Qualitative marketing research involves a natural or observational examination of the philosophies that govern consumer behavior. The direction and framework of the research is often revised as new information is gained, allowing the researcher to evaluate issues and subjects in an in-depth manner. The quality of the research produced is heavily dependent on the skills of the researcher and is influenced by researcher bias.
Qualitative marketing researchers collect data ranging from focus group, case study, participation observation, innovation game and individual depth interview.
The focus group is marketing research technique for qualitative data that involves a small group of people (6–10) that share a common set characteristics (demographics, attitudes, etc.) and participate in a discussion of predetermined topics led by a moderator. There are opportunities to conduct focus groups with the use of focus group software. There are many types of focus group as well, but they always involve discussion among the group(s). The problem of the focus group is the issue of observer dependency: the results obtained are influenced by the researcher or his own reading of the group’s discussion, raising questions of validity. Non-verbal cues, which may contradict the views participants articulate, are important and can easily be missed if the researcher is not familiar with visual cues, body language and other non verbal cues.
Qualitative case study
Qualitative case study methodology provides tools for researchers to study complex phenomena within their contexts. Because it only studies one case, so it is very up-close, in-depth. It contains high levels of internal validity (the extent to which one is able to say that no other variables except the one being studied caused the result), but the external validity is low. Customer behaviour is a good example for qualitative market research.
Participation observation is watching participants’ behavior in real world settings without trying to manipulate their actions. This method is high in external validity but low in internal validity.
Innovation game refers to a form of primary market research developed by Luke Hohmann where customers play a set of directed games as a means of generating feedback about a product or service. A facilitator explains the game(s) to be played and controls the paces, monitors the participants’ levels and manages the time. There are many types of innovation games, such as 20/20 vision, me and my shadow, and buy a feature.
Individual depth interviews
In-depth interviews, also called IDIs, have been an integral component of market research since its inception in the 1920s. This method is useful when you want detailed information about a person’s thoughts and behaviors or want to explore new issues in depth. One can get unique points from each respondent, and their answers will not be influenced by other people as in a focus group. In-depth interviews are held one-on-one between the respondent and the interview via a telephone, conducted in person, or through an online platform (increasingly common).
The primary advantage of in-depth interviews is the amount of detailed information provided as compared to other data collection methods, such as surveys. Another advantage is reaching respondents that are geographically dispersed, which cannot occur in a focus group. This method is often used to refine future research or provide context to future studies. The primary disadvantage of in-depth interviews is the time to conduct, transcribe, and analyze. As such, this method could have higher costs associated with it than other methods. 
Qualitative market research is often part of survey methodology, including telephone surveys and consumer satisfaction surveys. We apply the qualitative market research when:
- New product idea generation and development
- Investigating current or potential product/service/brand positioning and marketing strategy
- Strengths and weaknesses of products/brands
- Understanding dynamics of purchase decision dynamics
- Studying reactions to advertising and public relations campaigns, other marketing communications, graphic identity/branding, package design, etc.
- Exploring market segments, such as demographic and customer groups
- Assessing the usability of websites or other interactive products or services
- Understanding perceptions of a company, brand, category and product
Typical general procedure
- Setting the question
- Deciding the objectives
- Planning research design
- Select data collection techniques
- Sample design
- Data collection
- Do the report
- More detailed and in-depth questions
- Reduced cost, since the scale of this kind of research is small
- Discovering the “why” behind certain behaviors
- Quick turnaround: the direction of the research can be changed easily
- Issues on confidentiality and anonymity can pose problems during presentation of findings.
- If researcher does not have enough skills such as communication skill, the quality of research is likely to be low.
- The sample size is relatively small, the result may not be very accurate.
- Qualitative research produces large amounts of data which requires a tremendous amount of work and labor on the part of the researcher.
Vs. quantitative marketing research
Qualitative research is usually aimed to have an inside look about opinions or motivations, while quantitative research uses data to simplify the result.
Qualitative research usually has a smaller sample size than quantitative research due to the complexity of its data.
Qualitative research usually uses unstructured or semi-structured techniques to collect data, e.g. individual depth interviews or group discussions, while quantitative research only uses structured techniques such as online questionnaires, on-street or telephone interviews.
The outcomes of qualitative marketing research are usually conclusive and cannot be used to make generalizations about the population of interest, instead developing an initial understanding and sound base for further decision making. The findings of quantitative marketing research are conclusive and usually descriptive in nature.
Coding is an interpretive technique that both organizes the data and provides a means to introduce the interpretations of it into certain quantitative methods.
Cross tabulation divides raw data into subgroups, showing how each dependent variable changes when represented in each subgroup. This is typically the most used data analysis tool due to its ability to clarify how data variables relate to each other.
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Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder of TBIL.co STATX Fund.