Qualitative vs. Quantitative Customer Insights and How to Use Them

A few years ago I was at a craft show—an annual outing where I sell beaded jewelry that I design and “dabble in” throughout the year. Unlike previous shows, that year I sold hardly any earrings, usually a high demand item both because of their uniqueness and low price, I think (I have to be honest with myself!). Instead, that year I sold many more necklaces—also unique, but higher-priced. A good thing, no doubt, but unexpected.

Monitoring Shifting Consumer Demand and Interests

In fact, in thinking about my various experiences at sales, it is not unusual to find one item that sells well at one show and not so well at the next. Unfortunately, based on high sales of an item I often make more of that item in anticipation of demand. Equally discouraging is not having enough of an item that sells very well—my new chain/bead combo necklaces were a real hit at my last show. Who knows whether that will hold true at the next show?

In talking with some of the other vendors, they also noted that it can be very difficult to predict what will be in demand from one show to the next. A woman selling beautiful dried floral arrangements in unique containers said that even color preferences can change dramatically and that although she tries to monitor trends she’s sometimes taken by surprise. At this show she was surprised to find that blue and yellow were in high demand. Why? Who knows.

Beware Making Rash Decisions Based on Qualitative Inputs

Consumer behavior is difficult to predict and requires constant monitoring and experimentation. I love selling my jewelry at shows as opposed to retail stores because I get to listen to my customers and learn what they like—don’t like—and what they think of my work. But I’ve learned that just as in any kind of “market research” I have to be careful to not jump to conclusions based on a single comment or even what may appear to be a trend.

This input is, after all, qualitative.

Evaluate Decisions (Especially Expensive Ones) Through Quantitative Analysis

If I did art shows more often, I would attempt to better quantify my research by considering more specific product attributes and more specific customer characteristics. For instance, did the earrings I previously sold tend to be post? Dangly? A certain color? Were the customers at this show older? Younger? Less price conscious?

For any business owner, there are a variety of issues that can and should be considered when making decisions related to product/service attributes. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with experimenting—that’s what entrepreneurs do.

The amount of experimenting that business owners can do, of course, will depend on the cost of their product, the size of their market and how often they’re able to interact with customers in actual sales settings.

If I want to experiment with a specific style, I can do that and just “see what happens.” If they sell well, great. If not, I can always dismantle and reuse in different ways. I’m only losing the cost of my time, which I could attribute to market research costs, so it’s not such a big deal.

That may not be the case in other business settings. In other business settings, decisions can be more risky in terms of potential expenses or losses. When that’s the case, it’s important to take the time, and invest the resources, in quantitative analysis.

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Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results.

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