Qual Research Has a Role But It’s Not as a Replacement for Quant

Share This:

Sometimes a client (or potential client) will reach out to us and tell us they’re interested in conducting qualitative research around a new-product idea, rebranding or some other brand issue. Obviously, we’re thrilled that they’ve chosen The Stevenson Company for their research needs, and we’ll do everything in our power to exceed their expectations. That said, sometimes a client has preconceived expectations about how the research should go that may not conform to their overall objectives.




As a quick aside, our clients are generally educated when it comes to market research, so the decision to do qualitative (or ‘qual’) research over quantitative (or ‘quant’) may have already been made internally after careful deliberation. However, assuming that it was not, the client may suggest qual for any number of reasons: It could be because their previous, unrelated project was qualitative (and went well) or the point person was once a moderator and has a qual bias. Or it could simply be that the client can’t get enough of the backroom snacks they serve at the focus-group facility in Topeka.


While those are reasons (not necessarily good ones), it is important to remember is that both quant and qual have distinct purposes—and if you select one, don’t expect to gain results that would have only come from the other. In simple terms, quant is most appropriate for things like A&U, brand performance and customer satisfaction, while qual is preferred for testing and brainstorming new products and services. There are times when choosing which is optimum is a wash, such as developing personas or choosing names, logos or messaging.


What’s important to remember is you can’t doctor one to get the other. For example, a moderator might ask a roomful of respondents which packaging they like best, and then tally their responses on a whiteboard in the room for all to see. This technique allows the moderator to get a better read of the room and how they’re trending, so they can better determine how to probe for the next 10 minutes. The tallies are never to be used to quantify and project the entire target market; the participants were not recruited for those purposes. The qual environment, be it in a focus-group facility, ethnography, online bulletin board or mall intercepts, is entirely different from any quant one for reasons too obvious and numerous to even list. Further, even 10 focus groups of eight participants will only yield a sample of 80, hardly a complete rate any marketer would stake their job on. Other potential drawbacks to qual is it’s generally more labor intensive and subjective—which is good when you’re looking for audacity and bad when you simply want veracity. If research is a house, then quant is the bricks, and qual the mortar that fills in the cracks. It’ll provide color, nuance, attitude, conflict, facial recognition—all the things quant cannot.



Like our clients, our goal is to get as much information our of every study in as an affordable way as possible, and The Stevenson Company does a (humblebrag) excellent job managing expectations. In the end, if you want or need hard numbers to validate what you’re hearing from live bodies, and have the budget, then, of course, The Stevenson Company recommends a qual and quant approach. What we can’t recommend is trying to manipulate one to get the other.