Qualitative marketing: What is it? How can it help?

Do eight out of 10 Scottish people love to eat deep-fried Mars Bars? We could find out from a representative sample, it may be more than eight out of 10, or possibly fewer. So, say it is eight out of 10, why do they like them? What is the appeal?

This is something bare quantitative data cannot tell us, so we have to delve deeper. Qualitative data is all about the individual, what are their motivations, likes and dislikes.

Qualitative marketingQualitative data is not countable and describes qualities, characteristics, opinions, perceptions and preferences and is used by agencies like ECS – see for more information.

The four main ways of gathering qualitative information are observation, focus groups, one-to-one in-depth interviews and diary-keeping.

Let’s take a look at these methods in a little more detail.


Observation is probably the most passive way of gaining qualitative information but can offer valuable insights.

A trained observer can glean a whole myriad of information from an individual or group based on facial expressions, behaviour, actions and general body language within a natural or set up situation.

For example, an observer could watch customers in a shop taking note of which products draw the most attention, which shelf positions are visited most often or even taking note of the colours of the most often purchased products.

A similar method is a ‘shop-along’ where an observer will accompany a shopper discussing and exploring a buyer’s motivations and preferences while they shop along with taking note of non-verbal cues along the way.

Focus groups

This is a group interview with a selection of people who are asked open-ended questions and given a topic and sub-topics to discuss.

These guided sessions can delve into people’s motivations, likes and dislikes involving a particular product or brand.

One-to-one interviews

This method goes a stage deeper into exploring emotions behind preferences and motivations.

The interviewer can delve into the “why” of a person’s motivation and attempt to understand what influences them to take a particular course of action and in marketing terms that means – what would encourage somebody to buy a particular product or service?

This method can be time-consuming and expensive compared to a focus group but really gets into the nitty-gritty of the “why, “how” and “who”.


This is when a participant is asked to keep a record on their experiences with a product. This can be especially helpful as a participant can make a note of their observations and opinions in real-time either hand-written or digitally with a voice recorder, mobile telephone, or video camera.

The information gathered from these different methods can then be used to inform a marketing campaign strategy in terms of what to concentrate on based on the insights into the consumer’s motives when considering a product.

The outcomes from this type of research method are essential when attempting to target and connect with a consumer at a deeper level.