With qualitative research, the emphasis is on understanding. This means establishing the true meanings customers attach to products and brands and identifying the underlying needs and motivations that drive decision-making.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative research is about finding out what people think and why they think it. It takes its roots in the social sciences and is used to help us explore and understand the meanings attached to people’s beliefs, attitudes and actions. It uses research methods which are less structured giving freedom to the research respondents to express their views and explain their thinking and behaviors. Essentially, it answers the “why” questions; it puts the issues on the table and helps us understand what is going on.

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Qualitative research methods

In market research, typical research methods include in-depth interviews, focus groups (face to face and online) and observation. The skill of the researcher, both in collecting the data – interviewing, observing, moderating focus group discussions, and in the analysis of the data is critical to getting meaningful, actionable insights for the business. Content analysis, identifying categories, themes and frameworks is carried out on the data.

Sample sizes are typically small as the objective is to identify the issues rather than measure their frequency. Sample size is identified by looking at the different groups of respondents whose views are required, ensuring that both regular and unique viewpoints are captured.

Market research applications

Qualitative approaches can be used in a variety of applications for B2B markets. The most common applications are:

  • Understanding customer needs and behaviors
  • Uncovering processes e.g. business decision making, supply chain
  • Developing and testing new products, concepts and propositions
  • Exploration of brand perceptions
  • Evaluation of promotional materials (on and offline)
  • Thought leadership

Qualitative methods can be used stand alone or dovetailed with quantitative methods, either at the front end of a study to identify issues to be measured, or after a survey to explore key issues which have been identified. Coupling the two approaches increases both reliability and validity of any market research study.

Further reading on qualitative research

Qualitative research and B2B International

B2B International conducts the full range of qualitative research methods. We have a team of experienced researchers, skilled in focus group moderation and depth interviewing, project managers who can do this across multicountry studies, and creative analysts who have the skills to get the most from the data, and deliver actionable insights for our clients.