Qualitative data in Market Research

During every research project there comes a key moment – the decision around what type of data will best answer the posed research question. While quantitative data provides hard, numerical statistics on, for example, the popularity of a specific brand or the potential market size for a new venture, qualitative data is able to look beyond numbers into thoughts, feelings, and perceptions which are not so easily distilled.

Both quantitative and qualitative data have value at different stages in a project – qualitative data is often exploratory in nature, and can assist when a research question or hypothesis has not been fully fleshed out, while quantitative data allows for input from and quick analysis of large sample sizes. Once a hypothesis has been settled on, each type of data provides different inputs, and many modern researchers may lean towards mixed-methods approaches which incorporate both types of data to get a more complete view of a situation.

There are also practical implications to consider when making the decision between qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-modes research; While quantitative data from a survey or other dataset can be quickly analyzed to answer questions such as “How many consumers would buy my product tomorrow?”, qualitative data from interviews or focus groups requires a lengthier analysis process.

To glean insights from qualitative data regarding “How does the packaging of this product make you feel?”, researchers may need to manually categorize answers and create a data model that fits their needs. Quantitative methods can collect data quickly and cost-effectively from large sample sizes, while qualitative data collection often takes longer and is costlier. Despite this, the depth the qualitative data brings to researchers is extremely valuable, and below we outline some of the types of qualitative data collection, and some new, mobile-centric methods for gathering this type of data.

Types of Qualitative Data Collection


Interviews are one of the most well-known forms of collecting qualitative data, as they allow for more in-depth responses than quantitative questions, in which answers are chosen from a set list of options. While interviews can collect quantitative data, for example if a yes/no question is posed to the interviewee, they are often used for qualitative data collection. Qualitative interviews are typically semi-structured or unstructured in format: The interviewer may have a list of general topics to discuss without specific questions, allowing the interviewee’s responses to guide the direction of the discussion, or they may ask open-ended questions which allow for rich data collection.

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Focus Groups

Focus groups are similar to a group interview, in that they consist of multiple research subjects being posed questions as a group by a moderator. The key difference between interviews and focus groups comes with the interactions group members have with each other – as they are participating in a group discussion, they are able to influence each other’s thinking and bounce ideas off of each other, while still contributing at an individual level. A skilled moderator is a necessity in a focus group discussion, as the moderator guides the conversation to extract the best information possible while remaining a neutral observer. Focus groups are an excellent way for brands to gather honest feedback on new products, brand messaging, and other items that consumers often have a visceral reaction to. While focus groups are traditionally conducted in-person, virtual focus groups are becoming more popular in market research, as we explain below.


Direct observation of people in their natural environments, also called fieldwork, is one of the best ways to gather unbiased data on the habits and actions of consumers. In this method, a researcher observes the actions of their target group. Observation could take the shape of a researcher viewing consumers shopping in a store, examining a shelf of products and deciding which one to purchase, or could include analyzing the reactions of a group to a video playing on a large screen. Observation allows researchers to view decision making, social interactions, and reactions to stimuli as they occur in the real world, which can provide insights not seen in settings such as interviews. However, a drawback of observation is the amount of time and effort on the part of the researcher it requires.

Video and Picture Analysis

Analyzing videos or pictures of how individuals use or react to a product can be an excellent source of qualitative data. Using this technique, for example, a brand may realize that a new package design was not as intuitive as they had hoped, or that consumers are not reading usage instructions. Video and picture market research data can be solicited directly from consumers, or researchers may invite subjects to a location and video them themselves. This type of qualitative data can then be analyzed to identify common themes or topics among participants.

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Document analysis

In the document analysis research method, researchers gather qualitative data from existing documents. These documents could include anything from diaries or journals of research subjects, to advertisements, web content, and other written documents that can provide deep insights into past events or individual’s feelings at a specific moment in time. Documents allow researchers to analyze information without needing to conduct interviews or gather new data, which can be beneficial when time or budget prohibit other research methods.

How to Gather Qualitative Data with Mobile Phones

As mobile phone technology has advanced and penetration has increased around the globe, mobile phones have become an increasingly popular way to collect qualitative data. Using a research subject’s own mobile phones as a vehicle for data collection, researchers can gather data from subjects in remote locations, and collect data more often than is feasible using in-person methodologies. In addition, leveraging mobile often reduces the costs associated with qualitative research. Some of the above methods that can be adapted to mobile include:

Mobile Phone Interviews

Interviews can be conducted by phone, through voice calls or video interviews. This enables researchers to gather qualitative data without needing to meet interviewees in person, making it more convenient for the interviewee and allowing for a higher number of interviews to be conducted.

Mobile Phone Focus Groups

Focus groups conducted virtually through a web-based chat, often referred to as Market Research Online Communities or MROCs, have grown in popularity, and a similar technique can be applied to mobile phones. Using mobile-based chat groups and a skilled moderator, participants can take part in an ongoing focus group via mobile, allowing organizations to collect rich data over a week or longer.

Mobile Phone Video and Picture Analysis

Many mobile phones include high-quality cameras, and this tool can be leveraged by researchers looking to gather qualitative picture and/or video data. Researchers can request study participants take pictures or videos of themselves interacting with products, exploring features, and using them in their everyday lives.

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Conduct Qualitative Research Through Mobile Around the World

GeoPoll has experience collecting qualitative data through multiple mobile-based methods, including mobile focus groups in Africa, and would be happy to answer your questions about collecting qualitative data quickly and cost-effectively using mobile. To learn more or request a quote, contact us here.