Fuel Cycle

The State of Qualitative Market Research in 2020

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In January 2020 we surveyed 195 market researchers to find out how they field qualitative studies and what they think of qualitative data. Then the coronavirus crisis struck.

Here’s a brief summary of what researchers had to say when we asked them about their qualitative research habits initially. Spoiler: those running the most successful qualitative research have been using the tools we’ve all been forced to adopt since the pandemic.

Almost all market researchers field qualitative studies.  

It’s tempting to think of qualitative research as underutilized, but nearly 100% of market researchers say they collect qualitative data. Researchers’ favorite qualitative methodologies are in-person focus groups and in-person individual interviews, but plenty say they also run online discussion boards, online video interviews, and offline lifestyle immersion studies. 

Most common use cases for qualitative research:  

  • New product concept analysis 
  • Attitude and usage studies 
  • Positioning and competitive analysis 
  • Product satisfaction research 
  • Advertising effectiveness 

But most market researchers turn to quantitative data first.  

Researchers prefer quantitative data over qualitative for every market research task, and twice as many say quantitative data plays a key role in their businesses’ decision making.  

 Most companies highly value quantitative research, but the same isn’t true of qualitative studies. More than half of the researchers we surveyed say their companies use quantitative data to influence most of their business decisions, but only one-quarter say the same about qualitative data.  

Most market researchers think quantitative research can handle almost any use case but see clear limitations to qualitative research. At least 41% of the researchers we surveyed use quantitative data for every use case we asked about; no more than 44% of them use qualitative data for any use case.  

Greater trust and greater mindshare leads to greater usage. More than half the researchers we surveyed say they run quantitative studies at least once each month. By comparison, only one-third field qualitative research at least monthly. 

Market Researchers Are Warming to the Advantages of Digital Qualitative Studies 

In an industry with long tenures — and where practitioners are saddled with mundane tasks — it’s no surprise that researchers are slow to accept new technologies and methodologies. But digital qualitative research is starting to break through this resistance. While some market researchers still don’t field digital qualitative studies, most understand the value they provide.  

Benefits of digital qualitative research:  

  • Speed 
  • Timeliness 
  • Cost 
  • Efficiency 
  • Larger sample 
  • Higher quality sample 

Digital tools are breaking down the pre-existing barriers to running qualitative research and increasing its usage. Almost half of those we surveyed reported they’re using more digital qualitative than last year, and most plan to further increase their usage in the future. Most interesting of all, next-generation researchers (those with less than six years of experience), who’ve been using digital tools from the start, have turned into qualitative’s biggest fans. 

So, What’s Next? 

Before Covid-19 changed everything, the advantages of digital were already beginning to drive greater adoption of qualitative research overall. A new wave of market researchers looking to prove their value by introducing new and improved methods into their organizations have already been relying on digital research platforms to meet their goals. 

To learn more about how digital qualitative research is gaining a foothold in the industry, read the full report