qualitative market researchAny manager or entrepreneur worth his salt knows the value of carrying out market research before launching a product. Doing so helps determine how consumers feel about a product and what needs to be done to improve it, which translates into increased sales. Market research is not just limited to studying consumer sentiment concerning your product; there are other applications such as testing the practicability of your idea. Market research is divided into two: qualitative market research and quantitative market research.

Qualitative Market Research Defined

Let’s take a look at qualitative market research; what is it and how is it done? Well, qualitative market research refers to marketing research techniques that help in customer value analysis, new product survey, brand equity research, market segmentation research, naming and branding research and customer satisfaction research. Sounds like jargon, right? Well, a simpler explanation is that this is a type of research that involves questioning small groups of respondents, taking note of non-verbal cues such as word choice, body language and mood alongside verbal responses in order to gather data that may be missed when quantitative method is used.

As you will learn in this course on qualitative market research, this data collection method means that the company will need to plan the research beforehand, seek participants and secure a venue. Since the process takes up a lot of financial resources and time, most companies shy away from it. Nonetheless, the return on investment (ROI) tends to be higher, so don’t develop any second thoughts about it. Let’s have a look at the various types of qualitative research methods:

Classic Methods of Qualitative Market Research

This refers to traditional qualitative research methods which were developed before the Internet age. They include;

1.  Focus Groups

Focus groups involve bringing together several participants (respondents), who are all unknown to each other, to take part in a panel discussion that is headed by a moderator (researcher). This form of market research, which is held in a neutral location, aims at encouraging in-depth discussions and creativity from the participants. Focus groups are rarely used by companies, unless the participants are small businesses. This method helps you probe exactly what the customers are looking for, especially in stages of research that require exercising creativity. Note that the term for focus groups in the United Kingdom is group discussions.

2.  Depth Interviews

These are the most commonly used method of qualitative research. The aim of the interview is to seek the interviewees’ opinion on the subject matter. Research can be conducted through telephone, in person or through online tools such as Google Hangouts.

As the interviewer, you should ask the participant open-ended questions and record the answers, sort of like in a job interview. You must therefore fully grasp the subject of discussion and ask particular questions in a particular order. Naturally, the interviewee will dominate the conversations as you listen, jot down the notes and lead the conversation the way it should go.

3.  Mini-Focus Groups

Mini focus groups involve between 2 to 5 participants per session. A session involving one interviewer and two participants is called a triad, while dyads are mini focus groups involving one participant and one interviewer. Normally, you can use this method of qualitative research if the subject matter or the topics need further explanation, or if you need to interview subjects that are usually hard to reach.  They are also recommended for dealing with shy or reserved respondents or for exploring emotional or sensitive issues.

4.  Participant Observation

This is a method of qualitative market research which is rooted in conventional ethnographic research, whose aim is to help researchers find out perspectives of the study populations. As a researcher, your goal should be to understand such perspectives and the relationship between them. You can do this by either observing the study community silently, or participating to a varying extent in the population’s daily activities. However, to sharpen such research skills, it is advisable to you register for a course on market research beforehand.

Generally, the method involves visiting the study population in their own environment as opposed to the participants coming to the researcher. This means physically acting as an “insider” while retaining the outlook of an “outsider”. As the study community goes about their daily lives, make sure you carefully record your observations on a field notebook.  Any messages and information gathered through other sources such as radio and mass media is considered relevant and should be documented.

However, this method is rarely used as it is time consuming and costly. This method can also suffer from bias and poor data collection as it requires discipline to record down everything.

Leading Edge Methods of Qualitative Market Research

Increasingly, companies are relying on online channels to conduct qualitative market research. This medium has a wider reach (including internationally), is convenient and gives respondents time to give thoughtful responses. Participants are also more likely to give honest answers free from bias due to the privacy accorded. Furthermore, thanks to the use of mathematical probability, respondents tend to closely reflect the target audience, whether in rural or urban areas. They include;

1.  Online Forums

These are websites that provide for users to conduct discussions in a “bulletin board” format, with a moderator overseeing the conversations. As a moderator, it is your role to guide the conversation by introducing topics and asking follow-up questions. You must ask the respondents to provide as much detailed information as they can about their relevant thoughts, experiences, attitudes, behaviors and feelings.

2.  Online Depth Interviews

These ones closely resemble the traditional depth interviews, except for the fact that they are done over the Internet. This qualitative market research method is perfect for targeting busy doctors or executives whose time is scarce. The participants can read the transcripts and talk to you anytime. Furthermore, you can ask follow-up questions once the participant has provided his views. Why don’t you take your time to learn more about how you can conduct online depth interviews in this marketing course?

3.  Online Sentence Completion

This technique is roughly based on the format of an online survey and consists of an average of 50 to 60 questions which participants must answer. Sample size can range from 50 to 75 respondents, with the time of the survey limited to 30 minutes. It can be used alone or with other research methods.

4.  Online Word Association

This involves 50 to 75 “stimuli” words that require the participants to type the first word, image or association that comes to their minds at the time. The size of the samples can vary from 100 to 200, with the length of the interview averaging 30 minutes. This one is recommended if you want to research on imagery, associations and awareness of your brands.

How to Implement Qualitative Market Research

There are various kinds of data that you may want to gather such as public opinion concerning your brand to how you can improve your product or service. Make sure you list down what kind of data you want to obtain and the objectives for doing so. This helps keep you focused.

Whether you want to target outliers or early adopters, you need to tweak the questions to suit the relevant audience. Customizing questions and interview structure ensures that data collected is concise and accurate.

You can choose from among the qualitative research methods explained before based on your audience and costs.

Now that you have planned everything, you can conduct the research. Make sure data is organized properly for analysis once you are done with the market research.

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