Consumer Research: There’s two kinds…

Consumer research is an important part of product line planning. Knowing what your target customer wants, and often more importantly, what they “need”, provides a robust framework for defining a product or service value proposition. Consumer research is not only valuable in product planning, and can help enhance attributes of your current products by better understanding who your customer is, and fine tuning the product positioning and placement.

There are generally two categories of consumer research: qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative research usually involves in depth conversations with a small number of people, maybe 10 or 20. Quantitative research usually employs a research tool like a questionnaire or survey to get a statistically relevant read of a sample population, often more than 100 people and sometimes as high as 2000.

Qual vs. Quant

Qualitative and quantitative consumer research have different strengths and should be used for different purposes. For example, it would inefficient to use qualitative research to measure customer satisfaction, and difficult to use quantitative research to discover latent needs. In some cases it makes sense to combine the two to accelerate the delivery of a new product.

Most of us are more familiar with quantitative research than qualitative. Quant research uses numbers as the base language, boiling down the messy humanness of the customer world into facts and figures that we can understand more efficiently. This makes quant research very effective in areas where we are not in a discovery phase but in a refinement phase. Great uses of quantitative research are:

  • Customer Satisfaction – How are we doing?
  • Customer segmentation – What are the components of my customer base?
  • Product feature appeal – What is the relative importance of the features in my product?

Qualitative research is a less rigorous consumer research tool than quantitative research, but can help the researcher answer questions for which quantitative research is not well suited. Qualitative research provides an in-depth view of a relatively small number of customer perspectives, using tactics like customer phone interviews, structured focus groups, and in-home visits. The open nature of qualitative research makes it a great tool in exploratory and discovery phases. Great uses of qualitative research are:

  • Discovering latent customer needs – what do they say, what don’t they say but act like they need?
  • Understanding customer language – What special words and phrases do target customers use?
  • Absorbing context – What are the customers’ lives like?

In the next three articles, I’m going to try to put together some guidelines about each kind of research, and then talk about how the two can complement each other in many cases.

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