Qualitative Research: Even More Important in the Age of Big Data

Every year, companies invest billions in data, analytics, and technology to better target and predict customer behavior. And because of increasingly complex martech and CRM stacks, many brands are collecting more data than ever—more than they know what to do with.

That abundance of data has led many marketing and product leaders to incorrectly believe that they no longer need to invest in primary, qualitative research because they think have all the customer data they ever need.

That couldn’t be further from the truth: More than ever, brands need to dig beyond the data to truly understand the customer. Even the largest, most data-intensive company in the world, Google, has said it needs to appreciate “the human, the person behind the data” to be successful.

Through observational and conversational qualitative research, brands like Google gain more useful intelligence around their data by better understanding the context, behaviors, and emotions that drive customer actions.

As my colleague Eric Bradlow, Wharton School professor and vice-dean of analytics, notes, CMOs and their teams need to focus on “better data, not big data. Data collection must be meaningfully tied to strategy.”

That’s precisely what qualitative research does: It makes better use of what you already have/know, and opens up new possibilities beyond your traditional view of the world to inform strategic decisions.

Getting to better data starts with asking the right questions:

  • Why do people choose your brand and products, and what drives their purchase decisions?
  • Why that place, those people, that time of day?
  • Who isn’t buying your products and services—those people beyond the reach of your transactional databases—and why aren’t they engaged with your company and brand?

By investing in qualitative research, companies are able to answer those key questions—and make the data they already collect more actionable and valuable.

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at some of the key areas where even data-rich marketers can and should apply qualitative research to maximize business impact.