by Tish Lashua
Have you seen the image above? It’s striking.
Two bodies of water that appear to be distinct, not mixing. But are they truly separate?
Oceanologists have proven these two bodies of water actually mix below the surface. A similar phenomenon has emerged for qualitative and quantitative research: what once appeared separate, blends together as one driving current. As marketing researchers, we integrate qualitative and quantitative techniques to dive deeper to uncover the insights hidden below the surface.
The opportunity to discover these insights propels that current, integrating qual and quant more than ever. And why do researchers keep diving below the surface? Here are four critical advantages of merging qualitative and quantitative:
1. Just out of sight, qual and quant techniques come together.
Insights are messy. They don’t exist in qualitative or quantitative research, they exist in humans. As researchers, we’re tasked with using any approach to dive into those insights. Cross-technique pollination has empowered researchers to adapt approaches outside of traditional qual/quant boundaries. These techniques blend below the surface and result in greater insight.
An illustration: We know that consumer use tests provide helpful information such as overall ratings, perceptions of performance, likes and dislikes, etc. But what if we could unlock the emotion behind product use? Image association inspires consumers to think of words that they might not have thought of just from using the product. For example, when asked about a personal hygiene product, a consumer selected a picture of a duck entering a pond alone. She used this picture to describe how she felt like she was “waddling” when using the product and felt as if everyone was staring at her. She felt isolated, on display, and uncomfortable. This contextual learning took insight to a deeper, richer level. The use test shed light on product issues, but the image association exercise illuminated emotions tied to product use. While image association is a foundational tool in qualitative, it brought new life to quantitative research.
2. Strong currents integrate separate bodies of water – faster.
Every day we are pushed to make decisions faster. In the opening example, oceanologists learned stronger currents mix water more quickly. Similarly, we now see that research phases done together yield faster consumer decisions. It’s incredibly powerful when research questions and paths can be adapted in-the-moment to emerging (and even unanticipated) insights. A well-planned, blended approach can lead the research team to answers and action in less time than a multi-phase, sequential learning plan.
An illustration: It’s the challenge of a research career: how do we complete a typical eight-month learning plan in six weeks? This was a real ask presented to our team by a global consumer goods company. Our answer was Accelerated Learning Labs®, a blend of the best from qualitative and quantitative. We surveyed a medium-sized sample of consumers, adapted questions along the way, and captured in-depth consumer input qualitatively. Using Accelerated Learning Labs® provided portfolio architecture answers in a fraction of the time of a typical research learning plan.
3. As two waters come together, no resource is wasted.
As we know, many consumers are busy and struggle to find the time to provide feedback, but as researchers it is our job to understand what consumers are thinking, feeling, saying, and doing. Recently, we have started to see elements of projective techniques (which have typically lived in qualitative) pop up in quantitative research. But why is that? Well, leveraging elements from both approaches can be more fun and engaging for respondents (and researchers). If a respondent is more engaged and at ease, they are more likely to freely share their opinions. It also gives consumers a new way to express their thoughts. This sharing empowers research teams to understand, relate and WANT to do something about the insights uncovered. Beyond projectives, we continue leveraging a variety of methods that get consumers more excited about sharing their opinion.
An illustration: So many product development areas, so little time. A consumer health and wellness company needed to prioritize dozens of product improvement ideas. A typical concept screen of this size would be costly and time consuming, however a prediction market was able to extract the most value from the time we had with respondents in a fun, engaging, and gamified way. As an added bonus, we had sharper results in less time and at less cost than traditional concept tests. In this scenario, a clear area for further investment was prioritized faster, making the most of the research investment.
4. Once blended, the strength of one current propels business decisions forward.
Real consumer knowledge flows together from one interaction to the next and this kind of understanding goes beyond findings in a research report. It’s easy to dismiss one study, but when multiple pieces of research yield the same feedback, it’s hard to deny we are on the brink of unlocking a truth. Engaging the same team throughout the research process propels this truth forward. When a team lives the research, they absorb it and gain greater insight and knowledge of the market. The more brand teams, and even creative agencies, are involved in this process, the more insight can be carried forward in other endeavors.
An illustration: In an effort to reimagine its brand positioning, a consumer goods manufacturer engaged its creative agency, brand team, and research team in all aspects of the project – from the initial kick-off to results activation sessions. The team articulated objectives together and pressure-tested their thoughts in qualitative format. Then, the team refined and repositioned their thoughts for final consumer input in a quantitative format. The opportunity to weave the consumer voice from one conversation to the next prepared the team to shift seamlessly from “what,” to “so what,” to “now what.” Two years later, this positioning work continues to be a foundational conversation within the client organization because the integrated research team lived the work as exactly that … a team.
The illusion of two separate bodies of water may be striking, but the strong current underneath the surface, mixing them together, is truly powerful. In research, consumer insight is truly powerful and to capture meaningful insights, we too must dive below the surface to harness the power of blending qualitative and quantitative research. We find that, just out of sight, these bodies of research are mixing in ways we’ve not seen before. Strong currents churn them together faster. The two bodies merge, and nothing of either is lost. Once blended, the now unified body of water moves forward in a single current. We’re better researchers when we see beyond the illusion of separateness and dive below the surface for deeper insight.
As a member of the Decision Sciences team at Burke, Inc., Tish Lashua collaborates with clients to uncover consumer insights and to socialize those insights in their organizations, driving better business decisions.