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Valid results in market research are achieved not so much by the choice of method employed, but by how well they are used. Market research is a business activity that discovers information of use in making marketing decisions. There are two main types of research methods. Quantitative research focuses on obtaining data that can be represented numerically and analysed statistically. However, qualitative research is research aimed at collecting deep and detailed information about the attitudes and feelings that bring about the behaviours that qualitative research identifies. It has been determined that in the past, market researchers have been counting mainly on quantitative research. Both market research methods, if used well, can contribute to marketing by providing valuable information to market researchers. The similarities and differences of each market research approach will be closely examined through journal articles and numerous books.
Major Schools of Thought
History plays an important part behind the controversy between the roles of quantitative and qualitative market research. The two major schools of thought include positivism and idealism. Positivism follows the quantitative approach whereas idealism supports the qualitative approach (Patton 1978, 1980). Many scholars have different views on each type of approach. Well known psychologists Charles Reichardt and Thomas Cook (1979) found that qualitative research is more suited for theory generation while quantitative research is more appropriate for theory verification. Their idea indicates that individuals have been using the wrong research approach during situations, resulting in a “methods bias” in marketing research. Their suggestion also has resulted in market researchers using both approaches in an investigation as theory construction is as vital as theory verification. Reichardt and Cook (1979) also stated that the quantitative approach is said to be objective and being fixed to what happens at the end of the process whilst the qualitative approach is subjective and tied to performing a set of tasks. Each approach has resulted in two competing research groups, one acknowledging the power of detailed observational data and the other accepting the qualities of survey data (Sieber, 1973).
Qualitative Market Research
In qualitative research methods, the questions provide respondents unlimited opportunities to express their feelings and thoughts. Qualitative methods provide chances for improving the researchers’ knowledge and obtaining valuable insights. The key qualitative approaches include interviews and focus groups. Marketers are becoming certain that qualitative research can contribute significantly to the success of their market investigation (Satlow, 1989). If used effectively, these methods provide users with the understanding to make informed decisions concerning the research problem. To achieve this, an absolute understanding of ones’ feelings, motives and the reasons behind their behaviour is needed. Many scholars believe qualitative research to be more flexible than quantitative research as it involves discovering unexpected findings. This is because researchers can affect the direction in which conversations with individuals are heading. Qualitative research provides valuable insight which can be obtained through a practice of analysis and the combination of beliefs expressed by individuals (Spiggle, 1994).
In relation to qualitative research, the final results can be affected by the researcher’s personality, such as their communication skills, and their ability to understand the individuals’ behaviour (Marshall and Rossman, 1989). Thus, valid results are achieved by how well qualitative methods are employed by the researcher rather than the choice of method employed. Furthermore, qualitative research results might be of concern due to the fact that that certain results may have been different with a different researcher. Qualitative research obtains information about consumer behaviour which provides insights into emotions. The researcher experiences this understanding through a personal confrontation with the respondent. Insights are not presented through graphs or statistics but develop as researchers face up to actual consumers. The value of qualitative research is not determined by how many consumers say something but by what is being communicated and how it is being communicated. For valid qualitative results, the researcher must carefully choose an appropriate range of people to make certain that various views of consumers are collected.
The classical strengths of qualitative research methods include concrete depiction of detail, portrayal of process in an active mode, and attention to the perspectives of those studied (Patton 1980).
Quantitative Market Research
Quantitative research places its emphasis on fixed measurements, hypothesis testing and a form of fieldwork participation. The main quantitative market research approaches include experimentation and observation. Quantitative research involves the counting and measuring of events and undertaking the examination of the statistics found (Smith 1988). Quantitative research is able to illustrate a pattern that stretches across a great number of circumstances. He believes that each one should be used depending on what type of problem is being addressed. The point of interest relating to the quantitative paradigm is that measurement is reliable and valid in its clear calculation of cause and effect (Cassell & Symon, 1994). Unlike the qualitative method, the researchers own principles and biases do not play a role in the quantitative approach. A strength of the quantitative research approach is that it powerfully follows the original collection of research objectives, it arrives at objective conclusions and is able to test hypothesis.
