How to Do Qualitative Audience Research

Woman conducts qualitative audience research during zoom meetings with colleagues

Many startups struggle to increase their revenue, due to the failure to gather sufficient customer data.

Statistics published by SEM Rush showed that 66% of small businesses are facing financial challenges.

This is one of the reasons you should conduct qualitative audience research in order to get inside the minds of your prospective customers and gain a competitive advantage that will help you generate more revenue.

Qualitative audience research is an analysis method that helps you gain an understanding of the underlying feelings, opinions, reasons, and motivations for the behaviours of consumers or members of your target audience.

This research method helps you identify audience needs, clarify marketing messages, generate ideas for improvements, and gain perspective on how your products and services fit your customers’ lifestyles. Below, we provide an overview of how to conduct qualitative audience research.

Audience Avatars

Sometimes businesses get so focussed on what they are selling, they forget who they are selling to. Regardless of how awesome your products are, if you’re selling it to the wrong person then sales are likely to stall. 

This is why creating customer avatars (also known as customer profiles or buyer personas) are so important. 

A customer avatar is a fictional profile of your prospective customer, that includes their interests, frustrations, buying patterns, and information about where they hang out.

Collecting this data allows you to build comprehensive profiles of your ideal customer. 

Regardless of the type of marketing strategy you have, building a customer profile will make it much easier to create more targeted and successful campaigns. According to research by B2B Marketing Thought Leaders, ITSMA, 82% of businesses increased their value proposition by developing targeted audience profiles, 56% said it had resulted in better quality leads, and 90% said it gave them a more comprehensive understanding of who their buyers are.

Ultimately, any worthwhile marketing strategy should include audience research. If you are conducting qualitative audience research to take a deeper look at the motivations of your prospective customers, then a buyer persona is an essential starting point that will save you a lot of time later on down the line trying to piece everything together.

The data you collect in the process of conducting audience research will also help you to expand upon the data in your buyer profile and allow you to make better business decisions.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Audience Research Methods

There are many crucial decisions to make when planning your marketing research effort. These considerations become more important as marketing budgets shrink each year. A Gartner report indicates that marketing budgets have dropped by 6.4% between 2020 and 2021.

One of the most important decisions is whether to conduct quantitative or qualitative audience research. Quantitative audience research involves collecting a large amount of data through questionnaires, surveys, and polling methods.

The main goal of quantitative audience research is to gain standardized and reliable facts and statistics to inform key marketing or business decisions. Quantitative audience research can help you determine if your products or services have a strong market. It can also help you to generate insights through close-ended questions. The pool of respondents has to be large enough while ensuring that every demographic of your target audience are represented.

On the other hand, qualitative audience research involves determining what motivates or influences your target audience, usually through close observation – typically in face-to-face encounters, in-depth interviews, focus groups, online bulletin boards, and other innovative research methods. Qualitative market research methods typically involve surveying a smaller pool of respondents to gain actionable insights.

The main goal of qualitative audience research is to dive deeper into understanding the emotions and motivations of your target audience. 

Qualitative audience research can reveal what motivates customer behaviors, why customers love or dislike a brand, and why they respond to particular marketing messages.

Overall, your marketing goals determine which audience research method you will use.

In this article, we will focus on qualitative audience research as the data it unpacks can be so much more useful in understanding how to influence your customers to make purchasing decisions.

What Audience Data Do You Need?

One way to gather valuable marketing data is to investigate the reactions to your marketing and advertising campaigns. Perhaps you want to assess the usability of your website or other interactive services. Alternatively, you may be interested in analysing the perceptions about your brand and products or services. These are important marketing goals that will determine the audience data you need and the specific research tactics needed to collect that data.

Qualitative audience research typically relies on open-ended questions designed to invite your target audience to tell their stories using their own words. The data you need for qualitative audience analysis may include:

Accounts can be in the form of participants detailing experiences, views, attitudes, opinions, beliefs, and motivations. These will often be collected over a period of time.

Audio Recordings
You can also derive audio recordings from focus groups, in-depth interviews, and observational studies.

These are notes taken to describe the characteristics or qualities of a product, service, or experience.

Video Recordings 

Includes footage taken from focus groups, in-depth interviews, and observational studies.

