Applications of Qualitative Research

Qual is used mainly for exploratory, explanatory or diagnostic, and evaluative or tactical purposes. From a marketing standpoint, it encompasses a wide range of applications, of which the most common include:

  • Product development
  • Creative development
  • Packaging development
  • Motivational research
  • Semiotics
  • Usage and attitudinal research


Qual is the appropriate method to employ when confronted with the unexplored or the unknown. It is used for exploring opportunities and ideas for products, advertising or brand positioning. The need for qual arises when developing new products, entering new markets or when a market undergoes change. In these scenarios qual can provide insights pertaining to wide range of unknowns, including:

  • Understanding of usage, attitudes and behaviours;
  • Knowledge of product benefits and attributes, and an understanding of what differentiates brands;
  • Understanding of how consumers relate to brands;
  • Understanding of their purchase decision making process.

Explanatory or Diagnostic

Qual helps to examine and investigate issues. For instance, if the sales of a new product are not meeting expectations, qual will answer why consumers are unwilling to try the product. Similarly, if a new product is experiencing low repeat purchase, or if an established product is experiencing a decline, qual will diagnose the reasons, including emotive ones, as to why lapsed users stopped buying.

Qual is also extensively used to explore social issues. One example that comes to mind is its use to explain the underlying reasons for declining birth rate. The subjective and emotive responses that qual is able to unearth, help diagnose and explain the real reasons why some couples do not want to have babies.


Qual is often used to assess whether or not a proposed marketing initiative will satisfy its intended objectives. It may also be used to evaluate a set of alternatives. For example, evaluation of product concepts, communication themes or advertisements and pack designs.

Qual with Quant Research

Qualitative research complements quantitative research - applications of qual

Exhibit 4.4   Qualitative research complements quantitative research.

Qual complements quant by addressing different aspects of a business issue (Exhibit 4.4). It may be conducted pre- or post-quant. It serves to screen products/advertising concepts, identify important dimensions and formulate key hypotheses for quantification. It may be used simply for piloting questionnaires to test comprehension, language and flow. Qual can also explore in more depth some issue or problem emerging from quantitative data.

Product Development

Qual is of primary importance in the development of new products. It is widely deployed to assist marketers in spotting gaps and trends in the market, in the ideation process, in the conceptualization and filtering of new product concepts, and in the processes leading to the development and launch of products.

You can use qual to attain an in-depth understanding of consumers’ attitudes, usage and behaviours, and their aspirations and motivations. This will provide an understanding of the factors that drive brand choice, help you spot opportunities, and trigger ideas for new products.

Workshops engaging target consumers in group discussions are widely used for concept development purposes. These concept development workshops serve to explore, develop and improve concepts via an iterative process where consumers assess a number of concepts in detail, and prioritize those deserving further development. They provide for an improved understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the concepts and serve to guide further development.

Associates from marketing, market research, R&D, and sales are encouraged to participate in the process. Marketers interact with consumers, introduce them to the product ideas and engage with them to flesh out the new product concepts.

Once the product concept is finalized, quant research methods such as simulated test markets (STMs) provide for a volumetric estimate of the potential of a new concept or product. STM methods such as BASES are discussed in some detail in Chapter Product Validation.

A key step in the new product’s development is to optimize the elements of marketing mix, often by means of a marketing mix workshop. Depending on the nature of the product, the scope of a marketing mix workshop will include some of the following elements — product naming, product usage, advertising and brand positioning, and packaging. It is possible also to broadly gauge how receptive respondents are to the product’s price, though as far as price setting is concerned quantitative methods are more appropriate.

Research methods relating to new product development including ideation, concept development, and development of marketing mix are discussed in more detail in Chapter New Product Development.

Creative Development

Qual can provide an understanding of how brands are positioned, their image, their personality, as well as the extent to which they are “stretched”.

Creative development research is used to chalk out new directions in advertising or NPD. It helps advertisers refine adcepts and verify execution details. It is also used in conjunction with quant for screening new advertising, product or positioning concepts, or for copy testing purposes.

Motivational Research, Semiotics, Usage & Attitude

Motivational research, semiotics and usage & attitude (U&A) studies are qualitative research methods that support the development of marketing and brand strategy. They directly feed into key marketing processes including insight generation, product development, positioning, development of brand key, and packaging and creative development.

Motivational research explains the underlying needs that drive behaviour. It focusses on identifying the emotional needs that are central to relationship between the brand and its consumers. Depth interviewing is the most effective and efficient mode for conducting motivational research. It relies heavily on the skills of the researcher to build empathy and create an atmosphere where the respondent feels uninhibited to express thoughts and emotions.

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols, and how they are used in different cultures. It allows us to understand the implicit meaning these codes communicate, in the culture and context within which they are used. For example, depending on the context, the colour red signifies distinctly different connotations. It signifies luck and prosperity in the Chinese culture, love or anger in the West, losses in a financial statement, and danger or caution on the roads.

U&A studies provide information about consumer attitudes and usage behaviours for the category and brands. It is important that the scope of these studies, which may be quite wide, is aligned with business objectives. The considerable amount of information that is contained in these studies can be used to segment consumers on the basis of their usage as well as their opinions, and to identify growth opportunities for brands within the various segments. The information collected includes details of usage dynamics — frequency of use, quantity bought, reasons and occasions for use, brand awareness and usage, demographic of different types of users, attitudes to category or life in general, functional and emotional needs driving category purchase, shopping behaviour, satisfaction/dissatisfaction with category, and issues/problems and their resolution.

Qual followed by quant research is the typical approach for conducting U&A studies. The qual phase usually involves depth interviews/group discussions to explore and identify the issues that need to be tracked in the quant phase.

Packaging Development

Qualitative research for developing and evaluating packaging helps explore new pack designs in terms of appeal and communication. At the early stages of the packaging development, it is essential to understand how effectively the packaging is communicating what the brand stands for — the proposition, brand personality, the key symbols, identifiers and icons.

Packaging development is covered in more detail in Chapter Packaging.

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