This article is the first in a series by Katie Harris, principal at Zebra Connections.  

To prepare for my upcoming series on qualitative research, I headed to the buzzing font of all knowledge and inquiry: the Twitterverse. I wanted to find out what marketers (either by title or accidental) were interested in learning about qualitative research, so I aimed my tweet in that direction.

Many thanks to those who responded (linked to from my blog). I was delighted with the number — and the quality — of questions I received. I was also more than a little relieved. Happily, it seems that many of you are interested in finding out more about qualitative research.

The questions fell into several categories: the plan is to cover one category per fortnight as follows:

Today, to get the blog rolling, let’s begin with some definitions.

What is qualitative research?

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of market research: quantitative and qualitative research. Both sit under the umbrella term “market research”, which simply describes the task of gathering information about a market and/or consumers within that market.
Although this series is focused on qualitative research, it’s worth including a brief description of quantitative research here for some context.

Quantitative market research is generally used to measure or quantify a given variable of interest, eg how big a market is, how many people hold a certain attitude, behave in a certain way, like a particular brand, bought product X, etc.

Examples of quantitative research methodologies include most written questionnaires, telephone surveys and online questionnaires. The key output for quantitative market research is statistical data.

Qualitative market research, in comparison, is used to provide understanding. Here, the inquiry is focused on why people hold certain attitudes, why they behave in a certain way, or why like a particular brand or product, etc.

Examples of qualitative research methodologies include focus group discussions and in-depth interviews (more on these to come). The key output for qualitative market research is not statistics: it’s consumer understanding.

So that, in a nutshell, is that. Quantitative asks how many. Qualitative asks how come.

Tune in again on November 19, when I’ll look at how to do qualitative research. I’ll take you through the process, the different approaches, and I’ll give you the lowdown on those seemingly fluffy research techniques.

Many thanks to those of you who asked questions, for a full list please visit here.

If you didn’t get a chance to ask a question, but would like to, click here and send one in.