Qualitative research is misunderstood more often than its sister strategy quantitative research. As a result, many marketers are missing out on the opportunities that qualitative research can present by providing insights into underlying reasons, opinions and motivations.
Here are 5 common qualitative research myths that are due to be debunked.
- 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 always about huge sample sizes, which means you can quickly and cost effectively get the pulse of a trend or sentiment without diving into the deep end of big data.
Don’t box yourself into one definition of qualitative research. In-person one-on-ones are 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, it’s all about moderation. 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 that qualitative research done right, just like quantitative, is scalable and affordable.
- It’s not actionable (because it’s not quant)
It’s true that qualitative research is not quant. 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:
- Qualitative research puts color around the quantitative data you already have, and you don’t need huge sample sizes to do that.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 the open end.
- Online qualitative results can’t be trusted
Those who lament the old school qualitative shop are often the same critics who question the credibility of the modern tools at our disposal. As always, it comes down to knowing what you are doing and doing it well. Data verification tools have dramatically evolved to ensure that the larger responses that technology enables are top quality. Other techniques, including survey design, and end-of-interview analysis ensure that respondents are actually engaged in your study and responding thoughtfully.
There’s also a misconception that you can’t do the same activities online that you can do in person. Really, it’s just a matter of planning to accommodate the activities that will enrich the study. Remember, nearly two-thirds of Americans own a smart phone, so you can encourage respondents to share photo or video uploads that improve understanding and depth of insights. You can also plan for experiential elements in advance by giving your respondents “homework” that lets you tap into experiences, behaviors or routines.