Ipsos Encyclopedia - Qualitative Research

As Qualitative practitioners at Ipsos, we know that its purpose and value to marketers has been its ability to uncover fresh, unexpected and in depth learnings that help identify, create and maintain a distinct point of difference for their innovations and brand and communication propositions.


To define Qualitative today, it is useful to look at the definition that was being used in the 20th Century, the second half of which saw significant growth of qualitative in popularity, particularly in the US and UK. 

"Qualitative research is usually exploratory or diagnostic.  It answers questions such as What, Why or How but it cannot answer the question How Many and it is centrally concerned with understanding things rather than measuring them"

(Source: An Introduction to Qualitative Market Research. Mike Imms and Gill Ereaut)

"Qualitative research involves small samples of people which are not necessarily representative of larger populations; it employs a wide variety of techniques to collect data, not simply a structured question and answer format; it relies on interpretation of the findings which is an integral part of the data collection and indeed begins well before the fieldwork commences at the briefing.  It allows access to the ways in which consumers express themselves"

(Source: GoodThinking, Wendy Gordon, 1999)

As Qualitative practitioners at Ipsos, we know that its purpose and value to marketers has been its ability to uncover fresh, unexpected and in depth learnings that help identify, create and maintain a distinct point of difference for their innovations and brand and communication propositions.

Frankly, times have changed and we are now facing a very different world in 2017.

Definition of Qualitative 2017

PWC (2016) has said that the role of Qualitative is to " interrogate big data and convert it into smart data."  Essentially, to reconnect the marketer with the person behind the data in order to turn that data into action.  We would agree.  However, to achieve this qualitative has to be more than a few groups and depth interviews. 

We might even suggest we drop the word 'RESEARCH' and call it Qualitative THINKING or DISCOVERY or ENQUIRY and expand the definition as follows:


Qualitative is also a way, for all business stakeholders (not only CMI and marketing people), to build empathy with the people who buy and use their products.  This in turn enables them to anticipate needs and communicate and connect more relevantly. 


Predominantly driven by verbal questioning (albeit indirect), there has always been a gap between what people 'say' in a social environment and what people actually do when in 'autopilot'.  Observation allows us to understand unconscious behaviours and routines, and situational effects in the moment of use or purchase. 

3. Not just ASKING but LISTENING

Listening to spontaneous online conversations or free discussions between participants provides a chance to discover learnings we did not even know we did not know.
A single data set, viewed alone, gives one view of the world. A qualitative mind-set and approach can help connect the dots between different data sources and partner with marketing teams along their innovation and communication funnel to help them use these multiple sources to create fresh strategic avenues to pursue.

Ipsos Point Of View

​Why do we do Qualitative?  Bringing Life to life – in everything we do we try to illustrate and illuminate the world around us, breathing life into our research insights.

How do we do Qualitative? We believe in HOT and COLD Qualitative with REAL people in REAL life

Hot Qualitative is about experience – being there in-context with people, as life happens. We want clients to experience the joys, fears, desires and tensions that their target consumers experience.   And when we can't be there, we recreate that experience so clients can feel the insight, and empathise with people.  Hot thinking is about pushing people out of their comfort zones to get at raw, instinctive, intuitive insights.  We make people forget they are in research for a more real response.  We use gamification, deprivation, conflict to recreate context, as well as techniques such as Virtual Reality.

Cold thinking is about making sense of the HOT; taking what you capture in the heat of the moment and evaluating it in the cold light of day. We use Ipsos' proprietary analytical frameworks – for example around innovation, communication or shopping behaviour.  Cold helps you take action with what you have seen in the HOT. It gets buy-in. It gets solutions. It is intelligent and strategic.

We believe every qualitative initiative should combine both Hot and Cold thinking at every stage –design, recruitment, fieldwork, analysis, presentation and reporting.

What do we do in Qualitative?

Our focus in qualitative at Ipsos is on reinventing Observation, Listening, Curation and Activation to help our clients experience living insights that will help them grow their business.

Observation is about being there in-context, as life happens.  We always want to be there when a person encounters a problem and to watch how they try to solve it.   This may include Ethnography, Immersions, mobile or a simple consumer connect for example. 

Listening is about accessing the spontaneous online discourse on social media and blogs; about creating conversations where people can interact spontaneously and naturally; occasionally fuelling them with gamification.

Curation is about uncovering, interpreting, contextualising and socialising intelligence from multiple sources, as part of an ongoing living breathing ecosystem, fuelled regularly by hackathons and workshops.

Activation is about strengthening the connection between the insight and the decision maker to make sure research informs and inspires business decisions

With everything we do, we embrace technology as an enabler whenever it makes sense: mobile to collect in-context experiences, a purpose-built platform to socialise curated insights, Text Analytics and AI to make sense of social media and other data, pop-up or long term communities of people with similar interests at the ready, Virtual and Augmented Reality to recreate environments and stimulus. We will never stop innovating with technology as we constantly bring Life to life.

Consumer & Shopper