Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Although many market research experts would say that quantitative research is the safest bet when one has limited resources, it can be dangerous to assume that it is always the best option.

QUANTITATIVE VS. QUALITATIVE: THE GREAT DEBATE

In today’s market research world, there is ongoing debate about what the best market research technique really is.

We came across a couple of great articles this week that help answer this question. Often times, qualitative research helps determine where to where to go with a study, and quantitative research helps the researcher understand it. Ultimately, the two methods complement each other throughout the research process.

In the article, “Market Research: Quantitative or Qualitative,” the writer Diane Hagglund said, “sometimes numbers provide false confidence and obscure real opportunity.”

She later added in a follow-up article that her market research firm recommends web surveys as good vehicles for quantifying concepts that the researcher is familiar with and wants accurate percentages for each option.

“This is a valuable thing to do, especially for market sizing, external marketing and PR purpose,” Hagglund said. “But for finding out the answers that you don’t really know, start with qualitative research – and by all means do a web survey next to put those percentages in place once you know the statements to put the percentages with.”

In other words, it’s important to quantify your qualitative research and qualify your quantitative research…and there is no doubt that Qualtrics helps researchers do just that all over the world.

THE DANGER WITH ASSUMPTIONS

Scott Anthony, a blogger for the Harvard Business Review, discussed qualitative and quantitative research in detail in the article, “In Market Research, Use Numbers with Caution.”

He acknowledged, “While of course quantitative surveys can generate important learning, it’s dangerous to assume there is any single ‘best’ market research technique.”

He added, “Companies too frequently default to quantitative research because they think there is safety in numbers.”

Anthony provided an example of this in his article with a story told by Procter & Gamble Chairman A.G. Lafley who learned this concept this hard way while working on the Tide brand. Read it here.
His outlook on the best technique? There isn’t one. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods have their place in conducting market research.

“There are rarely silver bullets in business. A good market researcher is like a good investigative reporter. They use a variety of tools to pick up a problem and look at it from different perspectives. And they recognize that different tools are appropriate for different contexts.”

WHEN MIGHT ONE METHOD BE MORE USEFUL THAN THE OTHER?

So, when is each method ideal? With a little help from these experts, we put together a few guidelines for when one research method might be more useful than the other.

Quantitative:

  • For trending purposes, i.e. trends in customer feedback
  • Need for quick feedback
  • Particularly useful when a company wants to determine how to increase market share
  • Product feedback for consumer products

Qualitative:

  • Help identify non-obvious ways to delight current customers
  • Looking for information to grow an existing market or create a new one
  • Market research follow-up questions when numeric scales can be misleading
  • Messaging validation for products that are new to the market
  • Market validation
  • Understanding objections and barriers
  • Product feedback for enterprise products