4 expert tips for conducting qualitative market research

When you’re looking for more than just a collection of data points, qualitative market research is the way to go. It can help you learn about everything from customer behavior to purchasing motivations. But the quality of your market research depends on proper planning and the right approach. We cover four tips below that will help you get the most value from your qualitative market research efforts.

Understand how qualitative market research differs from quantitative research

According to Paul Symonds, Ph.D., of Symonds Training and Research, qualitative research aims to get to the core of an issue — to understand the underlying assumptions and considerations surrounding it. He says that findings from qualitative research tend to be hard to quantify, but they do need to be brought to the surface.

Brian Cairns of ProStrategix Consulting adds that qualitative research is best for gaining insight regarding more subjective aspects such as customers’ emotional triggers and motivators — which customers may not even be aware of themselves. “Qualitative research helps you gain a deeper understanding of the audience through probing and follow-up questions,” Cairns says.

Consider your audience sample

It’s important to carefully consider the type of people you plan to question in your research process. For example, Symonds says it’s important to decide whether you want to interview a representative range of people — such as those who fit a customer persona you’ve created — or a random sampling. 

The sample you choose will directly impact the type of information you’ll gather. For example, a sampling of your typical persona types may confirm information you’ve already identified about your product, while a random sampling may reveal a new way people can use your product.

Choose the best method for data gathering

“Consider the various research methods you can use before choosing one,” cautions Symonds. While interviewing people might seem an obvious choice, an observational study or group-oriented method may be more appropriate in certain contexts. Think about which method will give you the best results for the purpose of your study.

Common qualitative research methods include

  • Face-to-face interviews, which generally allow for very detailed responses from participants because the interviewer can ask follow-up questions and dig deep into the reasoning behind responses, unearthing greater insight for decision-making.
  • Focus groups, which provide a way to get opinions from multiple people at once on, for example, a new product. Cairns notes that the quality of the focus group is tied to the moderator’s ability to engage effectively with participants and extract information that can help you achieve your research goals.
  • Direct observation of participants in their natural environment or setting — without interfering or involving yourself. For example, you can use this method to get a more accurate picture of consumer behavior.

Cairns recommends that, whichever method you choose, you try to incorporate a wide variety of stimuli to help participants accurately communicate their thoughts and feelings. For example, if you’re looking for customer input on a product, make sure they’re able to interact with the product, and try to engage as many of their senses as possible — sight, touch, taste, and so on.

Use open-ended questions

“Remember that with qualitative research, you’re looking to draw out deeper ideas and feedback from participants,” notes Symonds. That means asking questions that allow for more than a simple yes or no response. You want to maintain an open dialogue, giving participants room to fully express their ideas and emotions.

For example, assume you’re an appliance manufacturer and are considering a new product line of stoves. You’ve succeeded in securing an interview with a customer who owns one of your older model stoves.

Here are a few examples of close-ended questions you might ask that won’t give you much insight:

  • Do you like your current [brand name] stove?
  • Would you be interested in a new stove from us?
  • Would you pay [amount] for a new [brand name] stove that’s better than your current one?

In contrast, here are several open-ended questions you could ask instead:

  • What do you like/dislike about your current [brand name] stove?
  • If we created a new stove that improved upon [the things the customer disliked], would you be interested in purchasing it?
  • Your current stove retails for [amount]. How much more would you be willing to pay for the new and improved stove?

While only a start, these types of questions provide the customer with the opportunity to share what they think and how they feel about your product, as well as help you gauge what motivates the customer to make a purchase.

Looking for more help in your market research journey? We created this lengthy guide on performing market research.

This article is originally published on Nov 01, 2019, and updated on Aug 18, 2022.

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