Are You Playing with a Full Deck?

Smoke over people playing black jack by casino table with cards and chips

Last month we looked at a LOT of numbers. Lots and lots of data. And sure, the ‘numbers’ are necessary to allocate resources, run statistical analysis, determine trends and their significance and more. But relying on quantitative methods and data alone can leave a lot on the table. This month’s In the kNOW discusses why including qualitative work as part of your research strategy can deliver the most relevant, game-changing insights to your company/ brand.

Qualitative work often gets left out of the equation because we think we already know the barriers, preferences, marketplace, etc. We have sales data and customer service complaints. We know our competitors and their top-selling products. We have our trackers and KPIs. We all have a LOT of data. So, with all this data at our fingertips, why do some campaigns still fall flat? Why do some brand new products get discontinued? Why do we spend lots of time and money on the next brilliant idea and see flat -even declining- sales? When these things happen, often, it’s because we didn’t meaningfully engage customers throughout the process. We didn’t let them -in their own words- give us the lay of the land.

It is what they say it is.

We’ve all heard the adage ‘Perception is Reality.’ Just ask Tylenol, Kleenex and Google. All acetaminophen, regardless of brand, is ‘Tylenol.’ Ditto for tissues and Kleenex. And people ‘Google’ on Amazon, Facebook and everywhere else because ‘Googled’ is a verb meaning ‘searched.’ (You know it’s true. Just ask your grandmother that’s on Facebook.) It doesn’t matter that it’s technically ‘wrong.’ It’s the narrative they’ve built – it’s part of the consumer story.

I once had a client on a shop-a-long continue correcting a participant on how she referred to products. After we parted ways with our participant, I carefully suggested that to ensure the most honest and ‘real’ conversations, ‘we’ should not correct our participants. The client protested, saying, “But she was wrong. I wanted to educate her.” To which I replied, “We’re the learners here. They’re the teachers”. The fact is brand leaders don’t get to sit right beside every prospective buyer as they make their purchase decisions. Qualitative research provides a ringside seat to the real ‘story’ of consumers’ interaction with brands. And it’s vital to know the real consumer story if you have a snowball’s chance of influencing it.

No resting on your laurels.

Nowadays, there are so many ways to interact with and learn about a brand. We can purchase products across multiple channels and via so many different platforms – you’d be the laughingstock to suggest a six-figure A&U study to use for five years.

But that’s precisely what we used to do. And not even that long ago. Gone are the days of big, expensive, one and done – for a few years – research projects. No one can afford an approach like that anymore.

Today’s marketplace requires more than simply re-focusing our quantitative research to methods like trackers that ‘check-in’ on KPIs and metrics across sales channels every quarter or month. To understand the shifts in engagement and optimize sales between all these channels, we also need to engage consumers in meaningful conversations more often. Ongoing qualitative research will help us stay on top of shifting sentiment, tone, habits, influence, preference, situational/ occasional use and more. By conducting qualitative research more frequently, we can build an evergreen knowledge base that makes us better at anticipating sales shifts, managing and capitalizing on trends and appropriately reacting to outside influences. With this knowledge, we can deliver the right approach in real-time.

Practical in practice.

Every person on the planet is susceptible to Cognitive and Confirmation Bias. As vested in and close to brands, products and companies as managers and leaders are – it’s natural to think we know the right questions to ask. And that closeness is the very reason we shouldn’t. Our closeness makes us biased. Our own bias is why we should always seek customer/ prospect POV at the onset of quantitative endeavors. After all, if we don’t know what’s relevant to people, how do we know the right things to ask in a survey? Without qualitative work, we don’t know what we don’t know!

For example, if we’re putting together a survey question where we want respondents to rate how much they agree/ disagree with attitudinal statements or shopping habits, don’t we need to ensure we have timely and relevant statements in the first place? For optimal decision-making, shouldn’t we make sure that how we describe benefits, features and product characteristics are relatable and ‘in their own words?’ And to fully understand white space opportunities and maximize sales growth, don’t we need customers and prospects to tell us what they need and why? The answer is a resounding YES!

I know qualitative research has its skeptics. To many, ‘Quant is King.’ Quant is the hard numbers. It’s what drives resource allocation and decision-making at most companies. But if Quant is ‘King,’ Qual is certainly ‘Queen.’ Qualitative is the ‘heart.’ It gets you the ‘why’, the ‘so what’ and so much more.

Without qualitative research, can you be 100% confident you know everything you need to stay relevant? Without hearing from your customers directly, are you positive you’re communicating what matters most? Without frequently engaging with prospects, can you be certain your company knows what form new product innovation should take?

Talking to consumers and target audiences through qualitative methods, in concert with quantitative work, provides the most holistic, 360 view of the marketplace, opportunity space(s), competitive and situational landscape and more. A thoughtful, comprehensive approach that includes both Quantitative and Qualitative discovery delivers the best assurance of success, whatever challenges may come.

If you’d like to know more about introducing qualitative research to your existing metrics or would like to discuss a custom, holistic research strategy for your business or brand, feel free to contact us.


Our ‘In the kNOW’ series tackles the burning questions we all want to know about right NOW. If you have questions you think we should ask, topics we should explore, things you’d like to learn more about, shoot me a note at