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Qualitative Research

Award winning qualitative research specialists from East Anglia's leading market research agency
Our specialist qualitative researchers have years of experience as moderators and ethnographers, and we pride ourselves in our humanistic approach to uncovering what can often be sensitive information.

Qualitative market research

What is qualitative research?

Qualitative market research methods can provide the means of gaining a broad, yet in-depth, understanding of the underlying reasons and motivations behind decisions that people make. Data gained from qualitative methods is detailed and verbatim rather than numerical in format - in other words, it is not quantifiable.

Instead, qualitative research comprises of a thorough investigation into what respondents really think or feel. Qualitative research has a number of applications, and is particularly effective when combined with quantitative methods to support  statistical insights. For example, you may want to ask customers what their particular needs are, to gain input from customers to improve a product or service, or to gain a foundation on which to build quantitative research. Common qualitative market research methods include focus groups, interviews with open-ended questions, participant observation, and mystery shopping.

Conducted effectively, qualitative research can generate rich and detailed data. It enables the opinions of participants to be heard verbatim and for multiple contexts to be taken into consideration. This can add a human aspect to data, particularly when considering pain points. If an appropriate sample is selected, research can easily represent the whole community or population with as few as 15 respondents. Small sample sizes give greater control over accuracy and can filter out non-experienced consumers before a survey commences.

Interested in a qualitative method? Read on to hear about some of the qualitative research methods that we use at Mackman Research.

Qualitative Market Research | Mackman Research

Why use qualitative research methods?

If you are interested in obtaining rich data about the feelings, opinions and perceptions of respondents, qualitative research will provide a deeper level of understanding that includes nuances, motivation and emotion. At Mackman Research we are experienced ethnographers and we regularly employ qualitative research methods, including: focus groups, telephone surveys, in-depth interviews, and participant observation.

Qualitative methods typically collect data from a sample that is smaller than that used for quantitative research, and respondents can be selected using a variety of sampling methods. When using structured questionnaires, open-ended questions are frequently included, and for social setting observations we may use a semi-structured format to allow for free flow conversation. Where insight is required into questions that begin with 'How?' or 'Why?', qualitative research is the ideal methodological framework.

How does qualitative market research work?

When conducting a qualitative market research survey, researchers will look for themes and similarities in responses. Here they may begin to weave in additional lines of enquiry so that data collection remains flexible and responsive. In these instances, research projects using qualitative methods require expert handling, as they are likely to reveal unpredictable outcomes that will, no doubt, need to be explored. In addition, when conversing using semi-structured interview templates or questionnaires, the field researcher must be experienced in handling 'live' verbatim data, knowing which data trails to follow, and which to simply record.

During the research, data analysts can search for trends within the responses such as subjects who are providing the same or similar answers to questions. Here clusters are created to begin to build a general population representation of preference or feeling. Qualitative research can include a mixture of open and closed questions to create a blend of resolute data and in-depth free flowing responses that provide further information to support closed questions.

Work with us

At Mackman Research, our experienced and qualified team know how to engage with respondents to encourage data whilst avoiding bias. We have spent many years developing our craft 'in the field' and have overcome particular challenges presented by our many different projects to deliver award winning research findings. We continue to keep abreast of advancements in the research sector so that we always offer the very best and most appropriate research methods to all of our clients, and we relish opportunities to put our years of experience into practice.

Focus Groups, Qualitative Market Research | Mackman Research

Focus groups

Small, in-depth group discussions can yield data that benefits from respondent interaction.

Focus groups are appropriate when testing a product or seeking a quick or timely set of qualitative results. Focus groups help you to connect with your direct market, so you can become more aware of what is going on with your customers, their motivations and attitudes. They are ideal when developing or testing solutions and strategies and provide a sound exploratory technique because of the freedom and interaction inherent in a group situation.

Focus groups typically involve a small number of respondents (between 6 – 12 people). In each instance, and we can recruit participants using a specific and targeted selection criteria. Our focus groups are managed by an experienced moderator and will follow a semi-structured topic guide to ensure that conversations remain focused. With consent, we record the group with a video camera or sound recorder. An additional researcher will be present as note taker, and we may use other props (such as products or images) to spark conversation and gather opinion.

Our focus groups

Our focus group moderator will guide a discussion lasting 1 to 1 ½ hours. During this time, respondents are invited to speak freely and we carefully encourage all focus groups members to join in. Our moderators are trained to make all group members feel comfortable and relaxed in order to gain maximum responses and truthful discussion. We quickly develop a balance within the group between those who are more forthcoming and those who are a little reserved.

We recommend that each focus group member be given an incentive to take part in the activity, either as a cash gift or charitable donation. This is a standard industry practice and is seen as payment in kind when asking individuals to travel and take time out of their day to attend the group.

Once the group session reaches an end we thank participants and clearly communicate, again, who will see the footage and where the data will be presented.  We then start transcribing our data - a process that is performed with meticulous attention so that we are sure to include all interactions (each hour of footage produces an average of eight hours of transcription). Hence our focus group transcription will record direct quotes, phrases and even facial expressions that contribute to meaning and strength of feeling. The focus group report can be presented alongside the original footage (where participant consent is given), and as always, our presentation style aims to meet your organisational or project aims. 

Is your research enquiry suited to focus groups? Find out by talking to us.

Telephone Surveys

Telephone interviews are no longer considered an inferior substitute to face to face surveys.

Today telephone research is a reliable and widely used qualitative market research method of gathering in-depth survey data. Mackman Research specialises in high quality, low volume telephone surveys of senior executives, key stakeholders, and community representatives. As a boutique research agency, we do not operate a large scale and impersonal call centre. Instead we have a small number of very skilled and experienced telephone interview researchers. We believe that our researchers are representing your organisation. That is why we encourage all of our clients to have direct contact with the telephone research interviewers working on your project.

