Imagine for a moment: you are in a new kitchen with all the tools, recipe and ingredients in their exact quantities to prepare your favorite meal. Now let us assume that at no point through the cooking process do you taste the food, or test for completion using any of your other senses. In the end, you might produce a good meal; you have, after all, followed the process and quantitative directions while cooking. However, there is a chance that the food is not quite done, or possibly overdone as you did not account for the nuances and particulars related to working with unfamiliar equipment.
Neglecting to incorporate qualitative data has meant you may have missed an opportunity for the meal to be as ideal as possible. You might find the concept of cooking without using any of your five senses ridiculous; however, marketers sometimes fall into this very trap. In the age of Big Data, advertisers are hyper-focused on quantitative benchmarks and measures, which occasionally causes us to overlook qualitative data that is necessary in understanding the complete scope of what we aim to accomplish.
The Data Trap
On November 8, 2016 as the world watched Donald J. Trump become the 45th President of the United States of America, many people found themselves scratching their heads wondering how this came to pass. Polling data on the day of the election from 10 major polling organizations indicates only 1 accurately predicted a Trump victory. Additionally, according to RealClearPolitics.com, Trump was only higher than Clinton in the polls on July 22, 2016. Another key consideration here is that according to Bloomberg, the Trump campaign only raised 54% of the amount raised by Hilary Clinton.
Regardless of where you fall politically, it is noteworthy that despite leading in both investment and independent polling figures (key quantitative benchmarks), the Clinton campaign missed something. The diagnosis of the errors in the polls suggest “nonresponse bias” was the primary cause for error, whereby a statistically relevant number of groups of people in support of Trump were not captured enough in polling data to accurately reflect the outcome. Ultimately, this meant that there weren’t enough assumptions baked in to the polling forecasts to account for the social (qualitative) phenomena which were tied to a significant amount of Trump votes.
So… what can we, as marketers and advertisers, use as learnings from this?
How Qualitative Marketing Has Been Employed
Qualitative data is challenging to analyze and can therefore, make evaluating success difficult. Because of this, we sometimes shy away from integrating it into strategy or giving it necessary weight in discussion. When we examine real-world scenarios where qualitative data is overlooked or not rigorously considered and incorporated, even the best plans are prone to fail.
As an example of a scenario in which qualitative data has helped guide strategic thinking for marketers: consider your most recent dentist visit, and how — in many situations — you walked away with some free toothpaste. The strategy is simple; by leveraging an expert, the objective is to keep your brand top-of-mind when the consumer makes their purchase decision at the first moment of truth. The use of a professional effectively creates an implied endorsement for the brand and product which can provoke a thought and hopefully action at shelf.
However, from a measurement standpoint, we are not sure how much toothpaste the consumer already has at home, meaning the consumer may not have an immediate need to buy and therefore switch. If they are using a competing product, and have a large enough inventory at home, you may not realize the success of your efforts until six months later. Yet, when they reach the end of their current inventory, it might prompt a try-and-switch scenario.
How Can We Achieve a Finer Balance Going Forward?
I would recommend we all consistently challenge ourselves at the following three key touchpoints as we plan to be more effective at incorporating qualitative data:
Pre-Campaign: Look for opportunity using qualitative data from observation and patterns in conjunction with quantitative data to create more tightly-woven plans. For example: leverage key life moments such as going to college, or becoming a mother. Alternatively, look for opportunities to leverage professionals and perceived experts like dentists (from the example), beauty stylists, mechanics etc.
During Campaign: We need to experience our campaigns as much as possible to grasp how they work by putting ourselves in the shoes of our consumers. Experience the qualitative aspects of the campaign this way while also gathering your quantitative success measures. Live it to understand it, and then market it!
Post Campaign: Leverage efficiency studies in addition to ROI to help measure and understand both data sets to measure success and brand health
The same way we use both measurements and instinct with cooking, as marketers we should incorporate qualitative and quantitative data in our marketing efforts and strategies. Qualitative data will help us better understand the drivers behind quantitative information. Leveraging qualitative insights may also highlight strategic opportunities not previously considered. Most importantly, asking these questions and demanding this level of detail will not only ensure we cook up the best possible plans but that we also innovate. Finally, as with the world of food, remember that you should never be afraid to try new things!