The Process of Triangulation
Marketing researchers have learnt to triangulate the qualitative and quantitative market research. Triangulation is defined by Denzin (1978) as the combination of methods in the investigation of the same event. Triangulation involves using an appropriate mix of both quantitative and qualitative methods so that the strengths of each method can be incorporated together and any weaknesses be eliminated by the strengths of the other method. Triangulation is able to provide what qualitative or quantitative research alone could not have found. Mixing methods can also lead to new insights and ensure that the user is confident and convinced with their findings. In particular, the process of triangulation requires creativeness from the researcher. It responds to an observation suggested by one sociologist (Phillips, 1971) who stated that researchers must not continue to perform the usual dull investigations which have been used over the past. Rossman and Wilson (1984, 1991) suggested three reasons to join qualitative and quantitative methods. These included enabling verification of each method, to provide increased detail and to attempt new ways of thinking. There has been a move towards combining qualitative and quantitative methods “to provide a richer basis for interpretation and validating results” (Cook and Reichardt, 1976). Collecting different types of information by different approaches from different sources provides a wider range of coverage that result in a clearer understanding of the investigation (Bonoma, 1985). Because of this, an increasing number of scholars have pushed for the combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches (Mertens (2005); Creswell (2003); Tashakkori and Teddlie (2003); Newman and Benz (1998)).
The differences in the role of each method do not reverse the view that there are reasons for choosing particular methods in specific situations (Patton, 1980). Each method can provide different kinds of information. Thus, each approach can make a contribution to an investigation without being totally committed to one method. However, some people accept the Incompatibility Thesis (Howe, 1988), which recommends that quantitative and qualitative methods should not be mixed. On the other hand, some scholars consider qualitative techniques as not detailed enough to provide reliable results (Richards (2004); Lilford and Braunholtz (2003)). Qualitative processes involve innovative and different methods that may prove hard to understand. The quality of the outcome relies on how efficient the researcher is in examining qualitative material. A thorough process for obtaining and breaking down data contributes to the validity of research that combines qualitative and quantitative techniques (Miles and Huberman (1994)).
Differences between Qualitative and Quantitative research
There are certain differences between each type of market research. Cassell and Symon (1994) identified six differences between the quantitative and qualitative research approach. The first difference is the fact that there quantitative research is based around numbers whilst qualitative research is based around words. They also believe that qualitative researchers use their own subjective understanding to the perception of their investigation whereas quantitative researchers are objective. Cassell and Symon determined that qualitative researchers support flexibility in their investigations whereas quantitative research is more rule-driven. This is because quantitative researchers begin their investigations with a set model of their plan such as a survey while qualitative researchers do not usually have any plans to follow. Thus, qualitative researchers have the flexibility to deal with unpredictable research problems, which is essential in present-day marketing, and are even encouraged to take side tracks which may lead to new insights. The researcher also ensures that topics of marketing significance are brought up. Quantitative researchers are able to remove any problems before they occur, which can be achieved by using a detailed research design. Qualitative research is heavily grounded whereas quantitative research is more general. Qualitative researchers focus more on understanding processes and less on predicting outcomes where quantitative researchers do quite the opposite. Qualitative researchers are more open about participant’s responses than quantitative researchers as they are looking to obtain information about the individuals’ emotions and feelings that bring about the behaviours that qualitative research identifies (Cassell and Symon 1994). Quantitative researchers use statistical analysis (Elmore & Woehlke 1998), while qualitative researchers use engagement with the individual and constant observation (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Quantitative research measures whereas qualitative research provides insight. This insight is achieved during the process including analysis and useful understanding of opinions expressed by respondents (Spiggle, 1994).
Similarities between Qualitative and Quantitative research
Much of the contest between quantitative and qualitative approaches has separated rather than united market researchers. However, there are various similarities between the two research methods. Each approach involves the use of observations to investigate research questions. As noted by Sechrest and Sidani (1995), both methods illustrate their data, form arguments from their research, and consider reasons why the outcomes received were as they were. Newman and Benz (1998) stated that quantitative and qualitative research represents an interactive area. Furthermore, the role of theory is essential for both methods. In qualitative research the most common purpose is that of theory generation, whereas for quantitative research the aim is theory verification (Newman & Benz, 1998). Hence, neither method is independent of the other and nor can either approach cover the whole research process alone. Thus, both research methods are necessary to gain a more complete understanding from the investigation. (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004; Newman & Benz, 1998). Nevertheless, all research in the social sciences represents an effort to understand human behaviour.
It is clearly evident from the roles of each research method that valid results in market research are achieved not so much by the choice of method employed, but by how well they are used. In the past, there has been great debate about quantitative and qualitative research methods. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a division between quantitative and qualitative market researchers, who believe they are in rivalry with each other. Both methods play an important role in marketing and both methods can achieve valid results if they are used effectively. The role of quantitative research and qualitative research do not only have differences but also similarities. There must be greater importance placed on knowledge of qualitative methods and understanding their relevance in today’s marketplace. This has resulted in the practice of triangulation where each market research approach is used together in an investigation to ensure the success of the research outcome. Validity can be best measured with multiple methods.
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