Both the primary and the secondary data we have discussed previously have to be generated in the first place. Research methods can generally be divided into qualitative methods and quantitative methods.
In simple terms, qualitative market research methods are used to explore the attitudes and behaviours of customers; quantitative methods apply numerical values to measure aspects of customer behaviours and attitudes.
Qualitative methods are of most use when you want to discover those attitudes, beliefs and behaviours which people would have difficulty expressing in precise terms. Qualitative data is generally more impressionistic than quantitative data, and so its usefulness very much depends on the skill of the researcher in gathering, analysing and reporting it.
If the hotel garden conversation we considered earlier had been recorded, it would have been a good example of the collection of qualitative data. Quantitative methods, on the other hand, begin with the premise that aspects of human behaviour, attitudes and the like can be measured. It is also assumed that the numerical values associated with a respondent's answers can be analysed using statistical tools.
Some quantitative methods assume that people can, and will, respond honestly and accurately to questions in the form of a questionnaire, an interview or a test. Quantitative techniques may be very expensive if a large number of people have to participate in order to provide sufficient statistical significance.
If the hotel in our example provided a short questionnaire to a sample of its customers over a specified period, in which customers were required to rate their satisfaction with various aspects of the hotel's service, that would be quantitative research.
Some researchers like to think of qualitative studies as a preparation for quantitative studies. In this case, the results of the qualitative research are used to help identify exactly what should be measured by the quantitative research. However, both types of research can be useful in their own right. In general, qualitative techniques involve the gathering and analysis of non-numerical data.
Focus groups are especially useful in developing new, or modifying existing, services or products. They are used in most industries and sectors. Small groups of individuals (5 to 12 paid members) are chosen to represent the characteristics of customers In a particular market segment. Their discussion is led by a moderator, often a psychologist or trained specialist, and is usually recorded on video or audio tape.
Its main points are drawn out by the moderator from a transcript of the discussion, and this serves as the basis for the report to the managers who make the subsequent decisions.
Focus groups can be constituted quickly, and they are normally relatively inexpensive. Multiple focus groups, each representing a single important market segment, cost more.
Group members can give deep, rich, subtle and well-developed opinions about the topic of the research, enhanced by the debate which occurs between them. Another advantage of focus groups is that the decision maker can either watch the group through a one-way mirror as it meets, or replay the group session later on tape. This helps the decision maker to stay in touch with consumers in a way which might not otherwise be possible.
Focus groups can be run in a more informal manner to help get a feel for an issue or a problem. In this case, a good facilitator and a notebook may be all that is required.
The major disadvantages of focus groups are that highly skilled, and therefore expensive, moderators may be required to run them; good sampling is difficult to arrange; moderators may introduce bias into the process; and group dynamics are very likely to enter into the process, thus leading the group to express views that the individuals would not express on their own. As with all qualitative techniques, focus groups do not produce statistically significant results.
Next week we will look at the role of in-depth interviews in qualitative research methods...
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