There is an array of methodologies available in the consumer research industry. While digital methods and new technology can make them more complicated, there is one strategy that continues to apply no matter the methods; that strategy is the ability to combine quantitative and qualitative research.
Qualitative research investigates objectives in a way that is meant to describe or understand something. Quantitative research looks to measure and formulate the facts about that something. But this time we aren’t just talking about the differences between qualitative and quantitative research, though they are vast.
When qualitative and quantitative methods set aside their differences and come together, the result can be powerful. Often, using them together is the perfect means for solving more robust research objectives. And the main benefit is the ability to gain more insights and confidence into your findings.
How to Get Started
Combining the two methods of quantitative and qualitative research can be done by one of two different approaches. The first approach is by conducting the two phases of research in parallel to one another. In other words, conducting them at the same time. The purpose of this method is to usually evaluate and refine at the same time.
Conducting qualitative and quantitative research in a parallel format is meant to gather as many findings of a specific objective as possible while saving time and money.
A parallel approach could include testing a concept quantitatively to gather enough statistical evidence as to how the concept performs. While that’s taking place, a qualitative custom research study could be conducted to see how consumers evaluate it at a more detailed level.
Or perhaps a parallel approach is running a segmentation study while conducting a focus group in order to understand brand perceptions and your target audience. This setup could guide such efforts like rebranding as you can both determine your customers, what they think of your brand, and why.
The second approach for using quantitative and qualitative research together is by performing them in sequence—or one after the other. This arrangement is perfect for when additional questions arise from one part to the next. It’s also great to use when the need arises to conduct multiple phases of research in order to satisfy more objectives or validate findings.
The primary benefit of conducting qualitative and quantitative research in a sequence is the ability to guide findings from one phase to the next.
Take exploratory research for example; understanding consumers as it pertains to a specific problem or need can generate insights that help develop ideas and concepts. Then you can test those concepts in a quantitative phase based on the consumer language garnered from the qualitative phase.
The example above incorporates a qualitative to quantitative sequence. But it can also be done from quantitative to qualitative. This use case usually arises when quantitative research provides significant insights and an interesting finding emerges that could use some more understanding at a deeper level.
As you can see, there are a variety of paths that can be taken when quantitative and qualitative research are conducted together. In general, these strategies can also be called a mix-method approach and can encompass almost every method.
We can incorporate a variety of our methods such as concept testing, packaging testing, creative testing, ad testing, and brand tracking to give our clients a better understanding related to their objectives. For example, conduct brand tracking while you test a concept to determine how the concept may fit with brand perceptions.
When and Why to Use Them Together
Use quantitative and qualitative research together when your timing and objectives require it. And how might you know when your objectives require it?
Usually, objectives that are answering multiple parts of an equation such as who, what, when, where, why, and how are a prime opportunity for qualitative and quantitative research to work together.
- Quantitative methods can answer who, what, and when.
- Qualitative methods then provide the answer to how and why.
Using the two to answer questions in this way can provide a variety of benefits. To start, it can work as a quality assurance method by catching any findings that may contradict one another. An example of when this happens can be when barriers selected in quantitative phases are not present or as prevalent when discussing those same barriers in a qualitative phase.
Likely the most obvious benefit of combining qualitative and quantitative research is a comprehensive view of a situation as it may relate to a brand’s objectives. As you probably already could tell, quantitative and qualitative research can be somewhat opposite in nature. As a result, they’re meant to work together to understand the full picture and provide context to one another.
To summarize, quantitative and qualitative research can be used for three different overarching needs:
- Identification: Like when qualitative research describes the different problems or ideas that can then be classified and prioritized in a quantitative phase.
- Explanation: Like when quantitative data shows surprising results that can be further validated or explained by qualitative findings.
- Exploration: Like when qualitative research provides new hypothesis or ideas that can be developed further in quantitative research to see how they resonate.
A Couple Things to Keep in Mind
Keep in mind, using these two methods together can be a tricky business and require a special finesse for developing a project framework. Because you’re essentially gathering more information, mixed-methods can increase the already complex nature of data analysis.
To avoid slipping into analysis paralysis, be clear and focus your objectives and avoid trying to capture every bit of information that qualitative and quantitative research can provide together.
Further, combining methods, especially when they’re more complicated can make it difficult to execute upon a combined qualitative and quantitative approach. Therefore, using a partner who can help conduct both phases of research for you can be beneficial.
And remember, these two methods of research don’t always have to be conducted together, but it’s clear why they can and should be in some cases. Because together, they provide a more confident approach to research needs by providing depth, detail, and the data to back it up.
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