How to Conduct Qualitative Market Research: A Complete Guide

Sergio Oliveri |
 08/29/22 |
8 min read

How to Conduct Qualitative Market Research: A Complete Guide

Understanding how people perceive your product, service, or brand has a huge impact on your business. It certainly impacts how much revenue you generate, so pinning this intel down should top your list of priorities!

There are two great market research approaches to keep brands informed: Qualitative and quantitative market research. While both have their place in business and there are situations where you could use either, we are focusing here on qualitative market research. Read on to see why.

What Is Qualitative Market Research?

Qualitative market research is an approach to data collection and interpretation that reports on the attributes in data, unlike quantitative market research that deals with magnitudes.

It helps the researcher understand consumer actions by analyzing their emotions, perceptions, and opinions through the words they use and behaviors they exhibit. It differs from quantitative market research in a number of ways:

  • Quantitative market research is reported as numbers, sizes, durations, etc.
  • Qualitative market research is used to understand the consumers’ internal states that contribute to external actions, and quantitative research tallies the actions.

The two approaches complement each other, the latter reporting on phenomena, the former shedding light into the cause of it.

Qualitative research explains behavior.

Qualitative research explains behavior.

Owing to the ability of qualitative market research to explain consumer behavior, it is often regarded as giving more detailed information. On the other hand, it can take a lot of time to get the information required, compared to the immediate availability of gathering quantitative data. Though, neither is a quick process without advanced AI-powered research tools supporting this collection!

To obtain the required depth of information, qualitative market research capitalizes on the open-ended question technique which is better at probing the subject’s mind. Since quantitative research does not seek explanations, it is fine with closed-ended questioning.

This difference leads to a weakness of qualitative market research––it can be plagued with subjectivity coming from the respondent, the researcher, or both. This is not an issue with quantitative research which deals with more solid, objective data.

All in all, the contest between the two approaches is unwinnable as each is suited to particular use cases where the other is not. Often, the research problem requires the use of both methods in stages. Let us see how qualitative market research contributes to the process.

Why Conduct Qualitative Research?

Let’s say you have determined how many sales you made in the last quarter, the number of units of each product sold, and the amount of money earned.

If you wanted to improve sales for the next quarter, the data you currently have only takes you as far as to tell you which of your target customer segments have room for growth. Meaning––you can see that there is something you haven’t gotten right yet.

But quantitative data cannot tell you what the thing is.

Using qualitative market research methods, you can understand your current performance and derive insights to move you forward.

For instance, using social listening, you can find conversations pertaining to your product to see what customers say to the world that they may not necessarily say to you. Same way with online reviews. With social media competitive analysis, you can see what your competitors are up to and be able to determine what impact their current actions have on your performance. Sentiment analysis gives you the general attitude of your target customer base towards your brand, a trending topic, or a competitor.

So, why should you conduct qualitative market research? Because it gives you clarity.

Rather than saying, “let’s keep pushing the product, it worked before” you can complement your experience with real insights. Consequently, the goals of the company are more clearly set since the strategy incorporates the consumers’ goals/desires as well.

Analyzing social media conversations can reveal consumer motivations.

Analyzing social media conversations can reveal consumer motivations.

How to Conduct Qualitative Market Research

A huge component of qualitative market research is direct interaction with the subjects (this is part of why it tends to be time-consuming). However, as we will see in the next section, there are methods that involve indirect observation of the subject. That said, the process itself doesn’t change – the essential steps remain. These are: Research design, sample selection, data analysis, and reporting.

Research design

The research process starts with the definition of the problem. Sometimes it’s clearly stated, but it may also be unclear in the moment. When it is not well understood, exploratory research is conducted. Otherwise, as the name implies, we’d go with specific research.

Qualitative research can be done with both exploratory and specific problems. Each seeks the meaning of why things are happening a certain way or to understand the experiences of the customer vs. empirical evidence, which is identified in quantitative research. That is, “What made you try our special burger?” vs. “Have you tried our special burger?”

The research design also involves selecting your data sources, acquiring the right tools, and the sequence of events. This is the strategy stage where you choose how every component of the study is going to integrate with the rest.


Sampling is when you to pick a target for the study. This is key as you don’t want to get the wrong or shallow data.

The sample is chosen based on the research problem.

  • If you want to find out how customers are making use of different features of a product, you will go ask customers – people that have actually completed a purchase.
  • On the other hand, if you want to know why website visits do not correspond to checkouts, you will find the data by analyzing people who showed intent – meaning, you will be particular about the stage of the purchase journey that they reached. This is a different sample.

And so on.

Your customer relationship management (CRM) software is a great tool to help with sample selection. You can also recruit people online by analyzing conversations to determine who is fit for your objective.

