In addition to numbers, marketers often need qualitative inputs â€“ inputs that cannot be meaningfully expressed in the form of numbers â€“ to understand their consumers and the efficacy of their strategies. Qualitative research helps gather such inputs. It probes feelings, attitudes, predispositions and the perceptions of respondents. It is as important and valuable as quantitative research.
Qualitative research assumes that there is a common thread among the consumers belonging to a particular segment. It attempts to get a feel of this common thread. Since, in order to get such a feel, it is not necessary to interview a large sample of the population, it does a sensitive probing of a small, purposive sample. The non-structured and small sample features render it particularly suitable for gaining initial insights on the given problem.
There is one major commonality between qualitative and quantitative research which are alternatively referred to as the soft and hard versions of MR respectively. Both provide insights on marketing problems and help decision-making relating to marketing. The commonality perhaps stops there. The two differ significantly in several respects.
Qualitative research does have its limitations. But there are also several misconceptions in this regard. Both quantitative and qualitative researches have their associated limitations. The point is that both have their usefulness.
It is true that qualitative research is subjective. The theory, methodology, and finding of qualitative research are not as hard and tangible as that of its quantitative cousin. Qualitative research findings are neither valid nor reliable in the strict statistical sense, for there is no number crunching here interestingly its subjectivity is its main strength. It will be incorrect to look at qualitative research through the eyes a quantitative researcher and expect it to conform to quantitative specifications. Also, quantitative research too can be subjective.
Actually, the two can go together, as they are complementary. Let us take promotion strategy for newly launched brand as one example. The researcher may, to begin with, go for qualitative research consisting of a focus group and come up with ideas for creatively communicating the productâ€™s benefits to the consumers, say through a television commercial. After getting the ideas, he may make two different commercials / scratches, and go for a quantitative research with a larger sample to find out which one would be more effective.
Focus group interview is the main and most popular technique in qualitative research. It is a loosely structured group dynamics session. It seeks to gather in-depth insights from a few respondents. The assumption is that individuals will share their ideas more freely, when they discuss an issue in a group. A focus group can last a couple of hours. The moderator is the key to the success of focus group interviews. She steers the respondents to talk about the product, advertisement or package, or the new product concept, or the new product concept, or whatever.
Often several apprehensions are expressed about focus groups. The major ones are listed below:
1. Focus groups tend to have one person dominating and it might adversely affect the accuracy of the findings.
2. Often, respondents do not conform to the consumer profile under reference. It vitiates the usefulness of the findings.
3. Even if respondents conform to the consumer profile under reference, often, it is savvy consumers, who participate in focus groups. As such, the group may not be representative of the target.
4. Repeat and professional respondents are a bigger problem. The same women come for all the focus groups, whatever be the issue, whatever be the product, whoever be the MR agency conducting the focus groups. Focus groups are after all based on the premise that the participants being new to the format will give spontaneous, natural reaction. If they have done the exercise before, there is the chance of the data being less objective and more biased. In more recent times, focus groups have come to be dominated by a new version of repeat respondents â€“ viz., the professional respondents. The repeat and the professional respondents may try to say what according to them the researcher would like to hear, rather than what they really feel.
5. Respondent saturation too poses a problem. At a stage, it becomes difficult to penetrate further. The problem of repeat/professional respondents mentioned above is sometimes the result of the saturation.