The Qualitative Perspective

By: Vivianne Hiriart & Katrina Noelle

Adding a qualitative component to social marketing initiatives is essential to get a broader understanding of a behavior and the factors that enable it.

Behaviors are complex. They have a function and a meaning in people’s lives, and they are influenced by multiple factors.  As such, it’s important to delve into their origins and the context around them that sustain them and promote them. The qualitative perspective opens the door to these elements allowing you to build a fuller picture of the situation. 

How you incorporate a qualitative component often depends on the stage you are at and what you are looking to achieve.

For instance, let’s say you’re looking to develop a campaign to prevent pregnancy amongst teenagers. First you need to deeply understand who they are, what they are going through physically, emotionally, intellectually and psychologically as part of their developmental stage. You also need to understand their social context,  the social and behavioral aspects that influence certain behaviors, cultural beliefs, and the demographic challenges they are facing as a generation. For that, you can turn to qualitative and quantitative research done over a course of multiple years around those themes analyzing the situation through different disciplines and behavioral theories. This will help you set a solid ground to determine the pathway of change, consider the factors that will enable change to happen, and develop a solid campaign.

Or, let’s say you’ve moved to the next step and are focusing on specific groups. At that point, you can turn to qualitative methods to get feedback from a marketing perspective. You can use them to better understand your segments and what is relevant to them, to determine ideal positioning and language for your campaign, and to uncover potential barriers and ways to overcome them within the groups of interest.

Examples of great uses for qualitative from a marketing perspective include:

  • Explore people’s habits and values
  • Understand people’s motivations, emotions, needs and purposes, fears, tradeoffs and possible obstacles associated with a specific situation
  • Unearth the different factors involved in a particular behavior
  • Understand how people perceive things and how they construct that perception
  • Understand what makes your idea clear and appealing and how you can improve it
  • Ensure your idea is culturally relevant or to understand the nuances you need to consider if you are working with different populations

Remember, qualitative is flexible.

  • Different methods can serve different purposes, all valid depending on the situation
  • You can also get a deep understanding of a population, their social dynamics, and factors motivating a behavior
  • You can also get feedback on something in particular in a short period of time to improve or adjust your initiative
  • Different qualitative components can fit your needs, situation and budget
  • And don’t forget: a single source of data is not the only answer! Be sure to tap into other methods and other research already available and go deeper on the elements you learn about in the qualitative

    Vivianne: Vivianne Hiriart helps companies and organizations to better understand people’s needs and perceptions, in order to design and tailor programs, products, communication materials or services to address them in a meaningful and relevant way. Her passion is to deeply understand people’s motivations -rational or unconscious- and their implications on behavior and decisions.

    Katrina: Katrina Noelle is principal of KNow Research, an Insights consultancy based in San Francisco that has been designing custom research initiatives for clients by combining methodologies from traditional in-person research with digital approaches for over 16 years. She is also co-Founder of Scoot Insights, who’s trademarked Scoot Sprint approach helps decision-makers choose the right direction.


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