Integrating Qual and Quant: 3 Keys to Successful Hybrid Market Research Studies
(or What Football Can Teach Us About Consumer Insights)
By Jim White and David Harris
Though it may be a stretch, we wanted to share our thoughts on what football can teach us about successful integrated market research. (Just go with it. It turns out, there’s quite a bit!)
And for those of you who couldn’t care less about American football, this post is 90% market research and only 10% football so please read on!
There are a lot of benefits to integrated market research studies that blend qualitative and quantitative methods. Qualitative insights sharpen quantitative design and questionnaires. Qual allows for exploration of unanticipated insights, depth and rich contextual learning. Quant provides robust confirmation of hypotheses, the ability to test relationships among concepts and projectable insights.
But integrating qual and quant can be tricky to pull off successfully. A number of problems can befall integrated studies. At RealityCheck, we’ve been doing integrated market research for a number of years and have learned a few things along the way. So here are a few keys to success in integrated market research (and football!)
1. Be strong on both sides of the ball
Bear Bryant famously said, “Defense wins championships.” He may have been right. But when it comes to integrated research, we think it’s important to be strong on both sides of the ball. That means having strong qual and quant teams executing the study.
Many market research firms specialize either in qual or quant but not both. Many of the best qualitative researchers are at smaller market research suppliers or are individual consultants. Quantitative shops are typically larger firms. If they offer qual services, it is often a small part of their business and not a core competency.
What’s more, great qualitative researchers often are wired very differently than great quant folks. Qual specialists tend to be highly extroverted individuals who feed off human interaction. Great quant specialists tend to be more methodical, patient and analytical.
To pull off a successful integrated analysis, you need both. This means working with suppliers who can execute both qual and quant disciplines at a high level. If you can’t find a single supplier that has strong qual and quant teams, then you may need to build your own team—hiring separate qual and quant vendors who are open to collaboration. But realize that this will require more of your time to manage your hybrid team and ensure truly integrated design and deliverables.
2. Know who your skill position players are
In football, “skill positions” are the ones who handle the ball and score. They include players like the quarterback, running backs and receivers. They often are contrasted with linemen and defensive players, who do the blocking and tackling.
When doing integrated research, your skill players are your qualitative respondents. Your quant sample is there to do the basic blocking and tackling. In research and in football, it’s important to understand that each group brings a very different set of skills to game.
The expectations that qual respondents have coming into a study are very different from those coming into a quantitative study. If you’re doing qual right—whether it’s in-person or digital—chances are you’re asking your respondents to be highly engaged, devote a significant amount of time to the study, be highly articulate and operate at an elevated conceptual level. You’ll often require them to complete tasks and answer questions that are projective and require creativity.
Consequently, qual respondents cost more to recruit and incentivize than quant respondents. They are your skill players.
Quantitative panels, on the other hand, consist of respondents with very different expectations. They are used to answering more straight-forward, closed-ended questions and spending 12 to 15 minutes completing a questionnaire. Basic blocking and tackling.
A common hybrid research practice that we encourage you to avoid is to recruit a subset of respondents from the quant sample to participate in follow-up qual. This may be okay if you’re not expecting much from the qual phase of your project. But if you’re planning robust live or asynchronous qual, you’re better off recruiting a separate qualitative panel. You’ll need some skill players to give you the kind of deep insights you expect from qual.
3. Write a great game story
Red Smith, perhaps the greatest sportswriter of all time, once said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at the typewriter, cut open a vein, and bleed.”
Writing a good integrated research report is a similar experience—if you do it right. It’s hard. It takes time. And requires skill. But when done right, it can provide great clarity, credibility and confidence for your team to act.
The worst integrated reports aren’t integrated at all. They are broken up into qual and quant sections. That’s the easy way out.
The best integrated reports are organized around insights, not methods. They lead with the most compelling, new insight. (The way a great game story leads with who won!) They seamlessly weave qual and quant insights, data visualization and rich text verbatims into a single, coherent story. This takes more time than standalone qual and quant reporting. So be sure your stakeholders understand this and allow you to build that time into the project timeline.
Great integrated reporting also requires a quarterback. Integrated research is a team effort. But one person needs to lead the team, especially when it comes to integrated storytelling. There needs to be one person at the helm, crafting the coherent narrative. Great stories usually aren’t written by committee. One person must “own” the story. The team needs a quarterback to pull it all together.
So, there you have it. Our keys to success in integrated research and in football! We hope you found this useful. And, as always, let us know what you think.