Understanding Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research

Prior to joining WebFX as a writer, Maria was a marketing professional and editor for B2B and B2C publications. Her work has been featured on Top Gear Philippines. When she's not immersed in digital marketing and writing, she's out running, swimming, or playing with her dogs.

Do you want to measure your marketing activities’ success and learn how you can improve them? Or do you want to understand your customers better?

Quantitative and qualitative marketing research can help you do all these. Quantitative marketing research collects numerical data that give you a general overview of trends about a topic. Think of it as a bird’s eye view of the forest.

Meanwhile, qualitative marketing research lets you uncover in-depth insights from an audience or through literature reviews. Think of it as a land animal’s view of the forest — they see the details of the trees!

To make the most of these two research methods, you have to understand their differences. If you’re ready to learn more about qualitative vs. quantitative research, you’re in luck. This blog post will discuss these topics:

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The differences between qualitative and quantitative research

Qualitative and quantitative research collect and analyze different data using various methodologies. They seek to answer different questions.

Qualitative research seeks to understand people’s motivations and attitudes, and to answer the question “why.” Meanwhile, quantitative research seeks to collect numerical and statistical data to get a general overview of a topic, look for correlations, or test hypotheses.

This table summarizes their differences:

Qualitative Research Quantitative Research
Focus Obtain insights and an in-depth understanding of people’s opinions and attitudes Measure variables, test hypotheses, and predict outcomes
Methodologies Interviews, focus group discussions, shop-alongs, and in-store observations Surveys, polls, website analytics tools, marketing software
Analysis

 

Uses summaries, categories, and interpretation Uses math and statistical analysis
Respondents Few Many
Questionnaire Open-ended questions Multiple-choice questions

Let’s discuss each market research type below:

Qualitative research

Used to collect non-numerical and non-statistical data to obtain insights, qualitative research aims to describe a topic rather than measure it. It seeks to gain an in-depth understanding of people’s opinions and attitudes.

Data gathering for qualitative research involves first-hand observation through interviews, focus group discussions, shop-alongs, or in-store observations. Conducted in natural settings, qualitative research methods don’t involve experiments or control groups. Because qualitative research gathers insights to answer the question “why,” its results are harder to analyze compared to quantitative research.

Quantitative research

Meant to collect numerical data, quantitative research aims to measure variables, give a general overview of trends, and predict outcomes. It’s structured, statistical, and systematically analyzed, so its results are objective and conclusive. Quantitative research methodologies you can use are surveys, questionnaires, and polls.

Qualitative vs. quantitative research: benefits and drawbacks

Each research type has its strengths and drawbacks. A summary of the pros and cons of each research is in this table:

Pros Cons
Qualitative Research – Offers flexibility when drawing interpretations
– Scope is flexible as new insights are collected
– Subjective

 

Quantitative Research – Results are objective and communicated with numbers
– Results can be produced quickly
– Restrictive

Now let’s discuss each one:

Qualitative research’s benefits and drawbacks

Qualitative research offers flexibility and creativity when drawing interpretations. Interpretations from qualitative research can help you further gain insights into why a user chose your brand over your competitors.

It is also flexible in terms of scope, as the scope of qualitative research may change as more insights are collected. For example, a few interviews revealed that your customers kept shortlisting you with the same competitor. You can ask follow-up questions to probe and understand why they pit you against this particular competitor.

Because qualitative research uses summaries and categorization when analyzing the insights gathered, it’s subjective in its interpretation and results. Results also take time to produce.

Quantitative research’s benefits and drawbacks

With results communicated using numbers and statistics, quantitative research gives you objective data. Quantitative research tracks metrics so you can easily measure the success of your marketing strategies. In addition, you can produce quantitative research results quickly, thanks to data computing software.

A quantitative research questionnaire has close-ended questions, so respondents cannot add context to their answers. For this reason, it can be viewed as more restrictive research.

When to use qualitative and quantitative research

Each type of research has its own set of strengths. You can choose to perform a qualitative, quantitative, or mixed method approach. The approach you choose depends on the following:

  • Your research question
  • Whether you’re testing a hypothesis or developing a theory
  • Time, budget, and access to respondents

Use qualitative research when:

  • You want to formulate a hypothesis: Do you want to discover people’s paint points? Use qualitative research to help you gather in-depth insights into people’s problems or opportunities. Once you have a hypothesis, you can run quantitative research to test it.
  • You want to understand concepts, behaviors, and attitudes: Are you trying to understand your customer’s attitudes toward your brand and your competitors? Qualitative research can help you draw out insights from respondents through open-ended questions in an interview or focus group.

Use quantitative research when:

  • You want to validate your hypothesis: Quantitative research can provide numbers, so you can perform statistical analysis and validate your hypothesis.
  • You want to find general answers: Quantitative research can help you answer broad questions surrounding your brand or products by surveying a lot of respondents. Do people prefer your competitors over your brand? Which services are considered most important by your customers?

How to conduct qualitative vs. quantitative research

Qualitative and quantitative research go hand-in-hand. You can kick off with qualitative research when you want to learn about problems and opportunities. Quantitative research can then give you measurable insights.

Here are some qualitative and quantitative research methodologies you can explore:

Qualitative research

To obtain information for your qualitative research, you can conduct:

  • One-on-one interviews: These conversations go deep into the topic to find an answer to a research question.
  • Dyads or triads: These conversations involve two (in the case of a dyad) or three (triads) respondents and a moderator. The moderator draws out insights from the respondents by asking open-ended questions.
  • Focus group discussions: These are conversations done with a group of respondents and a moderator who asks open-ended questions. The moderator tries to draw out the respondents’ views on a certain topic.
  • Case studies: Case studies are in-depth, detailed examinations of particular cases and customer experiences within a real-world context.
  • Open-ended survey questions: These questions allow respondents to express their views on a topic.
  • Observations: This method involves observing people during their routines to understand how they interact with a product.

Quantitative research

To gather data for your quantitative research, you can conduct:

  • Surveys: A common quantitative research method, surveys usually have a large respondent base. The questions are close-ended and are the same for all participants.
  • Polls: Polls are another way to gather quantitative data. By applying a numeric value to how many people responded to each answer, the data you gathered can be easily measured.
  • Website analytics tools: Tools like Google Analytics can help you gather quantitative data about your website, audience, and digital marketing campaigns.
  • Marketing software tools: Tools like MarketingCloudFX provide you with quantitative data about your engaged users and their customer journey. These tools help you measure your strategies’ success and return on investment (ROI).

Qualitative or quantitative research? WebFX can help

Qualitative and quantitative research each have their benefits. If you want to discover opportunities through market research, WebFX can help. We have an extensive portfolio of case studies and 25+ years of experience collecting and analyzing data to implement marketing strategies that drive revenue.

Our team will be glad to help you with your qualitative or quantitative research to help your business grow. Contact us online or call us at 888-601-5359 to speak with a strategist about our marketing analytics services.

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