Would you ignore 96% of respondents and base a major strategic move on a single open-ended comment from one person?
What if that comment was so unexpected and profound that it stopped your entire team in their tracks and instantly made them rethink how they could present a new product concept to consumers?
That, my friends, is the power of qualitative research. It is also the experience of a recent client who was beyond thrilled with the unexpected finding.
Power is not without its drawbacks, though. As a researcher, I can’t count the number of times clients have asked if we could quantify qualitative data.
The allure of numbers
I get it. The numbers in quantitative research feel safe. If a large percentage of people have similar thoughts, then acting on that information must be a sure bet. Right? Probably, but not always.
Numbers have a way of coming across as logical and objectively true, but people are not those things. How many times have you taken a quantitative survey and none of the answers really applied?
I like product A, but …
I would be very likely to buy product A if …
If product A and product B are my only choices, then …
Since there is no opportunity to explain your answers, you have to choose a pre-set option that is mostly true or at least not wrong. For studies with a high number of respondents, that is perfectly fine. The numbers tend to balance themselves out, and researchers and clients can be comfortable with the results.
The fear of small numbers
Qualitative studies, on the other hand, involve a small number of respondents. After all, you can only conduct so many interviews. This smaller scale stresses some clients because they are not confident making business decisions based on the opinions of 20 or so people. Again, I get it.
But put numbers aside for a minute and think about the richness and depth that qual studies offer.
The qualitative interviews are conversational and give people the opportunity to explain their answers, however straightforward or convoluted they may be. As a result, you get nuanced responses that can reveal unexpected patterns.
I like product A, but it smells slightly medicinal.
I would be very likely to buy product A if it had a more pleasant smell.
If product A and product B are my only choices, then I choose B because it smells like a crisp mountain stream, which always makes me happy.
And suddenly you realize that smell, which wasn’t even on your radar, is a game changer. That a-ha realization can now direct your next business move.
A single comment
Which brings me back to the client I mentioned earlier. They were in the early stages of product development and hired The Olinger Group to do a concept study to determine:
Are people open to this innovative product idea?
How could they sell the product?
Most of the study responses matched what the client expected to hear. However, one response sparked a completely new and strategic approach. The client happily accepted our finding and went back to the boardroom to refine their plans for the new product.