In an Increasingly Big Data World, Who Needs Qualitative Research?

by | Dec 28, 2015 | Uncategorized

It’s a question I think a lot of people have asked as big data takes a more prevalent role in marketing and market research. In fact, it’s one I’ve asked myself. If we can get feedback from more people for less money by fielding a quantitative online survey, do I really need to fly across the country to watch people talk on the other side of a one-way mirror?
This week, I was emphatically reminded that yes, sometimes I do … and clients do too. Of course, quantitative research has its role, and that role is an important and growing one. For some research questions, it’s absolutely the right way to go. But there are important things in qualitative research for clients and creative agencies that you just can’t get in quant.

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This past week, I was in the backroom for research in three cities across the country, and one component of the research was to test two versions of a poster for reactions, feedback, and to pick a winning version. Sure, that could have been done quantitatively: “Click here for poster A. Click here for poster B.” Many times, that’s all that a client needs answered, and in those cases, quant is the way to go. However, one of the most powerful things to come out of the evaluation was the visually obvious, visceral reaction that many respondents had to one version of the poster. There were patients who actually cringed, gasped and moved to physically distance themselves from the strong message on this poster.
Our moderator asked about those consumer reactions and had some incredibly insightful discussions as a result of noticing these responses and calling them out. This led to feedback we never would have uncovered if this research had been conducted over the phone or online. Could we have picked a winner? Sure. Would we have really learned what these respondents felt on a deeper level? I don’t think so.
Again, I have nothing against quant research. Quantitative research has its place in the spectrum of research methodologies. Under the appropriate circumstances, quant may be the best option, such as for large sample sizes, quick turnarounds and projects where the goal is to just “pick a winner.” However, we sometimes see that quant is looked at as another way to get oversimplified insights faster and cheaper, and that may not be a good trade-off for the research.
As you design your next research study, either as a client or as a service provider, think through not only the end product of a winning message or a winning concept, but more broadly about the journey to get there. Often, you learn as much or more along the journey than you do from the destination.

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Christopher Nagle
Chris has more than 20 years of design and art direction experience with work that spans multiple industries and areas of application. His drive to uncover what sparks the motivations of his target audiences is what has led to a career of not only award-winning work, but work that moves the needle for his clients. Chris’ extensive background working with researchers and strategists has also given him a strong understanding of how to ensure that visual communications are true to the brand while reaching the right audience in the intended manner.

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