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Qualitative Research: Definition, Methods and Implementation

  • June 5, 2023

What Is Qualitative Research?

There are two types of data in research: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative data focuses on concrete numbers and metrics typically uncovered through close-ended question surveys (think multiple-choice responses). Qualitative research, on the other hand, deals with non-numerical, unstructured data to provide more context and details on “why” someone feels a certain way about something.

Both quantitative and qualitative data provide very useful insights for brands. However, qualitative data is collected and analyzed in a different way than quantitative. Fortunately, the right consumer insight tools can help you gather both types of data to develop a clear picture of your consumer and their needs. 

Learn more about the different types of qualitative research and how they can improve your sales and marketing efforts. 

Qualitative Research Methods

Brands can leverage a few different qualitative research methods to learn more about their consumers. They might use a mixture of these strategies at different times to achieve different research goals.

Focus Groups

Focus groups are one of the most common examples of qualitative research. A brand will pay for 5-10 consumers to meet and discuss new or existing products or marketing materials. This meeting is led by a moderator who asks guiding questions to draw out the consumers’ opinions. By having an open discussion about the products, consumers can share their ideas freely, which provides insight for the brands. 

Due to advancements in technology and the COVID pandemic, many focus groups have moved online and to mobile apps over the past few years, which makes it easier for brands to reach audiences across the country. These digital sessions also require less resources and can end up being more cost-effective for companies. 

In-depth Interviews (IDIs)

While focus groups are a good way to have discussions with multiple people at once, one-on-one interviews can be an effective way to learn about the individual consumer experience. A brand might spend 15 to 30 minutes talking to a consumer and asking them a series of questions about the products and their purchasing decisions. Quality interviewers will then probe consumers, or ask follow-up questions based on what the subject says to better understand what they are trying to say. 

Quantitative data is useful for highlighting trends, but it doesn’t always answer why those trends occur. In-person fieldwork research, like individual interviews, can provide deeper insights into what is driving consumer behavior and how the company’s actions affect the buyer experience. In-depth interviews also help prevent groupthink, which is when consumers in small group settings (such as a focus group setting) claim to all agree with one another, even if the opinion agreed upon is not what each individual believes.


Ethnography is a study of a group of people to better understand their motivations, behaviors, and beliefs. Specifically, a researcher will immerse themselves within a community rather than observe it as an outsider. They will collect insights either passively by taking notes and recordings or actively by asking questions about why a person or group of people does certain things. 

For example, a researcher may go to a consumer’s home to understand which types of snack foods they buy. The consumer would open their pantry, show the items in the pantry, and explain why they like the food. A researcher may then ask who in the home eats most of the snacks, how long the consumer has been buying a certain snack and more. Ethnographic research takes time but it provides extremely valuable research from real-world experiences.  


The online world has made it easier for companies to learn more from consumers and track how they perceive the brand from a digital perspective. For example, some tools allow brands to watch consumers shop online through their phones. This can help developers see where usability updates need to be implemented.  

Brands can also conduct online qualitative research through digital tools. They can use online platforms to send questions to consumers who will then type out their answers or provide video responses. This is a great way to better understand consumer perceptions of the products, company, and industry. 

There are multiple online qualitative research platform options for brands that have specific goals for their data collection. Some of the best software systems combine qualitative and quantitative tools within one platform. 

Mobile Research

Qualitative research doesn’t have to be done in stuffy conference rooms and offices. Consumers no longer have to travel to meet with researchers and these consumer insights professionals don’t necessarily have to be on the road. Consumers who sign up to participate in interviews and questionnaires are able to conveniently share their ideas directly from their mobile devices. 

Mobile research allows brands to ask questions and gives them space to write or record videos of in-depth responses. Consumers often prefer this option because texting an answer or recording a video response on their smartphone is second-nature to most. Mobile research also enables brands to see in-the-moment, in-context, and REAL reactions. The answers might be different from live in-person interviews. 

How To Implement Qualitative Research

Brands can collect quantitative research quickly by sending out surveys or observing third-party data. However, it takes more time to conduct qualitative research. Follow these steps if you want to tap into this type of data collection to better understand your consumers and their buying experiences. 

  1. Specify what you want to know. Set a clear question that you hope to answer from your research. Each question in your discussion guide should support this overarching goal.
  2. Decide on an appropriate time window. Consumer behavior can change within a matter of months. Decide how long you have to collect this data for it to still be relevant. 
  3. Set budgetary limitations. Determine how much you can spend collecting and analyzing the data. This might affect the strategies you choose. 
  4. Choose the best tactics for your needs. See whether focus groups, interviews, or mobile research are ideal for your data collection. You can select multiple tactics throughout your research window. 
  5. Conduct your research. Consider investing in a consumer insights platform that can make data collection and analysis easier. 
  6. Interpret the results. Make sure you view the information objectively and clearly. Your consumers might not say flattering things about your brand and you need to be ready to hear that. 

The final step in this process is to implement your findings from the data. Research without action is a waste of time. If you know changes need to be made in the company to improve the consumer experience, make sure you can convince your management team to support those efforts. 

Qualitative data is a valuable tool for gaining insights into your company. Whether you invest in focus groups or mobile research, make sure your collection and analysis plans are effective so you can apply the information you uncover.

Trust the experts when you choose to run a qualitative research study. Reach out today for a customized demo on how QualSights can give you the insights you need to make smarter business decisions.


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