Difference between qualitative and quantitative market research

There are various methodologies and types of market research, each serving specific objectives and unlocking different types of insights. The qualitative and quantitative approaches to data collection are two distinct but complementary ways to gain insights through research.

Both qualitative and quantitative methods are essential tools for businesses seeking to understand their target audience, gather valuable insights, and make informed decisions. But what sets them apart, and how do they contribute to a comprehensive marketing strategy? In this exploration, we dive into the fundamental differences between qualitative and quantitative market research, shedding light on when and how to employ each method to gain a deeper understanding of consumer behaviour and preferences.

Quantitative market research

Quantitative research can be defined as a systematic investigation of phenomena by gathering quantifiable data and performing statistical techniques. In other words, it is the collection of data that is numerical in nature. It is ideal for identifying trends and averages, making predictions, and generalizing results for large populations. Quantitative researchers strive for samples that allow them to draw dependable conclusions on the corresponding population. They often start with a hypothesis, and then collect data which can be used to determine whether the data supports the hypothesis. Some of the advantages of quantitative research includes being able to collect reliable and accurate data relatively quick, it eliminates bias and you get a wider scope of data analysis.

Data collection methods for quantitative research

  • Probability sampling
  • Surveys
  • Telephone interviews (CATI)
  • Face-to-face interviews
  • Computer assisted interviews (CAPI)
  • Structured observation
  • Document review

Qualitative market research

Qualitative research is defined as a method that focuses on obtaining data through open-ended and conversational communication. It is about gaining a better understanding of “what” people think, and “why” they think so. This method goes more into depth into individuals in a population, which is not necessarily representative for the whole population and cannot be generalized in the same way as quantitative research. Qualitative research is an exploratory method, and can lead to the generation of a hypothesis. Researchers use this method to add more depth to the data available. Some of the advantages of qualitative research include capturing changing attitudes, adding context to data, providing a more flexible approach and it can be more targeted.

Data collection methods for qualitative research

  • Personal interviews
  • Focus group (online and physical)
  • Online chat
  • Online community
  • Observation
  • Surveys with open-ended questions
  • Case studies

The main differences

Overall, the main differences between qualitative and quantitative research revolve around the type of data collected, the purpose of the research, sample size, data collection methods, generalization, and the degree of subjectivity or objectivity involved. Below is an overview of the key differences between the methods.

Data type: Quantitative research deals with numerical data, focusing on quantifiable variables, while qualitative research deals with non-numerical data and information.

Purpose: Quantitative aims to identify patterns and trends in a data set, and the objective is to provide precise answers and test hypotheses. Qualitative research aims to explore underlying reasons, motivations and opinions. It delves into the depth of human behaviour.

Sample size: Quantitative research often involves larger sample sizes to ensure statistical significance and generalisability. Qualitative research involves smaller sample sizes, often in the range of a dozen participants, or even less. 

Data collection methods: Quantitative data is collected through structured surveys or observations with closed-ended questions. Qualitative data is collected through methods like interviews, focus groups, observations, and open-ended surveys.

Generalization: Quantitative researchers seek to generalize the findings to a larger population, based on the principles of probability and statistics. On the other hand, qualitative research focuses on conceptual generalisation, seeking to understand the context and factors influencing a particular group.

Subjectivity vs. objectivity: Quantitative research strives for objectivity and replicability, which means that different researchers should arrive at the same conclusions when analysing the data. Qualitative research has an approach that acknowledges the subjectivity of researchers and their own interpretations. Multiple researchers might analyse the same data and arrive at slightly different conclusions.

Quantitative or qualitative?

So, which method should you choose for your study? We suggest combining the two methods, because they complement each other when done right. Their combination can lead to a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of your objective.

At Norstat, we are experienced in both approaches, and collect data with a variety of different methods. We will choose the right method for your needs, and adapt the data collection tailored to your study.

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