Marketing Research Methods: Qualitative vs. Quantitative

To put it simply, marketing research is the process of gathering relevant information to help solve a problem or identify an opportunity. While there are many complicated extensions to this definition, this is the core meaning.

The two main categories that we divide research techniques in to are qualitative and quantitative.


This approach is centred around an observational approach to what the customers or research subjects say or do. It has far less structure to it than the likes of quantitative methods.

Key examples of qualitative research include some observation techniques, focus groups (online included), neuromarketing and projective techniques such as word-association and sentence completion tests.

Benefits of this form of research are it gives the ability to generate new ideas, can help guide future (more structured) research, provide in-depth insights to a problem, view live reactions to new ideas and hear customers opinions first-hand.

Qualitative research can provide the early foundation for setting up more accurate quantitative research.

Each example comes with advantages and disadvantages, but when done correctly, can provide tremendous insights into the customer’s mind which can be the key to solving a problem or identifying an opportunity.


The most common form of this method is a structured list of questions with pre-determined options for selection. We all know this as a survey.

While quantitative methods can also include some observation techniques, the main focus will be placed on surveys to provide some depth.

Key examples of survey methods are the in-home, mall-intercept, telephone, online, drop-off, mail and face-to-face surveys. There are various options when looking to research using this method.

Benefits of quantitative research are determining customer behaviour, providing data for market segmentation, gain data to confirm customer opinions/perceptions and providing general data on a market and customer.

This research methods essentially provides the numbers to marketing research while still allowing specific targeting of who returns feedback in this method when done correctly.

So Which One?

There are a time and place for either or both methods depending on the information required. Large-scale surveys can involve significant cost, in this case, qualitative research should be done first to help guide and improve the accuracy of the quantitative methods.


Hooley, G, Piercy, N, Nicoulaud, B & Rudd, J 2017, Marketing Strategy & Competitive Positioning, 6th Ed., Pearson, Harlow, UK.


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