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Qualitative marketing research for growth marketers

Article originally published in May 2024 by Stuart Brameld. Most recent update in June 2024.

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Why use qualitative research?

Research is undertaken (often along with quant research) to often reduce risk when making big decisions in growth. You can use research to learn more about your target audience, customer pains, onboarding friction and more.

Perhaps most important for growth marketers, user research is one of the best sources of test ideas.

Qualitative vs quantitative methods

As you likely know – quant gives you the what, qual gives you the why. Quant research will tell you that most users drop off at step 3. Qual research will help you to understand why.

AspectQualitative ResearchQuantitative Research
PurposeTo explore ideas, concepts, or experiencesTo quantify data and identify patterns
Nature of DataNon-numerical (words, images, observations)Numerical (statistics, metrics, graphs)
Data Collection MethodsInterviews, focus groups, observations, open-ended surveysStructured surveys, experiments, longitudinal studies
AnalysisThematic analysis, narrative analysis, content analysisStatistical analysis, mathematical models, computational techniques
Sample SizeSmaller, non-representative samplesLarger, representative samples
OutcomeIn-depth understanding of phenomenaGeneralizable results, statistical significance
FlexibilityFlexible, can adapt during the research processStructured, follows a fixed research design

What is qual marketing research good for?

Qualitative market research is particularly good in the following areas:

  1. Providing an opportunity to listen to users and ask questions
  2. Understanding why people are doing what they are doing
  3. Understanding user and customer motivations

Whilst qualitative marketing research is typically performed at smaller scale, it provides rich data compared with its quant equivalent.

Qual research tactics & tooling

Modern tooling has made it easier to observe people in general now, and to gather both qual an quant data at infinite scale. Here are some popular tools and use cases.

TypeMethodDetailProvider
QualitativeUser testingSee and hear real people using your website, app or prototypeUserpeek, Prolific, Ballpark
QualitativeDiary studiesDiary studies and usability testing. Be a fly-on-the-wall as users go about their lives.Descout (recommended)
QualitativeSession replaysTrack and observe people whilst they are in a sessionFullstory (recommended), HotJar, Inspectlet, UserPeek, Mouseflow
QualitativeSurveysSurvey customers whilst using the product, or via emailSprig (recommended), Qualaroo, HotJar, Typeform, Informizely
QualitativeLive chatLet visitors tell you what’s wrong with your pages + questions, concerns, objections and moreZendesk, LiveChat, Olark, LivePerson, LiveAgent, Intercom, Comm100
QualitativeInterviewsConduct user interviewsGenway (recommended)
QualitativeSocial listeningMonitor unfiltered chatter on forums, review sites, social media (e.g. twitter), communities (e.g. reddit and slack groups) or moreSprout Social, Brand24, Twitter advanced search, SocialInsider
BothHeatmapsHeatmaps and click-maps show which parts of your pages your visitors click onHotJar, FullStory, Inspectlet, MouseStats
BothScroll mapsIdentify which parts of the page are getting the most attention and false bottomsHotJar, FullStory, Inspectlet, MouseStats
BothForm analyticsStudy how people are interacting with your forms – drop-offs, unfilled, rage clicks, errors, abandons and moreHotJar, Zuko, inspectlet
BothFirst-party data miningTap into in-house data such as CRM notes, support tickets, NPS comments and live chat transcripts. Analyse patterns, trends and recurring themes

Many of these platforms now also provide research backed templates to help you get up and running quickly.

Interview best practises

Here are some best practises for conducting interviews as part of qualitative marketing research:

  1. Preparation – prepare an interview guide, not an interview script. The magic typically happens in the follow-up questions.
  2. Learning – always remember your learning goals. Research is about understanding a specific problem in order to solve a specific problem
  3. Humility – the one thing you are not an expert in is being an expert in the experience of the users you are trying to serve. Check your world view and your experiences at the door
  4. Rapport – interview situation is not natural for most people. Have to build rapport to put people in a comfortable state so that things come out naturally. Create conversational strands for people to pull on. Get specific, don’t just go through the motions. build connection. create a bond.
  5. Listening – you can’t ask a great follow up question if you aren’t listening. There is an annoying human tendency to listen but really be thinking about the follow up question. You have to listen, not think about your predetermined follow up question ask why, again. Asking people to clarify what they said. Asking people to address certain emotional responses you notice when they say something

Unstructured data & the AI revolution

Today approximately 80% to 90% of the world’s data is unstructured. This includes information from sources such as text, audio, video, social media, and other formats that do not follow a predefined data model. In the world of marketing and growth, this unstructured data is increasingly exponentially with Zoom recorders, Gong recordings, and other qual data from customers. There are 2 potential use-cases here:

We believe AI and LLM technology will dramatically increase our ability to leverage this blackbox of unstructured data in the near future, and we are already seeing this with tools like Microsoft Clarity Copilot. By adding structure to unstructured data marketers will be able to use traditional analytics tools to get the best of both worlds.

Food for thought

Science does not bring absolutely certainty to ideas, but rather provides a systematic way of understanding the world through observation, experimentation, and theoretical explanation.

Similarly, in growth our goal is gather qualitative and quantitative insights at every opportunity in order that we can better meet the needs of our users and customers needs, which ultimately translates to business value.

More on qualitative marketing research

The UX Research reckoning is here | Judd Antin (Airbnb, Meta) https://www.lennyspodcast.com/the-ux-research-reckoning-is-here-judd-antin-airbnb-meta

Tools and tactics for modern user research | Noam Segal https://www.dive.club/deep-dives/noam-segal