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Unveiling the ‘WHY’ in Marketing Research – Big Data and Qualitative Data Analysis

Thomas Muhr“Big Data” is not just a buzzword anymore. For research and marketing worldwide, it is becoming a matter of course to analyze fast growing data for the purpose of gaining valuable information on consumer behavior.

What is new – and of particular interest for me as the CEO of ATLAS.ti – is the growing importance of qualitative research in analyzing big data. Over the last few years, our software sales to institutes and companies doing marketing research have grown rapidly. I am optimistic that this trend will continue for a long time since the “datafication” process seems endless.

But what exactly is the added value of a qualitative approach to big data analysis?

Well, the answer is simple. Although standard data collection techniques enable us to record millions of bits of information on ‘what’ people consume, quantitative methods alone cannot help researchers discover the ‘why’ behind a consumer’s choice. This is where qualitative research helps us understand the context in which people make a decision.

For example, an online retailer might notice that a person who purchases product A – let’s say a coffee machine – also typically buys product B. Obvious choices for B could be fair trade coffee or a milk foamer. But what if product B is not a complementary product but instead a certain brand of smartphone?

Pure statistical analysis of quantitative numbers is reaching its limits for understanding such correlations in order to construct an appropriate marketing response. In fact, today everything can be related to everything else with simple data. It is only through the strength of qualitative analysis that we see the bigger picture behind those relations, and thus begin to truly understand consumers’ decisions.

Unlike quantitative methods, in which the focus is on empirical investigation solely through statistical or numeric data, qualitative research seeks to elicit deeper insight into these relationships. It does so by iterative “coding”, categorization, and processing “qualitative” data such as text, audio and video. In this way, it studies subjects’ reality.

Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) software offers marketing experts and researchers the ability to systematically manage and analyze these unstructured qualitative data. Whether this data comes in the form of online shopping carts, surveys, focus-­‐groups, or even photos and videos, QDA software allows us to explore and understand the factors that shape decisions and the context in which they are made.

The success of marketing strategies increasingly depends on the capability of interpreting data in complex and intelligent ways. Knowledge about context of purchase is one integral part of that success, both now and in the future.

Qualitative analysis is ready for business, it is increasingly being used there, and its insights can prove invaluable. It is worth to take a deeper look inside your data.

About The Author

Thomas Muhr

Thomas Muhr, psychologist and software engineer, is the founder and CEO of ATLAS.ti GmbH, a leading software company for qualitative and mixed data analysis. In 1993, Muhr released the first commercial version of the software. Today, the program is sold and used around the world, with major organizations and corporate players among its enthusiastic users, including Microsoft, the United Nations and Google.

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