Qualitative Research (© boonchok / Fotolia.com)
Qualitative Research (© boonchok / Fotolia.com)

Qualitative research is a particular type of research that acquires data that isn’t binary or numbers-based. This has huge potential benefits for businesses and could be precisely what your market research is missing. Read more to learn how to leverage this tool and why it’s likely to be even bigger in future.

Answer this question:

Do you know what qualitative research is?

  • Yes
  • No

What kind of data does that give you? It gives you a binary score. Useful for plotting in a chart. Useful for putting into an algorithm to run math and easy to collect.

This is quantitative data.

But not terribly insightful.

Why don’t you know? Would you like to know? Do you have any rough guesses?

On the other hand, consider this question:

What do you think qualitative research is and why?

Now that is a whole different story!

How to Collect Good Data From Research

Companies can end up spending a lot of money on market research and customer feedback which should tell you just how important both of these things are. With the right information you can get a better idea of how improve your product and where to invest your time and money in order to get the best results.

But if you don't have the money to pour into that kind of research then don't worry - there are plenty of ways you can get valuable customer feedback incredibly cheaply. All you need is the foresight to include a form with your product when you deliver or sell it, and you can start to collect some valuable and meaningful data for little more than the cost of some paper and ink.

In order for this to be successful though, you need to make sure that you're working your forms correctly and that you're asking the right questions. Read on to find out how you can go about doing just that…

Qualitative vs Quantitative Data

The first thing to understand when creating your feedback forms is the distinction between qualitative and quantitative data. Essentially this means 'numbers' vs 'writing' and it's important to make sure you're collecting both as both have a range of different uses. Only by getting numbers (such as ratings in a multiple choice question) is it possible to create graphs and charts that can help you to identify patterns and find averages, but then only by using written data can you find out why people feel the way they do and get ideas for future features.

So, make sure you include questions like 'Answer on a scale of 1-4 how happy you are with the appearance of your product' and 'How could this product be made to look more appealing to you?'. This way you'll be able to benefit from both kinds of information.

A good example of this for digital marketers might be finding out how someone found their site. Very often, a company will use a simple selection of checkboxes for this: multiple choice. Users can say that they found the website:

  • On Google
  • Through a Friend
  • From an Advert
  • By typing the URL

But what if none of those are the right answers?

What if they found your website from a forum where your brand is being hotly debated? Without collecting qualitative data, you would never know this.

So in that case, you could simply ask:

How did you find this site?

Now it’s much harder to display the information in a bar chart, but it is potentially much more insightful and provides more potential depth.

1-4

When you do use quantitative data, there are right and wrong ways to approach this.

It's not by chance that I used a scale of '1-4' in the above example. This is actually what you will find on most feedback forms and there's a very good reason for it. By using an even number you see, you will ensure that people can't 'sit on the fence' by selecting 3's whenever they're unsure, and this way the answers you get will be far more illuminating.

Remember the Bias

Something to remember when using these feedback forms is that what they say is not 'gospel' and there is a certain amount of bias to account for. The reason for this is that most people can't be bothered to answer feedback forms meaning that your answers are going to come either from a certain kind of person (the kind of person who answers feedback forms - not necessarily someone who's representative of the general population) or from people who feel very strongly one way or another about what you're offering.

There are ways to account for this when using the data (such as by removing extreme outliers) and through your choice of questions (by asking them to think in different ways), but ultimately, it's still important to just remember to take some of the results with a pinch of salt…

How to Display Qualitative Data

There is a lot of talk at the moment about how best to display data. Thanks to the huge amount of information that companies and individuals can now collect through the internet, finding elegant ways to convey trends and key points in data is an important challenge. At the same time, infographics and attractive charts have proven to be an effective way for bloggers and webmasters to catch their users' attention and to enhance their content.

OpenPR-Tip: But all of this talk tends to focus on a specific type of data: quantitative data. That is to say, that it deals with the use of numbers and how you can display values, scores and measurements. A set of numbers can easily be displayed as a chart or a graph, it can be conveyed through size or through colour and single figures such as percentages can easily make a big impact when written in large fonts and bright colours.

