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Research 101: Quantitative or Qualitative?

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For the second installment in the Research 101 series, let’s take a look at two of the misused methodologies in the marketing research industry. These research methodologies are often used interchangeably, but actually refer to complimentary techniques to approach data collection.

Qualitative Research: This technique is intended to explore or better define a research issue. That being said, it easy to understand that qualitative research methods are intended to gather in-depth data. Qualitative methods are meant to address the why aspects of a given hypothesis. Smaller, but more focused samples, are normally used in these studies in order to generate more specific hypotheses that can be further studied via quantitative methods. Hence, qualitative methods are often used earlier in the project cycle. Other characteristics of a qualitative study include an inductive approach to data collection that often avoids numerical analysis. The researcher is usually personally involved and assumes the role of subjectively understanding the opinions of the sample participants. In layman’s terms, qualitative research is often vague, which is why it is used by researchers early on to develop an initial understanding of an issue or problem. Some of the most common techniques include interviews, focus groups, ethnographies and uninterrupted observation.

Quantitative Research: Quantitative research, unlike its qualitative counterpart, is intended to quantify data based on statistical techniques. Quantitive methods are deductive in their approach and typically deal with larger, less focused, samples. While qualitative research helps research first seeking to understand attitudes and behaviors, quantitative research helps to assess the frequency and prevalence of those variables. That being said, quantitative techniques tend to occur later in the project lifecycle once qualitative methods have helped further frame the hypothesis. The researcher is typically detached and impartial during the data collection process as the quantitative approach is analytical in focus as opposed to interpretive. Quantitative research is very precise often using fixed instruments to collect data with the goal of projecting conclusions to a larger population. The process of measurement is central to quantitative research because it provides the fundamental connection between empirical observation and mathematical expression of quantitative relationships. Common quantitative techniques include surveys, polls, audits, click-streams or point-of-purchase studies.

In an ideal situation, qualitative and quantitative research are meant to be used in compliment. Doing so allows the researcher to gain different perspectives and obtain a holistic view of the hypothesis. No one method is better than, nor a substitute for, the other. Each research project should be considered independently so that the best method and technique can be selected based on the clients needs. When budgets are tight, get creative. Think about new, non-traditional ways to gather data. After all, who said market researchers couldn’t be creative.

Tune in next month for our next Research 101 post. Ciao.

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Ed brings 15 years of traditional and digital media sales experience to the agency, giving us a perspective most agencies don’t have. When he’s not working or seeking new knowledge, Ed hangs out with his wife, two kids, two dogs, one cat, and a hamster. And yes, the cat and hamster are best friends.

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