Customer segmentation 101 Learn the tricks of the trade

Qualitative and quantitative are widely used research methods that act as powerful sources of insight for marketers.

Generally speaking, qualitative research explores what people think, feel and do while quantitative gives a measure of how many people think, feel or behave in a certain way.

One is typically based on the opinions and thoughts of a small sample; the other is normally based on the reported behaviours of a much larger and representative sample.

Qualitative vs. quantitative research: how do they fare?

There are a number of pros and cons for using both methods. Qualitative research generally draws from sources such as one-on-one interviews, focus groups and discussion forums.

This can help you generate first-hand insight uncovering a customer’s perception of your value proposition, for example.

Quantitative research can call on surveys or analytics to quantify consumer behaviors, perceptions, attitudes and interests, giving you the hard numbers needed to back your ideas or theories.

Qualitative research pros:

  • It provides depth and detail: Analyzing thoughts, feelings and behaviors to explore the ‘why’.
  • It encourages discussionWhen people expand on why they feel or act a certain way, it can introduce new topic areas not previously considered.
  • It allows for more flexibilityQuestioning can adapt in real-time to the quality and nature of information being gathered.

Qualitative research cons:

  • Small sample sizes: This method is more in-depth and therefore more time consuming and resource intensive, meaning fewer people are surveyed.
  • More difficult to generalize: With a smaller survey sample it’s difficult to generalize the results.
  • Relies on skilled researchers: The quality of the responses is largely dependent on the skill of the researchers carrying out interviews or conducting focus groups.
  • Lack of anonymity: There are some topics that respondents are more willing or comfortable responding to via anonymous quant surveys than in one-or-one interviews or discussion groups.

Quantitative research pros:

  • Larger sample: A broader study can be made, involving more subjects and enabling more generalization of results.
  • Objectivity and accuracy: Few variables are involved as data relates to close-ended information.
  • Faster and easier: Data collection can be automated via digital or mobile surveys, allowing thousands of interviews to take place at the same time across multiple countries.
  • More cost effective: The cost of someone participating in a quant survey is typically far less than in a qual interview.

Quantitative research cons:

  • Less detail: Results are based on numerical responses and therefore most will not offer much insight into thoughts and behaviors, whereby lacking context. It’s possible to include open-end answers but these rely on respondents understanding the nature of the question being asked, and being willing to spend time completing them.
  • Artificiality: Research can be carried out in an unnatural environment so that control can be applied, meaning results might differ to ‘real world’ findings.
  • Limiting: Pre-set answers might mask how people really behave or think, urging them to select an answer that may not reflect their true feelings.

Bringing the two together can be potent

Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses, which is why combining the two methods (often referred to as mixed methods research) can greatly improve the quality and accuracy of your findings, adding both breadth and depth.

The advantages of combining data:

  • Enriching: Using qualitative data to identify issues or obtain information on variables not found in quantitative surveys.
  • Examining: Generating hypotheses from qualitative research that can be tested by taking a quantitative approach.
  • Explaining: Using qualitative data to better understand unexpected results from quantitative data.

How a combined approach can generate a results-driven campaign

Successfully combining both data methods requires planning. Like any successful data analysis, finding the right answers relies on asking the right questions, and these rely on first identifying your key business goals.

For companies looking to drive campaigns focused on ROI, quantitative trafficking of stats such as unique website visitors, dwell time, social shares, cost per lead and sales numbers are key, while qualitative information relating to how customers feel about their experience is vital.

Such intelligence enables brands to gain a deep understanding of how well their campaign is working and, critically, why.

Using qualitative research to gather actionable data

The key to answering strategic business questions through research lies in the ability to interrogate information to gather the most actionable insight.

Qualitative analytics can provide a brand with answers around why a customer bought a certain product or service and what their end-to-end experience was like.

These findings provide clear data that can be actioned, enabling brands to elevate positives and address any negatives.

If a customer chose your brand because your on-site reviews reinforced the ease-of-use of the product, for example, this is a finding that could be promoted in your marketing, highlighting a clear differentiator between you and your rivals.

Using quantitative research to gather actionable data

Quantitative analytics, on the other hand, can provide specific answers relating to how the purchase journey looks, enabling brands to spot any areas that are causing issues and to highlight the touchpoints that matter.

For example, if a high percentage of buyers are dropping off on a certain page, or abandoning their basket at a common stage, marketers can address this promptly, redesigning the page or making the transaction process faster.

Combining forces to complete the picture

This last example also highlights where qualitative and quantitative research can be combined to great effect. While quantitative data might highlight a problem with basket abandonment, brands may still be unsure as to why consumers are dropping off.

Is it the sluggishness of the page, the confused information about payment options, or poor page design making the CTA hard to find?

Combining the hard numbers with the ‘why’ gives brands a clear idea of where the problems lie and how best to action them.

Deep insight giving a competitive edge

Combined research can be used in numerous ways depending on a brand’s business objectives.

For example, data might reveal that over 70s with disposable income and an interest in technology would buy more devices if the product designs accounted for failing eyesight and inhibited manual dexterity.  

Such insights could open up a whole new audience, and product category, giving brands more of a competitive edge.

Meeting the personalized future

Qualitative and quantitative research methods have clear strengths and weaknesses, and different roles to play. Marrying the two together can be a powerful move, particularly as consumer demand for personalization continues to rise.

To meet this demand, more and more brands and marketers are turning to audience profiling data, analyzing audience behaviors and perceptions on a massive scale, to tailor their activity to their consumers.

By combining qualitative personas with quantitative data, you can identify and define your audiences in as much detail as possible, understanding how, where and when to reach them for maximum impact.

Next level segmentation

Written by

Jason is Chief Research Officer at GWI. He's the main man who leads our global team of analysts, delivering world-renowned research. He's an in-demand data junkie who you might see popping up on your telly screens every so often to show you what's actually happening in the lives of consumers.

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