There are key junctures in a brand’s growth journey when deep, foundational learnings are critical to business building. These situations are often when a brand team is working to define new segments, develop innovative products and offers, identify influential points on a customer journey, and create compelling positioning and messaging. These are high stakes decisions where a brand team is under pressure to deliver the right strategic solution. It’s imperative for insights teams to address and inform all key customer questions or issues on the table. The approaches used to address these strategic decisions must be both broad and deep.
This is when the use of mixed methodologies—a custom blend of immersive qualitative techniques and advanced quantitative approaches—is particularly valuable to ensure success in the marketplace. I like to say that qualitative techniques let you go an inch wide and a mile deep, while the quantitative approaches let you go a mile wide and an inch deep. The quantitative phase gives you a reliable picture of what customers are doing and how they are behaving depending on what issue you are addressing. The more focused and in-depth nature of qualitative provides context, richness, and color from the participants. It helps get at the “whys?” of the attitudes and behaviors of customers.
Qualitative brings data to life, and quantitative data verifies that customers are behaving the way they say they are.”
As organizations evaluate the investment and time to achieve their results, there can be a temptation to rely on quantitative research only, as it gathers input from more customers through its survey nature. But quantitative data alone can make it difficult to answer questions from stakeholders, including the C-Suite and senior executives, on “why” customers feel and behave the way they do. Qualitative brings data to life, and quantitative data verifies that customers are behaving the way they say they are.
Even when a brand believes it understands their customers based on past knowledge or in-field observations, there can be huge gaps in understanding current needs, motivations, and experiences in this fast-moving marketplace. Basing high-stakes strategic decisions on this informal input and gut instinct leaves brand teams vulnerable to these critical gaps in understanding customers. If a brand team is unaware of these factors before conducting quantitative research, it is relying on guesswork on what to measure.
There are a lot of internal stakeholders within an organization who are involved in the decision-making around segmentation, innovation, customer journey, and communications. It’s the brand team role to represent the voice of the customer with these stakeholders and be able to “talk their talk” among the wider stakeholder group. Knowing how to speak in the language and terms of the customer helps diffuse the corporate or internal vernacular that is often far removed from how real people speak about products or behaviors. If you don’t have this foundational knowledge, your team could miss opportunities to connect with customers.
Even when a brand believes it understands their customers based on past knowledge or in-field observations, there can be huge gaps in understanding current needs, motivations, and experiences in this fast-moving marketplace.”
Does qualitative always come first? Not at all— it depends on the business objectives and previous insights work or other data. In segmentation work, for example, the quantitative is often the basis of understanding where the brand team should focus its deeper qualitative learnings, and what to explore among various audiences and an anchor phase of qualitative research can provide rich consumer personas to allow brand professional to internalize the segments and empathize with the consumers. Can a mixed methodology approach mean the use of several different qualitative techniques? Yes, particularly when exploring different consumer behaviors or experiences (e.g., online versus in-store, pre-shop research versus post-purchase usage). Different qualitative methodologies can be blended to provide a robust understanding of the category and the consumer.
I have seen brand teams present and defend strategic recommendations to CEOs and VPs based on the deep learnings from a mixed methodology approach. They can speak intelligently and with confidence to the “whys” of the proposed new direction, as well as the “what.” This holistic approach to customer insights removes much of the guesswork around a new path forward.
A mixed methodology is a smart insights approach, and a smart approach to achieving business results.
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