself in such a way that helps them to understand from the get-go how it should work. Thanks!

Entirely agree that

Entirely agree that qualitative research is extraordinarily revealing. At my organization, we use a combination quantitative/qualitative approach with every client; qualitative feedback brings color to quantitative comparative data and really helps clients connect emotionally with the experiences of respondents.

At Forrester, do you conduct any multilingual qualitative research? We offer surveys in many languages, but translation services often lack familiarity with the respondents' context and this hinders the ability to provide accurate translations (and the volume of responses is far too large to translate in-house). What kinds of practices or resources do you recommend to deal with the gap between respondents and translators?