Of course, this would take forever if done manually, so it’s best done with a consumer and market research tool.

If your research problem demands it, you can also recruit people in person – while they are going to work, at the store, etc.––but the previous methods are preferable most of the time.

Data analysis

In qualitative research data analysis, you will be dealing with different types of data including text, visual, and audio. This may involve different forms of analysis.

  • Content analysis is a simple process of breaking down the subjects’ words or behaviors to classify and summarize.
  • Narrative analysis is more complex as it requires looking back at the data collected but taking into account the context in each case.
  • Discourse analysis may be applied to studies or stages where you applied indirect observation of natural conversation.
  • Grounded theory analysis starts with the analysis of a single case leading to the formulation of a theory that is to be tested by analyzing other cases. The most advanced form is framework analysis which breaks down the data in a series of steps.

In data analysis, you want to have all your data at a single location, even if you have used different methods and tools to gather it.

There are various data integration methods, some of which require you to move the data, others to copy it, while others allow you to see it from the same dashboard without having to pool it together.


In this stage, the information is represented in easily digestible formats and shared with the relevant people or stored for future use. Data reports should be accurate, to start with, and they should not be ambiguous or confusing. The information should be presented in an orderly fashion and the most relevant to the research problem prioritized.

Data visualization helps make for a “palatable” presentation.

It is an absolute necessity for capturing the attention of the users and making the insights memorable. Qualitative research data can be presented in network maps, word clouds, heat maps, pictorial illustrations, etc.


Storage is an important appendage to the reporting stage. It is necessary to have protocols in place guiding the storage and access of such information.

Data reports can be shared in a number of ways, including through downloading or registering or privileged access. Keeping the data secure requires investing in a robust storage solution such as the cloud, guarding against cyber criminals, and upholding safe data collection practices.

Qualitative Market Research Methods

Qualitative market research methods obtain the required information either directly by conversation with the respondents or indirectly by observing their behaviors (and conversations).

Internet and advanced technology plays an increasingly important part in qualitative market research. The traditional methods have been improved by being applied on the internet and incorporating better tools.

1. Focus groups

A focus group study reveals consumer preferences by observing them at close range. Now we level that up to online focus groups because it is much easier to recruit and manage the participants and process. The closeness of the researcher to the respondents can still be maintained as the process is conducted in real-time. And it can remove a level of unintentional facilitator bias too!

2. Interviews

Because interviewing requires a one-on-one conversation, it is arguably the most time-intensive method in qualitative market research. However, for that, it gives back a deep understanding of the interviewee. This may be especially suitable for a grounded theory analysis type of study where you get a complete picture of one subject and use the information in deeper exploration.

3. Social listening

Social listening is one of the indirect qualitative research methods – and the most powerful. Thanks to modern technology, you can answer your research problem, or at least understand the issue, from simply analyzing what target consumers are saying on the social web. And, you can do this at very large scale if you have the right tools.

4. Ethnography

In light of globalization, ethnography helps your business understand consumers from different cultures. This cannot be left to chance, especially if you serve people from diverse backgrounds. With modern technology, this method is upgraded into netnography, where the process is done over the internet using various tools.

Qualitative Market Research Examples

We have two examples of qualitative market research and you can find more on our Case Studies page.

  1. Seeking to understand the burgeoning flexitarian lifestyle, we used social media monitoring to capture the trend and offer insight around how to stand out in the market by applying what consumers were saying. Have a look.
Conversation clusters around the trend.

Conversation clusters around the trend.

  1. We explored the CPG industry to show how players in the field are using AI-enabled consumer intelligence to predict purchase intent. Specifically, we delved into the evolving health food dialogue and offered pointers on how brands can secure success in this space.

The CPG conversation on social media.

Applications of Qualitative Market Research

There are innumerable applications of qualitative market research data, even at the very beginning of your company’s idea development. Here are three popular applications in business today.

1. Improving customer experience

Through qualitative market research you can hear from the customers themselves, revealing what makes them tick, as well as what drives them away.

2. Creating incentive programs

Incentive programs often fail because the offer is not really an incentive. You can use qualitative market research to see what consumers value and use it to create meaningful offers that improve your product sales.

3. Testing market strategies

If you don’t want to over-rely on your experience and intuition, and you shouldn’t––qualitative market research will justify your decisions and instill confidence in your team. It also offers trackable metrics to measure against and that’s huge.

Overall, qualitative market research helps you think of different ways to approach, promote and grow your business. It has become increasingly important to gather those elusive insights that are often lost to the disparity of data sources and shallow analyses. It’s a differentiator, in fact.

When you’re ready to access and gather the most essential consumer and market research from all over the internet and upload/integrate manual and legacy data to be analyzed all in one place, reach out for a demo!

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