Bring Back Qualitative Research! / by Gavin Lau

Understanding consumers and their buying behaviour involves more than just quantitative information or ‘data’ which we so commonly hear daily. Whilst data is the new mantra, it is critical to get inside the mind of consumers, and this is where qualitative research is essential.

Go beyond the spreadsheets of data and statistical charts. Incorporate face-to-face interviews and focus groups for valuable insights into your target market. It’s not just about finding out what they think, but more importantly, “why.” Why are some brands chosen over others? Why are some campaigns remembered while others are forgotten? To have your brand resonate with consumers, marketers (more than ever) need to understand what drives emotions and what motivates people.

Research around the world has proven that we need to tap into consumers’ emotions and incorporate insights from buying behavior into our marketing strategies. Here are just a few findings that might surprise you:

  • The IPA’s The long and the Short of it, a study by Les Binet and Peter Field found that highly emotionally based work is ten times more effective than non-creative or non-emotional work.
  • A recent study by Warc found that the world’s best campaigns from the perspective of business impact (the top winners at effectiveness awards shows) were significantly more likely to use emotion at the heart of their campaigns.
  • According to neuroscience scholars like Antonio Damasio, we can only express 5% of the emotions that motivate us.

 We increasingly know that emotions drive decision-making and consumers are irrational forces in the marketplace. Traditionally, research has focused on rational elements, which are easier to measure. Research needs a reinvention that is designed to connect to the real science of decision-making. Only then will marketers produce more creative work that reaches consumers on an emotional level – and also drives great business results.

When thinking of how consumers choose brands, how they make purchases or repeat-purchase decisions, it all comes down to emotional relevance – an area we must know more about in order to better understand our consumers. Insights 2020, a marketing leadership initiative, will be looking at how best practice is changing in market research and how research providers need to change. It is an important opportunity to take a fresh look at an element of our industry that has for so long been questionable. The Insights 2020 review has topics such as digital and data in its sights. I would argue that it should have an additional point of focus: emotional connection.

Insights into the emotions of consumers will enable marketers to adapt and improve their marketing strategies and campaigns to more effectively reach consumers. It’s about finding ways of extending your product’s value across a broader or adjacent need spectrum. This can only happen successfully if an organisation has a continuous understanding of the “why” behind consumer behaviour and how it evolves.

The need for qualitative research is not going away. In fact, it is more important now than ever. While access to big data is more plentiful and indicative than in the past, the full human experience cannot be extracted from statistics alone. Businesses need to understand consumers’ motivations and emotional triggers if they want to succeed.