Market Research Tutorial: Qualitative Market Research

Market researchers use qualitative market research techniques when they need to understand consumers' visceral, that is, gut-level reactions and perceptions. In the market research tutorial's experience, qualitative methods are also used for input on products, services and communications at each stage of the development process and often as a quick check just prior to launch. Finally, qualitative market research allows researchers to know and understand the elements that need to be measured in through quantitative methods.

Let's look at each of these in turn.

It is a common truism among marketers that consumers (and yes, even businesses) purchase products and services based on emotional attractions (given basic product and service functionality) and then justify their choices with rationality. Qualitative market research is designed to discover the underlying emotional attractions (and aversions). So, while a person may justify the purchase of a specific vehicle based on a combination of features, price and economy (or not), the underlying reasons for purchase may have just as much to do with the cars that are "cool" in the buyer's circle of friends and peers, what vehicle his/her parentslike or dislike and what they drive and don't, and the vehicle's positioning in the market--who the manufacturer is working to get to buy a specific model.

Qualitative techniques (such as in-depth interviews, in-home interviews, ethnographic (observational), and focus groups), properly executed, provide an understanding of the emotional side of consumer behavior. [These techniques are discussed in greater depth later in this guide.]

A second use of qualitative market research is to provide feedback from the universe of potential buyers and users on products, services and communications. For example, let's suppose your company was developing a new toothpaste with unique health properties. Your lab has developed several versions of the product with different textures and graininess and thickness (viscosity). Now your company needs to know which version holds the most promise among consumers. You are looking for a quick go/no go decision here; you are not betting the ranch (that comes later). So you might use qualitative research to recruit potential users of your product (folks attracted to the specific health properties of your new product) to determine whether or not your lab version meets the basic requirements of a product in the toothpaste category. And you might end up doing this several times before arriving at a final formula which would require more rigorous and quantitative market research to test.

Finally, market researchers use qualitative techniques as a quick check (or disaster check) prior to going to market. This is often done with communications (ads, letters, brochures, etc.) to customers or potential customers. You might have a "final draft" of a new statement you want to introduce to your customer base. You might then test the mock statement through qualitatively to ensure that at worst it does not turn off the customers. (And hopefully is an improvement on what they are currently receiving.)

The specific techniques of qualitative market research are discussed further in this guide. Right now, click on to Quantitative Market Research.

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