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Debunking myths: 5 misconceptions about qualitative research

Debunking myths: 5 misconceptions about qualitative research

iModerate Author

May 18, 2016

Qualitative research is misunderstood more often than its sister strategy quantitative research. As a result, many marketers are missing out on key opportunities that qualitative research uncovers. Swap these five perceived challenges for the opportunities that lie beneath them, and you’ll gain access to new, actionable customer insights that drive smart business decisions.

1) It’s too expensive and too slow. These are probably the most pervasive perceived pitfalls. The truth is that you can benefit from quality research at almost any budget level – whether you’re a startup with a shoestring budget, or a huge corporate brand. And, it doesn’t have to be a lengthy longitudinal study. Remember, qualitative isn’t about huge sample sizes, which means you can quickly and cost effectively get the pulse of a trend or sentiment.

Don’t box yourself into one definition of qualitative research. In-person one-on-ones and groups can be both valuable and costly – as well as time consuming – but they aren’t the only option. Leveraging virtual platforms for online qualitative, from one-on-ones to communities, removes many logistical barriers while maintaining the ability to get to know your consumers on another level.

The key is building a research strategy that is holistic, sustainable, and appropriate for the task at hand. As with many things, all things in moderation (no pun intended). Loads of “cheap” quant data may feel like a treasure trove, but how valuable is that data if it overwhelms team resources just to try to consume it, or if you neglect to ask the key “why” questions that are driving those results? The bottom line is this: qualitative research done right, just like quantitative, can be relatively quick and affordable.

2) It’s not actionable (because it’s not quant). It’s true that qualitative research is not quantitative. And for some people that’s enough to ignore it all together. But qualitative research is most certainly actionable and those who ignore it do so at a huge cost. Qualitative has a lot of misperceptions that come along with this “non-quant” mindset, including the idea that qualitative research isn’t valid due to the often-smaller sample sizes. There are two key reasons why this isn’t the pitfall people think:

1: Qualitative research puts color around the quantitative data you already have, and you don’t need huge sample sizes to do that.
2: New qualitative research tools like text analytics and online one-on-ones have given qual the scale many people have always wanted, without sacrificing the quality of insights it’s known for.

Interestingly enough, there’s been a lot of buzz recently about the pitfalls of taking action based on data alone. So it might be time to ask – how actionable is your quantitative without the context behind it?

3) Bias is inevitable and it will taint the results. While this is partially true – bias IS inevitable – it doesn’t have to taint your results. Bias is part of all kinds of research and anyone who tells you that it’s possible to eliminate all bias is not being honest. Qualitative research can conjure up images of poorly-run focus groups with leading questions that favor clients’ desired outcomes. But that’s not the face of qualitative at all. The technique goes way beyond the old-school focus group with online one-one-ones, text analytics, and much more. And skilled researchers know how to identify and minimize the 9 forms of research bias no matter what research channel you use, to maximize the value of your qualitative efforts.

4) It’s too hard to consume all that unstructured data. What was once a big challenge in qualitative research is far more manageable thanks to technology. But many organizations are still learning to apply new solutions. Many marketers we talk to are still in the “do nothing” or “do something” category. Because their information is in silos, they are overwhelmed by the many streams of information at their disposal, or they don’t know how to separate the insights from the noise. But with a little guidance, marketers can get in the game and take advantage of customer feedback from social, product reviews, survey open ends, and more by leveraging technology and using more efficient ways to analyze unstructured text.

5)Qualitative and online don’t mesh. Moving research online has its inherent benefits, mainly speed and cost efficiencies. And while putting surveys on the internet was relatively easy, it did take a while for qualitative to find its online legs. But that day has certainly come. The online platforms and environments are robust, and a bevy of qualitative research talent in the form of moderators and analysts have made online their home. The activities that can be administered online are seemingly endless – from having consumers share their lifestyle on Pinterest boards to having them videotape their morning routine. Nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smart phone, and most of us are quite comfortable typing, texting, sharing and searching. The truth is, qualitative doesn’t only work online, in many cases online qualitative research is ideally suited to achieve a wide variety of research objectives.

Ready to add qualitative to your research strategy? Learn our pro tips and six ways you can enrich your qualitative research strategy.

iModerate Author

  • Hudson Pitts

    Excellent points, nice post, Katie!

iModerate allowed us to not only connect with this hard-to-reach audience but to get a deeper understanding of their feelings on the subject of public service. iModerate promised at the outset to expand and clarify the quantitative findings in a way traditional online survey research has previously been unable to, and they delivered on this claim. As a result, we were able to expose the emotions shaping the perceptions of the class of 9/11.

Marc Porter Magee, Partnership for Public Service