This article will explore qualitative research methods for investigating consumer perceptions and will discuss focus groups, online qualitative research and in-depth interviews. “The objective of qualitative research is to uncover feelings, attitudes, memories, and interpretations” (Baines, et al., 2011, p. 135), and can be analysed in order to improve a brand and its consumer perceptions.
In-depth interviews can allow a thorough insight into user perceptions and often involves “the interviewing of consumers individually, for perhaps one of two hours on a topic” (Jobber, 2010, p. 232). These are usually conducted face-to-face and are relevant for qualitative research questions, as they allow detailed information to be gathered regarding consumer attitudes, beliefs and perceptions. To allow more valid and reliable information, this method provides opportunity for both clarifying probes, “which help the interviewer understand exactly what the interviewee is saying” (Jobber, 2010, p. 235). As well as, exploratory probes “which stimulate the interviewee to give a full answer” (Jobber, 2010, p. 235).
Furthermore, unlike other methods, face-to-face interviews allow the interviewer to note facial expressions, tone of voice and emotions. These can all be noted when interviews are transcribed and could help towards giving a broader view into user perceptions.
However, unfortunately in-depth interviews can often be time consuming for both the interviewer and interviewee and could cause respondents to lose interest. This may cause the respondent to give short answers, which decreases the validity of the information provided. Therefore, interviewers must ensure engagement with interviewee, which can be carried out through activities and showing videos etc. As well as this, an unfamiliar location for an interview may cause the respondent to feel uncomfortable and limiting in-depth detail, which could have been prevented by creating a more relaxing environment for the respondent.
Unlike in-depth interviews, focus groups can reveal ideas which may not have been thought of but occur “where group members feed off each other” (Jobber, 2010, p. 222). This allows in-depth detail to be gained for the benefit of improving a brand. Focus groups “are discussions where a number of volunteering participants are invited to discuss a particular subject matter in a focused, yet open and free flowing manner for a limited time” (Moisander & Valtonen, 2006, p. 72). This lets various participants discuss a topic, and if any disagreements are found, these can be discussed further to allow detailed information to be attained. As a result, this enables opinions from the majority to be analysed, in order to allow a more effective improvement to the brand management of product or service.
However, a disadvantage is that information from focus groups can often be biased, due to “the presence of research groupies” (Jobber, 2010, p. 222), who frequently attend focus groups and could and influence the opinions of others. Dominant participants could also override the opinions of those who are quieter, as they may feel intimidated and reluctant to offer their opinions in front of others. Therefore this could affect the validity of the information attained from the research.
Online qualitative research
Dissimilar the other two methods, online qualitative research is not conducted face-to-face. This method of research can take the form of online forums and blogs, which can be used to discuss specific topics. These include participants who answer questions which are submitted online, and can also view material sent by the moderator. The advantage of this method is that forums can continue over a period of time, and also allow involvement from international respondents. This method can be very convenient for respondents to discuss online whenever they are available, if no certain time is allocated.
However, the disadvantage of this method is that respondents may simply agree to the opinion which is expressed by the majority. Furthermore, there could also be different cultural associations and meanings in different countries, and therefore accurate information may not be provided. This is alongside language barriers, which may prevent in-depth information being available to the moderator. Online qualitative research can be prone to technical problems being experienced by respondents, and therefore this could delay research being carried out.
Overall, qualitative research can be essential for improving brand management and in particular for developing an initial understanding of how customers perceive a certain product category. As well as to gain an insight into different perceptions about a companies product between groups and categories of people. This can be important for uncovering underlying motivations and factors for purchasing a product and can be beneficial to keep an organisation ahead of their competitors.
Baines, P., FIll, C. and Page, K. (2011) ‘Marketing’, 2nd edn., Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jobber, D. (2010) ‘Principles and Practise of Marketing’, 6 edn., Berkshire: McGraw-Hill Education.
Moisander, J. & Valtonen, A. (2006) ‘Qualitative marketing research; A cultural approach’, London: SAGE publications Ltd.