Once upon a time, when most market research projects took three to six months to complete, we would often sandwich large quantitative studies between two slices of qualitative research. First, we would do focus groups to understand the language of the customer and to learn their attitudes and behaviors in their own words. Then we would incorporate that language and those insights into a structured questionnaire, which we would field to hundreds or thousands of prospects and customers. Finally, we would review some of the findings, or flesh out some areas where we didn’t have color commentary, with a last focus group.

With today’s tight timelines and even tighter budgets, many full-service researchers have gone on the Atkins diet: no carbs, no qual. Their study is just what they consider the meat: the quantitative research.

A questionnaire is designed to cover new insights, but that gets much harder to do when all it does is encode your current understanding of the market. Survey instruments that are written solely from desk research often fail to adequately capture many aspects of the market being studied: how clients talk, how they are really using products in the market, what their concerns actually are—rather than what they are assumed to be. Garbage In, Garbage Out, as a questionnaire out of sync with the target market ends up skewing the results.

Just like the carb conscious swap white bread for flatbreads, the budget conscious can save on qualitative research. Rather than flying key decision makers to each group, live videostream the groups instead. Or, if a focus group is off the table, use online or mobile qualitative research to uncover initial insights about the market.

When the 4th Earl of Sandwich invented his eponymous meal, it was so that his hands wouldn’t get greasy while eating at the gambling table. Too many quant researchers are taking a gamble when they fail to include qualitative research in their study designs.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.