Qualitative research methods


Qualitative market research has come a long way from the level of free-following discussions. It has now emerged as a method which provides a greater level of insight and more actionable information to marketers than conventional research. In the process, specific techniques, methods and analytical tools have been developed that draw on psychological theory and to a certain extent on the other social sciences. Some of these and their applications are described here.

The Depth Interview

In depth interviews, a semi-structured questionnaire is used to elicit information from the consumer.
A significantly different approach from that of a detailed questionnaire interview, the depth interview is designed to probe why consumers do, or do not do certain things.

Lasting from may be an hour to three hours, with the number of interviews ranging from 50 to 100, the interviewer encourages the respondent to talk freely, maintaining an encouraging, friendly and non-judgmental attitude throughout. Questions will tend to develop from the context of the interview.

It is argued that use of the depth interview technique results in drawing out the real and often hidden reasons for consumer behavior and action. Once these basic motivations are brought to the fore, the real opportunities for an informed and intelligent marketing strategy emerge.

The principal strength of the depth interview lies in the way that it extends the interviewer’s grasp of and insight into consumer attitudes. Depth interviews can therefore produce a great deal of information that cannot be obtained from the brief interviews that characterize the large scale questionnaire survey.

The Group Depth Interview

A variation on the depth interview is the group depth interview.

Such an interview lasts as long as an individual depth interview, but a dozen or so consumers are interviewed at the same time. The interviewer is essentially a moderator, and in fact what develops is a group discussion

The major advantage of this method is that when the moderator’s level of skill is particularly high, the interaction between the members of the group becomes a basis for the stimulation of further ideas. A good group interviewer works from a list that includes listening, thinking, probing, exploring and framing hunches and ideas as the interview proceeds.

Group research entered the market scene shortly after World War II as a part of motivation research. Group research is quick and relatively inexpensive, and provides a superb mechanism to generate hypotheses when little is known. In these cases when information is sparse, personal contact is needed with the subject to spark off processes. Group interviews are highly productive idea breeders. Group research methods drastically reduce the distance between the respondent, who produces the research information and the client who uses it. Groups are an important focus for research studies for the simple reasons that an individual’s behavior is influenced by others. Three important aspects of small groups are interpersonal influence, norms and communication.

Social scientists have always attempted to identify whether an individual’s behavior is subject to social influence, which groups or individuals exert this influences, in what direction and over what range of behavior. The social scientist’s objective is to define and explain the process of group influence; the marketer must take this further, determining how best to use this knowledge.

Retail Store Audit

Retail store audits measure the movement of products from the retailers’ shelves to the public , providing research information on inventory levels and on retail sales trends.

The need for this flow of information becomes clear when one considers the long pipeline between factory shipments and consumer purchasing at a retail store. While shipments are rising and falling, consumer purchases may also be doing the same, or they may be moving in the opposite direction. For example, wholesalers may be enlarging or reducing their inventories in anticipation of price changes rather than in response to immediate consumer demand.

This method has its limitations however, in that no information is gathered on the buying behavior of individual customers or families, not studying, for example, the brand loyalties of consumers. Retail store audit has therefore to be supplemented with other forms of qualitative research.