We know that you’re a quantitative market researcher. But we’re hoping you can step back from your personal preference and answer our important question. We now appreciate the value of market research and wish to provide a budget for a market research program that our newly hired market research director will prepare. As one of our guidelines to her, we’d like to learn from you what you regard is better between quantitative and qualitative market research. We’ve read your User-Friendly Marketing Research book. We appreciate your idea that we should do both according to the research usage purpose we have in mind. But please help us set our research priorities. We wish to set our research priorities according to which of the two research projects is better. Which one is usually more useful? Answer:
It’s most likely that you already know my answer to your question. This is because you mentioned that you appreciated my suggestion that you should do both quantitative and qualitative market research according to the research usage purpose you have in mind. That’s the key consideration in resolving the issue underlying your question. In several different ways, I’ve been asked your question. And I’ve answered in terms of that “key consideration of the research usage purpose.” I suppose the reason why the question kept coming back is that I’ve not explained clearly enough what exactly that “research usage purpose” is about.
Let me take a specific case to be clearer. An explanation gets clearer as it gets more specific. The case I wish to take up is pH Care. There were two critical research projects supporting its market introduction. The first critical market research project was a quantitative market research. It sought to identify the most revenue productive market segment to target for pH Care. It makes a lot of difference to fully understand the design of this market research project. At that time (1999), I was writing the first draft of my Segmenting book. I drew the basis for designing the market segmenting research project from the book’s unique market segmenting model. That model endorses the practice of starting the segmentation process with known market data like the socio-economic classification and to profile the identified SEC segments so that a decision on an initial target segment can be made. Then the chosen target segment has to be analyzed in terms of its self-segmenting behavior.
It is this second layer segmenting that was critical. The behavioral segments were the product category users versus the non-users. According to A.C. Nielsen, in the country’s population of menstruating women, the users of commercial feminine wash was 18 percent. The non-users were 82 percent. So in population size, the non-users were four times the user segment. It became obvious which market segment was the more revenue productive. That was the simple quantitative market research. Next came the issue of brand positioning.
Essentially the positioning issue asks: “How can pH Care persuade a category non-user to become a user?” It was decided that this called for a qualitative research because it was a process issue. The first requirement was to find out what a non-user is using for feminine hygiene. The FGDs (Focus Group Discussions) and the IDIs (In-Depth-Interviews) uncovered several items but the most mentioned were “soap and water.”
Therefore, soap and water were the non-user consumer-defined competitor of the new but yet to be formulated feminine wash. After this research, what must next be found were the areas of dissatisfaction and disappointments experienced by the non-users in using soap and water for feminine hygiene. What are uncovered here constituted the “gaps” that the new feminine wash must fill so that the nonuser can be persuaded to replace her soap and water with the new feminine wash, the pH Care.
The next step was for the Product Development group to develop the product prototype that would embody those gap-filling values. These were what the qualitative research had to uncover and did effectively uncover. So let’s now ask your question. Which market research did more for the unprecedented market entry success of pH Care? The quantitative market segmenting research or the qualitative positioning research? The answer is simple. Which was the more revenue productive? If accounting does not have the information about revenue productivity, then we should change the question to this: “To the top management people, which was more important? Market segmenting or brand positioning?” My 2010 Segmenting book showed with several cases that:
“The ultimate source of growing a business are market segments. Products or new products are secondary sources. Even if you have the most interesting or innovative product, if there is no market segment in need of it, it will have zero revenue.” The two research projects have to be undertaken. However, the most significant for revenue productivity was the quantitative research. But this is so in the case of pH Care. Is this true for all cases? Let’s just consider the case where the purpose is not at all different but the same. And your question is asked:
“For the purpose of segmenting, is quantitative market research better than qualitative market research?” Or “For the purpose of positioning, is quantitative market research better than qualitative?” If I were to go over my 41 years of survey based research experience, what I find is that it is when the purpose is the same that both quantitative research and qualitative market research have to be done. The issue is not therefore if one is better than the other. Often the debate is with the question of which should be undertaken first and which should come next. If you raise this question, I will take it up. But that would have to be in the next or another column. Keep your questions coming. Send them to me at