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18.2 Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the differences between quantitative and qualitative research.
  2. Learn how to gather qualitative and quantitative research.
  3. Understand how important online research panels are to this research.

Quantitative research gathers data that can be statistically analyzed to determine results. Data must be formally gathered and should be collected to test a hypothesis as opposed to determine a hypothesis.

Qualitative dataData that can be observed but not measured. Deal with descriptions. can be more difficult to quantify. Typically, because base sizes are smaller and not necessarily representative of the market under investigation (as it can be more expensive and time consuming to gather and analyze the data), qualitative data cannot be taken as quantified. They are, however, valuable in aiding a researcher in interpreting the market perspective. It is possible to combine approaches, producing data that can be used both qualitatively and quantitatively.


With larger sample sizes, qualitative data may be analyzed quantitatively.

For example, in online reputation management (ORM)The understanding and influencing of the perception of an entity online. This entails ensuring that you know what is being said about you and that you are leading the conversation., tools exist that can track brand-name mentions. These data can then be analyzed qualitatively, where researchers can examine the mentions and use their judgment to determine sentiment, or quantitatively, where mentions can be assigned numeric values across a range of categories that are used to generate a reputation score, such as BrandsEye’s online reputation algorithm.

When both qualitative and quantitative research are used, usually qualitative research takes place first to get an idea of the issues to be aware of, and then quantitative research tests the theories put forward in qualitative research.

Table 18.1 The Main Differences between Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Characteristic Qualitative Research Quantitative Research
Group size Small number of participants—usually focus groups of 6 to 10 respondents led by a moderator Large number of respondents—100 or more, depending on the size of the population, are generally surveyed
Approach Generates ideas and concepts—leads to issues or hypotheses to be tested Tests known issues or hypotheses
Ends with hypotheses for further research Begins with hypotheses
Seeks complexity Seeks consensus, the norm
Context of issues Generalization
Disadvantages Shouldn’t be used to evaluate preexisting ideas Issues can only be measured if they are known prior to beginning the survey
Results are not predictors of the population Sample size must be sufficient for predicting the population
Advantages Looks at the context of issues and aims to understand perspectives Statistically reliable results to determine if one option is better than the alternatives

Gathering Data: Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Both quantitative and qualitative research can be conducted using primary or secondary data, and the Internet provides an ideal tool for both avenues.


Sample sizeThe number of units or respondents in a sample of the population. is an important factor in conducting research, and that sample should be representative of the population you are targeting as a whole. If your business transacts both online and offline, beware that using only online channels for market research might not be representative of your target market. However, if your business transacts only online, offline channels for your market research are less necessary.

Web analytics packages are a prime source of data. Using data such as search terms, referral URLs (uniform resource locators), and internal search data can lead to qualitative assumptions about the consumers visiting a Web site. However, when data are measurable and specific, such as impressions and click-through rates, this leads to quantitative data.

Online Research Panels and Online Research Communities

Research panels and research communities are two means for conducting research. Whereas research panels are primarily used when conducting qualitative research, research communities primarily provide quantitative dataData that can be measured or defined. Deal with numbers.. The Internet comes to the fore when considering research communities, as social media such as social networks and blogs already provide the framework for people to connect and interact with each other. Most panels, whether online or offline, are not about member-to-member interaction. Research panels seek to address the “what” using surveys to gather quantitative data. Research communities primarily use discussions, driven online by blogs and other media sharing communities.

For example, for the launch of a new product, a company might want to determine what customers have in their fridges. Quantitative analysis would be to develop a survey that could be completed by a representative sample of its target market, aimed at discovering what consumers have in their fridges..

Qualitative analysis would be to go to a community photo-sharing site, such as, and use a simple search to look at the photos the members have uploaded of the content of their fridges (


Qualitative research and quantitative research must both be presented in such a way that they can lead to actionable insights. How would you use a community tool such as Flickr when presenting these data?

Surveys are an ideal means of gathering quantitative data, provided they are designed in such a way that the answers are assigned values that can be measured statistically.

Focus groupsA form of qualitative research in which a group of people are asked questions in an interactive group setting. From a marketing perspective, it is an important tool for acquiring feedback regarding new products and various topics. have long been a stalwart of market research, and the Internet provides a means to conduct regular focus groups. Focus groups can consist of one person, such as in a listening lab when testing the usability of a Web site, or can be of the entire Internet population, such as when looking at global search data.

If your online audience is large enough and vocal enough, their opinions can and should be tracked and measured as part of a market research process. Be aware, however, to account for the bias in this group.

Key Takeaways

  • Qualitative data can be more difficult to quantify because base sizes are smaller and not necessarily representative of the market under investigation.
  • Qualitative research is generally used first to get an idea of the issues to be aware of, and then quantitative research tests the theories put forward in qualitative research.
  • Both qualitative and quantitative data can be conducted using primary and secondary data. Web analytics packages are a prime source of data.
  • Research is generally done through research panels and research communities.
  • Research panels are generally used for quantitative data. The Internet can be very helpful for this type of data, especially with social media and blogs.


  1. In what ways can the Internet be used as a focus group?