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8 Qualitative Market Research Methods For Your 2018 Projects

Qualitative data is hot!

How do I know? Because every week I talk to dozens of research and insights professionals while teaching Research Rockstar courses.  And the topic has been coming up far more often than usual over the past few months. To be more precise, I’m seeing it being raised by two primary categories of people:

  1. Professionals who are more from the quantitative side of market research, but they’re eager to expand into the qualitative area because of all the cool, new tools available.
  2. Professionals who have traditionally done focus groups or in-depth interviews, and now are seeking to expand their toolkit.

Now before I go too far, let me just set the record straight: I am not making this a “quantitative versus qualitative market research” debate. Both have value, and the lines between the two are increasingly blurry.  All I am saying is that qualitative market research methods are hot, and for good reason: new online qualitative market research tools are making research more scalable, viable and cost-effective than ever.

Here is a hypothetical example of how online qualitative market research really shines.

Imagine you have a client that’s getting into the headphone space, and they want to do needs discovery. They want a fresh look to identify unmet needs and sources of pain. Let’s imagine this client is primarily interested in young adults and that they’re interested in a mix of English and Spanish speaking participants. Your hypothetical client has a small budget and they need to move fast—a common, brutal reality.

So, we’re talking about doing qualitative research. What method might come to mind here? Hmmm…needs discovery, headphones, young adults, two languages. Well, you could be tempted to do focus groups but with the budget and time constraints, that’s going to be tight. IDIs? You would need to do a lot and the recruiting will be tough (trying to get young adults to do phone interviews).

This example might be a case for what we now call mobile ethnography (or some people call it self-ethnography). Getting young adults to participate in a mobile app-based research event is a really attractive option for them (as opposed to asking them to come to a focus group facility or do a telephone interview). Better yet: you can do the needs discovery and capture in-the-moment videos and images of people using their headphones, whether in school, on the go, commuting, etc. So, again, the traditional qualitative methods apply, but the new online methods may be a better fit.

One note of caution, which applies to using any new tool: always date before marriage. So, do a pilot before you make any commitments to any specific methodology or platform.

If you enjoy this topic, please check out the full video conversation on YouTube, and please do subscribe and like it. If you prefer to catch the podcast version on iTunes, click here. And if you have any questions or comments, please post them here or contact me at


Course News: Want to learn more about online qualitative research? We do have a class coming up in January. It meets January 4th, 11th, 8th and 25th from 1pm to 2.30pm Eastern, and if you join the class, you will learn about different online qualitative market research options, see examples of output and learn best practices for planning these projects so that you can set expectations with your clients and mitigate known risks. Taught by the amazing Karen Lynch, you can sign up here.


Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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