Methods of Qualitative Research

There are several ways to gather the data you need to build up a picture of your ideal target market. These methods can either be used alone or in combination to help you understand the thought processes that influence purchasing decisions. We discuss these in further detail below.

1. In-Depth Online Interviews

In-depth interviews offer an excellent method for diving deeper into your audience’s mindset so that the researcher gains a better understanding of what influences them to buy from you. You schedule interviews for a specific time, and they typically last between 30 to 60 minutes. Online or phone interviews are excellent for voice of customer (VoC) research as well as new product/service development. 

The advantage of online interviews is that it can be done remotely. These interviews can be arranged by asking customers for their views via your website, or social media pages. While online surveys are very convenient and accessible, ad hoc interviews allow you to have a real-time conversation with the customer so you can ask about specific experiences and events.

2. Questionnaires and Surveys

Questionnaires and surveys are two of the most widely used methods to collect qualitative data. They provide a relatively easy and cost-effective method of gathering qualitative audience data.

You can create surveys and questionnaires online through pop-ups or widgets or distribute them to your target audience through social media or email. You can also utilize online survey tools, such as SurveyMonkey, SmartSurvey and others, depending on the type of audience you want to gather qualitative data from.

3. Social Media Listening

A group of people sitting around a desk with speech bubbles around

Social media listening has catapulted in recent years, because it offers a wealth of insights. It can help you understand how your target audience perceives your brand and trends. Consumers write blogs on social media posts, review brands, join causes, and discuss everything on social media platforms. Social media listening involves using a wide range of social monitoring tools, such as Buffer, Hootsuite, and other tools to mine these online conversations at any given time.

The goal is to observe the conversation volume over time and note the conversation peaks, sentiments, who’s doing the talking, and the contexts. With this data, you can determine themes surrounding products, market gaps, untapped target demographics, places to source content, and potential influencers.

4. Usability Tests

Woman pointing at a recording phone

Usability tests are employed in user-centered interaction design to evaluate how easy it is to use your website and other platforms. The researchers create a situation where the participants perform a number of tasks using the platform being tested.

The researchers observe and take notes. Usability tests are helpful in determining the pain points of your audience and factors that affect their overall experience with your platforms. Usability testing provides important insights into how your target audience interacts with your website.

The purpose is to observe how your audience functions in real situations so that you can identify problem areas. You can use this insight to implement appropriate optimizations that will improve user experience across your platforms.

5. Online Forums

Woman on laptop with chatroom bubbles

Online forums involve bringing together a select group of panel members onto a common online platform to discuss a particular topic. Panel members can be former customers, stakeholders, prospective customers, and whoever else may be relevant to the conversation. It is an increasingly popular qualitative audience research method.

On the other hand, you can also utilize existing online forums such as Quora, industry-specific forums, or online spaces such as Twitter clubhouse, or other forums such as the Small Business Forum to start conversations, gather opinions and data.

Typically, these forums work best when a moderator or facilitator from your company guides the online discussion to ensure an actionable outcome. They drive the direction of the discussion, ask the right questions and probe the panel members to elicit relevant and thorough responses.

Why Is Qualitative Audience Research Important?

Male hands typing on laptop and calculator with coins nearby

Audience research is crucial because it is challenging to communicate effectively with an audience you do not understand. Qualitative audience research enables you to have a better understanding of your audience and why they make the purchasing decisions they do. It is an essential component of a digital marketing strategy, which is important for the success of any type of business.

Reaching the right people and formulating a brand message that resonates with them is the crux of audience analysis. This, in turn, helps you connect with your customer and position your brand better, which allows you to make better decisions. It also helps you to remain customer-centric rather than product/service-led in your thinking, which is an increasingly important aspect for consumers today.

It’s more crucial than ever today to understand the problems that members of your target audience have. Audience research can help you formulate relevant solutions to these problems and address their challenges. You may be asking yourself – what does my target audience think of my brand? Am I communicating my brand message, products, and services in the right way? Audience analysis can give you insights into these questions and allow you to integrate the mindset of your audience into your decision-making process.

Overall, thorough audience research and analysis helps inform your content marketing strategy. Your content strategy helps answer your audience’s questions, foster trust, build relationships and improve conversions.

Why Is Qualitative Audience Research Important?

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