When conducting customer satisfaction or B2B research, telephone questionnaires have some significant advantages.

Advantages of telephone questionnaires

  • Answers to questions asked in a telephone interview are often as valid as those asked face to face.
  • Telephone interviews have the anonymous quality of self-administered questionnaires with  the personal quality of face to face interviews. So, telephone surveys are unintimidating (like self administered questionnaires). They allow interviewers to probe or answer questions dealing with ambiguity or uncertainty (just as in a personal interview).
  • Telephone surveying is less expensive and more convenient than face to face interviewing. It is not without effort though; often telephone interviewers will need to call a number up to eight times before that call is answered. We frequently make as many as 10 attempts to call back potential telephone interview respondents.
  • There is no reaction to the appearance of telephone interviewers. However, respondents do react to accents and speech patterns. Mackman Research telephone interviewers are adept at voice matching techniques. This increases our ability to connect with participants and achieving superb response rates. 
  • Telephone interviewing is safe to undertake as each party is situated in private settings.

At Mackman Research, we have a proven track record of gathering insightful data via qualitative telephone methods. Have a survey requirement but not sure if telephone surveying is suitable? Contact us and a member of our research team will be happy to talk through your options.

Telephone Surveys, Qualitative Market Research Illustration | Mackman Research

Contact Mackman research today 

For an initial informal discussion with a senior member of our team either complete the contact form or call us on 01787 388 038. We would be interested to discuss your requirements in more depth and how best to move forward.

Case Studies, Qualitative Market Research | Mackman Research

In-depth case studies

In-depth case studies are perhaps the most personal of all qualitative methods.

An in-depth case study often employs semi-structured interview techniques. They require a lot of reflection and reflexivity as respondents reveal more detail about personal experiences.

An in-depth case study may be used when constructing low volume accounts of user experience involving barriers to service. Case studies are also very useful when campaigning for change, presenting a case for policy implementation, or documenting life-long issues. Typically we may create in-depth case studies of just a handful of participants (maximum of 5). This is in order to build 'stories' relating to individual life journeys.

What does an in-depth case study involve?

In-depth case studies take time. A case study is created with layers of interview data recorded over several sessions. This can be a lengthy process and is dependant on subject location and availability. Of course, the data recorded during such interviews can be highly detailed and takes additional time to transcribe. Our expert researchers, however, are adept at transcription and enjoy extracting what is often rich data.

The Mackman Research team can advise you on when and how to use in-depth case studies. Our personable approach means that we aim to make connections with respondents, and we ensure our data is stored with the uppermost care. 

Participant observation

Participant observation is a research strategy that involves getting close to people whilst located in a specific setting.

It requires the researcher to 'blend in' as a participant, adopting either a covert or overt researcher position. When covert, additional ethical considerations need to be made. The researcher must assume an alternative persona in order to go undetected. If the people under observation are aware of the researcher presence, care must be taken to minimise disruption or researcher influence. We have tried and tested methods and as experienced ethnographers are able to overcome such challenges using a blended approach to researcher positioning.

Participant observation typically involves fieldwork where we record interactions in a particular setting. Participant observation can include survey methods when and where appropriate as a means to collating opinion and experience. However, this method is only employed during public events where researchers are likely to be accepted. Survey material can be layered with observations about social distancing, use of space or facilities, and crowd behaviour.

Why is participant observation useful?

Findings often form part of a broader report or study and are useful particularly when making a case for change of use, service development. The entertainment industry benefits from this type of research due to its ability to map special use and create persona clusters.

Whilst participant observation can deliver highly valuable research data, it is a specialist method requiring a skilled researcher. Mackman Research has a participant observation specialist on the team who is adept at this particular method. If you would like to explore using participant observation as a data collection method, please contact us and our research director, Dr. Gemma Mackman, will be happy to discuss your research proposal further.

Participant Observation, Qualitative Market Research | Mackman Research

Mystery Shopping, Qualitative Market Research | Mackman Research

Mystery shopping

Applied insight gained from mystery shopping encourages customer loyalty and retention and maximises customer lifetime value.

Despite the rise of social media encouraging customers to share their views, a relatively low percentage of people take the time to complain about unsatisfactory experiences. They instead take their business elsewhere without giving any feedback. This limits the ability of companies to understand pain points and make effective changes to retain these customers. Mystery shopping is a highly effective way to understand the customer experience through objective customer feedback.

Mystery shoppers pose as typical shoppers and complete feedback pertaining to their experience. They assess levels of service, customer care, staff capabilities and customer satisfaction. For example, businesses should offer an environment that is clean and welcoming. Failure to do so will be noticed by customers.

Mystery shopping can provide valuable insight in a wide variety of different industries where businesses deal with customers or clients directly, and turn customers into brand champions through superior service.

Why choose mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is a valuable and flexible qualitative market research method. It allows you to monitor service levels and can be reported on with almost immediate effect. As such it is a popular choice for retail businesses and educational institutions. These organisations can receive real-time feedback from mystery shoppers in a broad variety of settings ranging from school open events and campuses to shop floors and service counters.

Mystery shopping benefits from being conducted on a number of occasions in order to assess service level consistency. Monthly or bi-annual repetition therefore creates supervision over time. Our team are experienced mystery shoppers and are able to adopt typical consumer personas if and when required. Our reporting is designed to suit your needs and we can give you immediate feedback.

Contact us to begin to build your mystery shopping scenario.

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