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Qualitative Market Research: The Ultimate Guide

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Qualitative market research help businesses understand customers’ needs, identify market potential, uncover ideas for product launch/improvement, or understand how the product fits the target customer’s lifestyle. 

Any business of any type or size can benefit from qualitative research as it helps you find out how the target market feels about your product and uncover how you can improve it to increase sales. 

In this article, we’ll dive into qualitative research methods, how to conduct them, how to use them for market research, and more.

What is qualitative market research?

In simple terms, qualitative research can be defined as a method used for market research that aims at obtaining data with open-ended questions and conversations with the target consumers. 

This method helps establish not only “what” consumers think but also “how” they come to that opinion and “why” they think so. 

For instance, if you find out that more men are visiting your online garment shop than women, it is just a systematic observation. Qualitative market research will help you understand why women do not visit the store. 

You can gain this information by conducting an in-depth interview of potential women who could become customers, i.e., women who shop online regularly. In this way, qualitative research focuses on understanding a query or problem statement in a humanistic or idealistic approach.

  • Qualitative research methods are used to understand the beliefs, experiences, attitudes, and behaviors of people. 
  • It also helps in understanding the interactions people have with others who are similar to them.  
  • Qualitative research is increasingly becoming popular because it gives a voice to the participants. 
  • It gives us valuable insights into each individual and their feedback can prove to be valuable and enriching.  

What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative market research?

We have described what qualitative market research is, but let’s also see how it differs from quantitative. 

Quantitative Vs Qualitative market research: 

Quantitative research gathers numerical data that helps you test and draw conclusions regarding your research. The data helps you generate conclusive results. 

  • It helps answer the “what” people think. 
  • You can use it to confirm a hypothesis. 
  • You can collect quantitative data via surveys, experiments, and observations.  

Qualitative research helps you gather non-numerical data that digs deeper to understand customer behavior. 

  • It helps answer “why,” people think the way they do & “how” they make decisions. 
  • You can use it to understand concepts. 
  • You can gather qualitative data via interviews, ethnography, focus groups, case studies, and observation. 

You can leverage a market research tool to conduct research of your choice using multiple channels and gather integrated data. 

Additional read: Qualitative Vs quantitative research – Know the difference!

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5 qualitative market research methods

Qualitative Research qualitative market research

Qualitative research methods have originated from social and behavioral sciences. There are five common methods that researchers and marketers use to collect qualitative research data. 

These five methods are based on how you can collect data from the target audience. So, let’s discuss these five data collection methods. 

1. Interview  

Interviewing the target audience is one of the most common practices in qualitative market research. You can carry out an interview either face-to-face, on phone, or online with one respondent at a time. This is a conversational method of gathering information and allows the researcher to get a detailed response from the respondent.

The advantage of the interview method is that it gives one an opportunity to gather detailed and precise information about people’s beliefs, motivations, and experiences.  

If the researcher has experience in asking relevant and correct questions, it can help them collect meaningful data. These interviews usually last up to an hour or two, depending on how detailed and specific the researcher wants the data to be.  

Interviews can be structured, semi-structured, or unstructured. Semi-structured interviews are most commonly used because they give researchers an outline of what topics and areas to cover. Also permitting them to tap into any area relevant to the participant’s experiences.

Additional read: Research Interviews – Uncovering their types and methods.

2. Ethnography

Ethnographic research includes direct observation of the concerned group you want to study. This qualitative market research involves studying video recordings of the interactions between customers and products as they indulge in the purchased product in real life. 

Ethnographic researchers can observe their clients or participants of the research from anywhere, including the individual’s workplace, their familial environment, or when the individual is spending time with their peers.

Researchers fully immerse themselves into the lives of the customers. They observe and listen to the customers in their natural settings in a nondirected way. The goal, here, is to see people’s behaviors as they occur and on their terms, not our interpretation of those terms. 

This observational method enlightens researchers about the context in which consumers are using the products they are analyzing and the meaningful contribution of the product in their lives.  

3. Focus Groups

Another most commonly used method in qualitative market research is the focus group. In this method, the researcher gathers a limited number of consumers from the target market to create a focus group. 

The main aim of this focus group is to answer questions relating to the “why” “what” and “how” of behaviors. 

In a focus group, a trained moderator usually leads a discussion lasting about 30-90 minutes that is designed to gather useful information. The moderator’s main task is to hear the responses and probe respondents for any other specifications required while answering the questions.

Focus groups can now be sent an online survey on their preferred devices and their feedback can be collected through that. However, a disadvantage of focus groups is that they are time-consuming and costly. 

This method is usually recommended when the market is launching a new product and needs in-depth insight from the target audience’s perspective.

4. Case Studies

Case studies have evolved to become a valuable method for qualitative market research. It is used for explaining a case of an organization or an entity. This is one of the simplest ways of conducting research because it involves an exhaustive understanding of the data collected and the interpretation of the same.

5. Observation

Observation can be systematic or naturalistic. Qualitative observation of respondents’ answers or their behaviors in particular settings can yield enriching insights. 

The research observes the customer/consumer from a distance to see how they interact with an actual product. Often also called “shop-alongs”, this method reduces the possibility of a customer forgetting their shopping experience and providing false feedback at a later stage. 