Dealing With Words

But as we now know, there is another type of data too: qualitative data. That's data that takes the form of words, phrases and sentences, and which is classically much more difficult to deal with. If for instance you were to conduct an interview, and you were to ask people what they thought of the current government, you would end up with a range of detailed answers that contained a huge amount of opinions, facts, ideas and more. This information might actually be much more detailed and useful than simple numbers (which you would get by asking people to 'rate' the current government instead), but conveying it as a chart would be much more difficult.

Qualitative Analysis

One solution though is to use something known as 'qualitative analysis'. This is the method that researchers use to assess qualitative data, and it can be used to make qualitative data much more manageable.

Essentially this involves looking through the text you've accumulated, and identifying key words and phrases that come up time and again (counting synonyms in the same way). In the case of our government interviews you might notice words cropping up like 'reliable', 'effective' and 'satisfactory', as well as words like 'distrust', 'ineffective' and 'stupid' or 'tax' and 'eco friendly'. You would then count every time one of these words or a synonym appeared and that way you could reliably see the overall feelings of your interviewees as well as which topics were important to them.

Then you could use a word cloud, with size and colour used to denote the words that were most prominent and that would be a great way to quickly put across some qualitative data (or colour could represent the emotional intent of the word). A large red 'Distrust' next to a small green 'Effective' could paint just as impactful a picture as a pie chart – if not more of one.

Using this method you could also then use a word cloud. These are collections of keywords that you will often see on blogs and forums, showing which terms and which information is being used the most often.

More Ways of Displaying Qualitative Data

There are of course many other methods you can use here too. From flow charts, to tables, to spider diagrams, to ergodic text.

Thanks to the web we have a lot of stats, figures and numbers available. But what is the web made of? Words of course! There is a huge and unprecedented amount of qualitative information out there… so why not start tapping into it?

Ways to Collect Qualitative Data

The idea of any research then is to allow a business to learn more about its markets and its audiences, before it invests in a product or in a marketing strategy. That way, they can ensure that they have the right strategy to market their goods and that they hopefully maximize profits and minimize losses.

Quantitative data lends itself well in this regard, as companies can collect the information quickly and easily with check boxes or even by looking at data collected through a website or through observation.

At the same time, this information is very easy to act on and to display in a compelling manner.

But you can also collect, display and act upon qualitative data.

Here are a few ways to get qualitative information:

  • Interviews: You can interview your customers, your business partners, clients or anyone else in order to ask useful information about your business and your products/services. How did they find you? Would they use you again?
  • Surveys: In the examples we discussed earlier using questions and checkboxes, the assumption is that you will be using surveys. Surveys are of course forms that are handed out – often by market research companies – in order to collect data. This can be used to collect both types of data. And of course don’t forget that there is also an option to use both types of data at the same time. You can use the multiple choice question of how someone got to your site and then have an additional option for ‘other’.
  • Forums and Sites: Another option is to do the research yourself. Rather than asking people to provide answers, you can instead look for examples of people talking about your business or even about other products and then collect the relevant information.

Acting on Qualitative Data

As well as displaying qualitative data, you may also need to act on it. The main reason that many companies will collect data form surveys and other methods is so that they can then make business decisions on that basis.

For example, if you look at the ages of the people who typically buy your kind of product, then you can identify the right ages to market your ads towards.

But qualitative analysis can open up whole new opportunities in this regard.

For example, you might be looking at the competition and the market as it currently is for your products and services. Thus, you might use a piece of software in order to scrape the web for relevant content by saving any user-submitted information regarding the brands that you are interested in. You could then use the aforementioned qualitative analysis technique in order to look for key words that come up frequently. These in turn could give you some clues as to things that are on the minds of customers. In turn, this could then give you ideas for things you need to pursue in your business and things you need to avoid. It could create whole new options for products and services you might otherwise not have thought of.

Qualitative data is bigger today than ever before thanks to the ubiquity of social networks and tools like Twitter. These allow people from all over the world to publish their thoughts and their moods and even to handily tag those thoughts for us. This information is a qualitative form of big data and with the right machine learning algorithms there is endless, highly valuable data here to be mined.

Don’t focus purely on numbers. Think about the motivations, opinions and personalities that motivate those numbers.



         



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