3 Qualitative Research Methods and How to Use Them

Qualitative research can be invaluable when it comes to hearing the voice of your target audience. Whenever your team is faced with consumer insights or market intelligence that leaves you asking why, the best course of action is almost always qualitative feedback. Qualitative research brings the black and white results of quantitative research into vibrant, living color, offering the specific detail and critical context needed to make informed, effective decisions. But how do you know which is the right method for your particular ‘why’?

Below is a quick crash course in the functionality and advantages of three of the most common and efficient forms of qualitative methodology, adapted to the capabilities of online market research.

1.   Online Focus Groups

 Similar to traditional focus groups, online focus groups recruit a small chunk of your target audience for a group discussion. Online focus groups go by many names—communities, research groups, or our own Exploratory Research Groups—but their functions vary only slightly, and they all share the advantages of increased honesty through relative anonymity, as well as equal opportunities to be heard. This method is most effective when deployed in the early stages of research and product development, when broad, qualifying questions are the most useful. But it can also be used in the later stages, when a product or service has disappointing results and you want to figure out why.

2.   Mobile Shop-Alongs

A shop-along is a form of ethnographic research that lets you see what the customer sees and get their reactions as it’s happening. Accessing the customer experience at the shelf is crucial to any successful shopper marketing strategy, and getting feedback in real-time gives you a sense of consumers’ immediate gut reactions to the shopping experience. Additionally, observing behavior as it happens may inspire questions that might not occur to you in a removed setting like a focus group or survey, while also encouraging details from the respondent that may fade from memory once they walk out of the store.

 3.  In-Home Usage Tests

In-home usages tests (IHUTs) allow you to observe first-hand how your product fits into the daily lives, habits, and patterns of your customers. By having respondents send you video, photo, and/or written updates of how they actually use the product, you gain insight into which environments and use cases your product fits and where it can be improved. Similar to shop-alongs, IHUTs provide you with focused answers to your prescriptive questions while allowing participants the ease and immediacy of sharing their uncensored thoughts as they occur to them.

These broader approaches are just the beginning of how you can tailor qualitative research to your specific research needs. So the next time you’re faced with one-dimensional data, consider combining your quantitative and qualitative research capabilities to eventually uncover optimal insight. For an example of exploratory qualitative research in action, check out the executive summary below, exploring the current attitudes and behaviors surrounding smart home technology.

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