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What is qualitative vs quantitative data and research?

qualitative vs quantitative data

Outlines what is qualitative vs quantitative data, and explains what is qualitative vs quantitative research and what is collected and evaluated in each. The guide also outlines features that show the difference between qualitative and quantitative data and the difference between qualitative and quantitative research.

Research information in the academic world and also the business world can be generally divided into two categories: qualitative data vs quantitative data — which are used as the basis in qualitative research vs quantitative research.

qualitative vs quantitative data

What is quantitative data?

Data and information in alpha-numerical form for designating and assessing facts (e.g. workload, number of people, illuminance) that can be measured or counted.  Measurement data are, for example, time data, exposure data, dimensions (weights), length, distances, distance or stress from heavy work. They are given as a numerical value and unit. 

What is qualitative data?

In the qualitative data collection, detailed, subjective and individual findings about attitudes and actions are determined.

For this purpose, individual cases are examined for their particularities. Qualitative data describe a situation and help to get a deeper understanding of a situation. This is what makes them so important for the impact-oriented control of projects: Usually only the combination of quantitative and qualitative data results in complete causes and relationships.

Qualitative survey methods are characterized by the fact that they deal with the how & why of a situation or a development. They are especially suitable when it comes to …

  • understanding a situation in a given context ;
  • find out how people or groups assess a situation, need or brand and what expectations and wishes they have.

Qualitative methods include various forms of interviews (individual interviews, focus groups, etc.), observations and document analyzes.

What is quantitative research?

Quantitative research in business is typically about measuring a market or population. A frequent goal of quantitative research consists in the conclusion of certain facts, which are often collected in large, at best representative, amounts of data and worked out by statistical analysis methods.

The measurement methods most commonly associated with quantitative research in B2B markets, for example, are:

  • Determination of the market size:  e.g. on the basis of the assessment through questions about buying behavior and future purchase intent.
  • Measurement of brand  health: e.g. by measuring brand awareness, consideration, use, acceptance and purchase intention. This includes a temporary response check to test the effectiveness of a brand’s sales and marketing efforts.
  • Market segmentation: grouping customers and potential customers of a market according to their commonality in attitudes, behavior and / or needs. In order to be able to reliably determine this, a high response rate is required.
  • Customer satisfaction surveys: especially for long-term measurement of customer loyalty and satisfaction or to measure the various product and service aspects of a company.
  • Advertising impact research: for example, measuring the effect of a marketing campaign on brand awareness or brand association by taking measurements before and after the campaign (also known as pre- and post-testing).

A quantitative research methodology is used when a stable and representative measurement of the market is required.

Stability is important in all cases where studies are to be repeated and in cases where there is an interest in identifying changes over time. Because of the nature of the sampling, researchers need to consider the margin of error and its impact on reporting. Increasing the sample size is often a useful measure to reduce the error rate.

Representativeness becomes very important when market research is to be used to support business decisions. Quantitative studies on a sample basis are well suited for this. Sufficiently large, quantitative samples can cover a large (and therefore representative) cross-section of the market.

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative information is more difficult to define. However, it can be said that the emphasis is on “understanding” and not on making simple measurements. For example, quantitative research can tell you that Ad A gets more hits than Ad B, but how does A work as an ad and why is it more effective than B? Qualitative research is required here.

Often, qualitative research is about empathizing with customers and determining the importance they attach to products, brands, and other marketing objects. Another focus is motivation: why, for example, does a certain product meet customer needs better than the competitive product – and which are the needs that it addresses better?

Qualitative research is carried out using samples that are smaller than those used in quantitative research. In the case of a brand attitudes assessment, for example, qualitative research can determine how the brand is viewed, while quantitative research determines the proportionality in which that view is held.

Examples of qualitative research methods in market research are:

Each of these methods has its own particular advantages. Choosing the right method depends on the audience you want to reach and the type of information you want to gather. While methods such as interviews, for example, rely more on direct questioning of test subjects, ethnographic studies are based on observation.

Qualitative vs quantitative data: not always an easy choice

There is often disagreement about which is better to use in a particular situation: qualitative vs quantitative data. Qualitative research can provide a clear understanding of what is going wrong. However, quantitative research provides well-founded cross-group data that can lead to concrete recommendations for action, with measures that can serve as a control body to determine the effectiveness of actions.

A professional market research firm will endeavor to develop a research study in which the most appropriate methods are aligned with the research objectives. Of course there are also pragmatic considerations that contribute to the decision as to which method to use. In more niche-oriented B2B industries, the number of target organizations can be limited. In such cases, qualitative methods may be the only possible means of conducting research.

Qualitative vs quantitative research features

The following table lists some typical features of these different research methods:

Characteristic Qualitative market researchQuantitative market research
Is well suited for …
Understanding the “how” or “why” behind certain behaviors or attitudes

Projects where the dynamics of a market or decision-making process are unclear

Niche audiences as quantitative research is unlikely to be possible

The initial phases of a larger research study – especially to expand or refine the design of later project phases
Studies where the primary focus is on measuring data.

Mass market target groups – such as hypermarkets or small businesses.

Projects whose results require a high degree of statistical significance.

If the market structure is known and respondents are familiar with the language used in the questions.
Sample size (number of interviews, observations, etc.)Small number of cases – often less than 100 cases
High case numbers – The survey sample sizes are often in the hundreds or thousands
Expenditure of time
Depending on the sample size, but simple qualitative studies can be completed in days or just weeks
The field phase for quantitative studies can take many weeks or months .
How the data is transmitted
The data are presented according to topic and record what is hidden behind the data. 
Individual answers, in the form of video and audio files and quotes, are often used to illustrate a specific topic.
Usually charts , aggregated tabular data, and other statistical representations .

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