In 2019, technologies such as artificial intelligence will continue to gain influence in marketing and market research.  But fear not, a super computer named HAL* will not terminate research as we know it. 

AI is here and it will continue to grow as a force, but AI is not the cure-all for everything insights and marketing-related. AI has its shortcomings in terms of understanding the underlying wants and needs that people cannot easily express, or that are not evident from data alone.  

A 2019 research trend that we will continue to see is the power of integrating qualitative and quantitative methodologies to fill in all the big gaps that AI simply cannot address. 

Bolstering quantitative data with qualitative understanding brings the best of both worlds to solve a problem. The result is more well-rounded insights. While quantitative approaches do a great job explaining what happened, qualitative approaches can provide more context and understanding about why it happened.  Using the two methods together further enables efficient analysis and effective reporting, providing richer insights and helping to inspire action. 

Including qualitative methods after a survey helps you dive deeper into topics identified in the quantitative study. In-context interviews and observations provide in-depth understanding within a natural setting. Techniques such as in-home interviews and shop-alongs provide multiple contexts for learning.

How a Quant Survey Spotted a Beverage Problem, and a Qual Shop-Along Helped Solve It

During a recent project to understand an emerging sector within a beverage category, a quantitative survey identified consumer confusion regarding usage occasion and product benefits.  To contextualize the confusion, we conducted qualitative shop-alongs. Here’s what we found:

Consumer confusion point #1: We noticed that the beverage sector was shelved in multiple locations throughout the store. Not just one or two, but six or more locations in each store. Competitive context infers usage occasion for a new product. For example, being shelved in a refrigerated case next to orange juice implied morning consumption.  But the new beverage was also on ambient shelves next to energy drinks, it was often next to sports drinks, soda, and even shelved by coffee. Being so dispersed throughout the store meant that consumers did not have a solid idea of when to use the product. 

Solution? The client decided to initially focus on three main locations to provide some clarity for consumers.  

Consumer confusion point #2: Additionally, confusion was influenced by various claims being made on the packaging. Consumers did not have a consistent idea of why to try the product.  Consumers would read the package but would not consistently take away any message because the packaging said too much. 

Solution? The client team decided to streamline the communication.  They focused on consistently communicating the single most important thing throughout all consumer touchpoints.  

How Quant Formed the Big Picture and Qual Filled In the Detailed Emotion

It is easier to uncover consumers’ emotional choices using qualitative methodologies.  Qualitative methods allow you to observe nonverbal communication, such as facial reactions and the respondents’ energy level.  Gaining this valuable information directly from the participant’s perspective can be key to understanding emotions. 

A great example of the emotional context provided by qualitative work occurred in a recent project we did for a small appliance manufacturer.  A quantitative A&U helped identify the relative strengths versus the competitive set, based on attributes.  However, many brands were close on key ratings.  It took a qualitative examination of the emotional drivers to flesh out what truly separated the manufacturer from their competition.  From the comfort of their home, consumers described how the product changed their health and their lives. The client saw consumers get moved almost to tears discussing how their children’s health was positively influenced by the client’s products.

Solution? Witnessing this strong emotional attachment that consumers had to their product led the client to increase their emotional advertising. Ultimately, qualitative methods generate rich detail and enable exploration of the emotions surrounding a specific topic. 

Important to the impact of marketing research is the ability for the results to inspire action. 

Qualitative approaches provide the real-world contextual examples that aid in the storytelling narrative of the report. Putting a human face to the insights via photos, videos and verbatim quotes brings the information to life and makes it relatable, shareable, and “sticky”.  When you combine data-centric, quant elements (e.g. graphs) with human-centric, qual elements (e.g. photos) you get a powerful story that people want to share. When we can get clients talking about their consumers, I mean really talking about their consumers, it’s exciting. The research lives beyond the report and becomes part of the culture.   

Imagine the power a marketer can achieve when combining a high degree of qualitative context plus supporting quantitative data – rich insights that inspire action, indeed!

While Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is an enjoyable movie, it does not accurately portray the market research universe in 2019.  While HAL was a dominant super computer with some control issues, humans were needed in the movie, and are still very much needed in real life. But as we know, humans do not always act in a rational way.  Humans will continue to be complex and therefore human investigation and inquiry will still be big in 2019.

For more predictions and observations, check out this previous post on 2018's Natural Foods Expo

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*The space ship’s sentient computer that kills most of the crew in 2001: A Space Odyssey