Data is quite often inappropriately described as “hard” or “soft”; this should not endorse numeric data as being superior to non-numeric data. All data needs to be interpreted in order to result in insight. Numeric data do not automatically result in that, they also need to be fully understood and the person leveraging the data needs to be thoroughly educated in the studied area.
Marketers clearly need to seek information that is too subtle and too complex to be derived from the structured, standardized techniques of quantitative research. This is when qualitative research methods are critical. Dating back to mid-1900s behavioural methodologies strengthened the theory and practice of marketing research, enabling it to develop creatively and make a significant contribution to marketing strategy.
The qualitative research draws heavily from the techniques applied in psychology and sociology where the interest is centred particularly on customer’s buying habits and their motivations, attitudes, and preferences. Human behaviour is motivated by an almost infinite range of causes, many of which are not easy to identify.
Qualitative research is a term used rather freely to describe several specific kinds of marketing research: exploratory research, unstructured research, motivation research, depth interviewing, attitude and opinion research to name just a few. In the past, these techniques were named “motivation research” but this was somewhat misleading – from the very beginning, they were applied to a variety of studies and not only to understanding buying motivation.
Techniques we’ll investigate in detail in this expert series are the following:
- Depth interviews – non-directive interviews in which the respondent is encouraged to talk about the subject rather than answer yes or no
- Projective techniques – use indirect methods of investigation to obtain data which cannot be secured through more overt questions (like direct questioning). These techniques include:
- Third person test (used when direct questioning arouses defensive responses which result in distorted replies meant to preserve the ego or self-esteem of those questioned)
- Word association test (respondent is given a single word and asked to say immediately what other words come to their mind)
- Sentence completion test (respondents are asked to complete a short sentence)
- Thematic apperception test (TAT) (respondent is shown a series of pictures and asked to describe the situations shown, and what led up to these situations)
- Story completion test (respondents are given the opening sentence [or sentences] describing a situation and are invited to complete the story with their own narrative)
- Psychodrama (difficult to interpret; people are asked to act a buying situation so that their responses can be studied)
- Cartoons (bank balloons) (frequently involves a cartoon or sketch showing two people talking in a particular setting; one person’s comments are shown in a speech bubble and the other person’s balloon is empty – the respondent is asked to give the reply which he thinks fits a given situation best)
Table taken from: Chisnall, Peter M. Marketing Research. 3rd ed. London: McGraw-Hill, 1986. Print, p. 147