Qualitative vs Quantitative Research:  What’s the Difference?

Today’s business landscape is diverse, made up of organizations of different sizes, products services and each with a unique way in which to operate. However, one thing remains true, businesses seek to develop an edge, outpace their competition, improve products, better their market position and increase sales.

To accomplish these goals, businesses often rely on market research to understand exactly what the customer demands. More and more, data is driving decisions and becoming critical to business success.  It is vital that the research conducted, and the methods are best aligned to provide businesses with the information needed to execute on decisions directed toward success.

To understand market research, you must first understand the two main types of data collection, what they mean and what types of information is typically gleaned as well as how results can be used to strategically guide business decisions.


Qualitative Research

What is it?

Qualitative research is exploratory in nature, does not rely on numerical measures to discover respondents reasoning, motivations, attitudes, preferences and behaviors.  Used to define a challenge or problem allowing researchers to explore more than one alternative or uncover new ideas. It is assists in defining the why”.  With qualitative research your audience is able to physically interact with a concept or product and weigh in on its functionality and features.  It usually precedes quantitative research and requires subjective interpretation. It can both help further direct quantitative research and explain the results of a quantitative study.

Types of Qualitative Questions

Qualitative questions typically start with “what” or “how.”


Exploratory questions seek to provide in-depth understanding around what they are observing as well as the reasoning behind cause/effect relationships.  Ex: What are your experiences with the product? For what purposes do your customers use the product?


Interpretive questions gather feedback on a topic or concept to understand the messaging for a product or concept.  Ex: What does your company’s brand or ads convey to your current and potential customers? How do they feel or respond to the brand or ad?

Quantitative Research

What is it?

Quantitative research is numerically measurable and typically conclusive. It tends to be highly structured and allows you to run statistical analysis to confirm inferences. It can validate a hypothesis or assumption as well as findings from qualitative research. Resulting in recommendations for courses of action or direction while assisting in defining the “what” behind your problem or challenge.

Types of Quantitative Questions

Quantitative questions typically start with “what”, “how” or “why.”


Typically utilized to compare and contrast different products or concepts. They are meant to help choose the preferred option for your customer or audience.  Ex: What is the percentage of male versus females who utilize your product?


Descriptive questions seek to understand characteristics, opinions and satisfaction of a population.  Ex: How often do you utilize this type of product? What percent are female?

How Can Qualitative and Quantitative Work Together?

The nature of your research goals and objectives will dictate what order to conduct your research, whether to tackle qualitative or quantitative research first.  Qualitative provides a method to determine and explore the “why” of your customers actions and opinions while

quantitative research is a strong method to confirm your hypothesis or assumptions.  When utilized together, they allow your business to make strategic decisions based on direct feedback from your target audience. Each type of research provides valuable insights, when used together their combined findings can lead to well-informed decisions that can lead to or further your company’s success.