Monday, March 2, 2009

Qualitative Research Underdone?

Qualitative research has certainly made its own way into the domain of market research. It is seen as a robust and vibrant methodology which underpins a quantitative approach to consumer trends.
My understandings of qualitative research come from nine years perfecting the craft within academia – producing a set of rules for qualitative understandings of interactions within the digital field. Some people call this ‘Virtual Ethnography’ and while I have also used this phrase to espouse my skills – I am not sure that this is the correct name for the discipline (but that is another blog post all together).
For market research qualitative methods presents an altruistic approach to consumer data. I say altruistic it is seen as a poor cousin to numbers which are perceived as more truthful and closer to the trends and movements of brands and consumers. (I have nothing against numbers by the way.) It is often used to ‘back up’ inconsistencies in statistical data and offers itself as a saviour in the face of graphs which splash red all over the research findings. It also provides the consumer ‘verbatims’ to back up quant survey data and make the report more consumer savvy.
What must be said is that qualitative analysis is a strict and often misunderstood analytic tool. Qualitative methods are something beyond the focus group and in-depth interview – it is a method which allows researchers into the underlying context of any situation from the consumers’ perspective. What does their world look like and what assumptions are being made about their current motives and perceptions? There is a distinctive difference between data collection – which can be done by almost anyone and data analysis – which needs to embed itself in theory and application to be analytically critical of any research subject. With this in mind qualitative methodologies are only as good as the people behind the analysis, as is the case with quantitative methods. If we understand this relationship to be true, then we also must admit that qualitative methods must be as strong as its quantitative partner – and see that they can be intertwined in a symbiotic relationship to gather the most relevant information on any given topic.