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Methods to analyze qualitative market research data

There are different methods that are used to analyze qualitative market research data. The most commonly used method is the thematic analysis and text analysis.

Text analysis: 

In text analysis, researchers analyze the qualitative data collected directly from the audience and decode the sentiment and meaning behind the feedback. The analysis method helps identify a pattern/trend and make sense of the sentiment associated with the words used by the audience. 

Thematic analysis:

In thematic analysis, researchers find out the major themes or patterns in the respondents’ answers that are repeated several times. 

This kind of analysis helps researchers understand the themes that are important in the respondents’ life and the experiences that matter the most to them. They can then understand how the product they are aiming to improve or launch can affect these major themes in the lives of the respondents.  

Other qualitative analysis methods include content analysis, discourse analysis, and grounded theory. These methods differ in difficulty levels of conducting the analysis, and the steps to be followed while analyzing data.

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What are the uses of qualitative market research?

Qualitative data helps you uncover hidden data and make meaning of customers’ purchase behavior. You can use qualitative research in business to make important decisions. 

1. Brand: 

Qualitative market research helps you gather contextual and unbiased feedback. You can gather deeper insights from the target market to understand consumers’ feelings about your brand and evaluate the brand-customer relationship.  

It provides you with hard facts on where you stand and helps you benchmark your performance.

2. Consumer behavior insights: 

You can use qualitative data to create an in-depth buyer/consumer persona. The customer behavior survey helps brands understand the needs, demands, and wants of the customers which helps them better market the product. 

3. Market/business opportunities: 

Explore new markets for business expansion by gathering qualitative insights. Leverage market research surveys to understand business trends, key competition, potential, or an ideal location for new opportunities. 

4. Product research: 

Be it a product upgrade or a new product concept, market research will help you understand if the target consumers will accept the product. Gather opinions and suggestions from consumers on various aspects of the product to create

How to conduct qualitative market research?


We have discussed the methods of data collection and uses of qualitative research so now let’s look at the steps to conduct qualitative market research. 

1. Determine the objective for conducting research: 

The research you want to conduct must have the desired outcome which explains what you want to achieve with this research. Determining the objective helps you map the research process and keep it aligned with the ultimate goal. 

2. Decide what methodology to use:

You can conduct qualitative research in many ways. We have explained five common methods – interview, ethnography, focus group, case study, and observation – above. 

3. Sample respondents: 

It’s not practical to gather responses from the entire target audience. Creating a sample audience enables you to gather relevant data that represents the target audience. 

It’s important to note a large sample size, gives you more accurate responses. There are three sampling methods – purpose, quota, and snowball sampling. 

You can also leverage a market research panel, like Voxco Audience, to create an ideal respondent panel for your research. A research panel gives you access to verified respondents willing to participate in research. 

Additional reads: What are sample surveys?

4. Design your survey: 

The questions you ask play an important role in the type of responses you gather. Personalize the survey, and write relevant and meaningful questions to engage the audience. 

5. Determine the data collection channels:

You can gather customer data online, offline, or by phone. For example, you can conduct a phone interview, a face-to-face interview, or a mobile-offline interview. Depending on the nature of the research, location, and the research topic, you can use a channel that will bring the most responses. 

6. Analyze the gathered data: 

Data analysis helps you make sense of your customer’s feedback. It helps you convert the data into actionable insights so you can make strategic business decisions. We have explained the analysis methods used for qualitative market research data above. 

7. Report the findings:

Share the findings with stakeholders, colleagues, executives, and everyone else in a way that is easy to understand. Use charts and graphs to give context to the findings instead of handing over long paragraphs. 

This sums up the seven steps to conducting qualitative research. Let’s look at some of its benefits.

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Benefits of qualitative market research

Qualitative research is often used because it preserves the voice and perspectives of the respondents which are usually converted into numerics in quantitative research. The advantages of qualitative research are listed below:

  1. The process of data collection and analysis is flexible and conversational in qualitative research; they are not rigidly defined and do not have to be systematically planned or decided beforehand.
  2. Qualitative research takes place in a naturalistic environment and provides insight into how individuals behave in natural settings.
  3. Since qualitative market research uses open-ended questions when collecting data, they offer a huge deal of new information that can be uncovered and studied by the researcher.
  4. Qualitative research is recommended when studying the launch of a new product in the market, developing a new product in the market, understanding the strength and weaknesses of the product in the market, and exploring the market in terms of consumer behavior, demographics, perception of the brand and product under study.


Be it a start-up or an established company, qualitative market research helps you understand customers’ motivation, feelings, and perceptions of your products and services. This research method enables you to learn why consumers make certain decisions and use the feedback to build your marketing and sales strategies. 

FAQs on qualitative market research

Qualitative market research helps you gather data that explains why customers make certain purchase decision. It enables you to understand customers’ feelings, values, and thoughts about your products or services. 

The four types of qualitative research are: 

  • Interviews
  • Focus group
  • Ethnography
  • Case study

Quantitative market research gathers numerical data that you can quantify and convert into statistical insights. It helps you find out “what” customers think of your brand. 

Qualitative research gathers textual or verbal data that you can use to understand “why” customers buy your products and “how” they make that decision. 

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