Hybrid Research: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Methods and More

Apr 3, 2019

Updated April 3rd, 2019

Research has long since evolved beyond the tried-and-true method of conducting an exploratory qualitative research phase followed by a quantitative phase. Digital research methods have allowed for the expansion of new and creative means of market research. With that said, hybrid research (sometimes referred to as mixed-method, bricolage, or triangulation) is not new. But some still forget to take full advantage of what hybrid research has to offer.

As we know, many methods of research are designed to answer specific questions. This is normally necessary in order to get results that are specific and actionable. However, sometimes combining methods and/or conducting research iteratively is a better option. And forgoing the opportunity completely could mean missing out on an easy approach to all-encompassing, collaborative insights.

What Is Hybrid Research?

You can likely take a guess at the definition behind hybrid research. When the term first emerged, most research experts defined it as a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods. Now it is more evolved than that. Hybrid research can be a combination of two or more research methodologies—regardless of whether it’s qualitative plus quantitative. Further, it can be conducted in a series (iteratively) or in parallel (at the same time).

The motivation for using hybrid research is to establish a better understanding of results. For example, quantitative research can define “what” and qualitative research can provide the “why.” Nowadays, hybrid research can expand beyond just qualitative and quantitative research combinations, such as in-person plus digital methods, or customer reviews plus quantitative research. Some of the benefits of hybrid research include

  • Relatable insights that can be tied from one question or phase of research to the next, creating more meaningful connections that can also inform future research and product/messaging optimizations
  • Timely and cost-effective results—especially if the combination of methods is being conducted concurrently
  • A more engaging and impactful story, as more data sources are being used to supplement answers and add in additional layers of consumer experiences and understanding

The Differences Between Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Even though hybrid research can, as mentioned above, encompass several different research methods and isn’t necessarily always a combination of quantitative and qualitative research, combining these two methodologies is very common when it comes to painting a fuller picture of a target audience or segment. Let’s talk a bit about the basic differences between quantitative and qualitative research, which can help you make decisions about which approach to take based on your business and research objectives.

Quantitative Research

Quantitative research uses larger data sets to confidently answer any combination of who, what, when, or how.

When it comes to analysis, the first step is realizing that analysis comes in two phases – before and after the research is conducted. Prior to conducting the research, you need to think through what key questions you want to answer and what form the data needs to be in to correctly answer those questions.

You’ll also want to make sure you’ve identified the right metrics that will actually answer your research objectives and give you the data you need to make those confident decisions. For example, three fundamental metrics we find to be most effective in quantitatively testing products include purchase intent, uniqueness, and believability. After conducting analysis on the various metrics we use, including correlation analyses, we found the combination of these metrics to be the least related, or in other words, more descriptive when it comes to varying aspects of a product or claim.

Qualitative Research

When you ask the right questions, qualitative research explains the why—both without and/or behind—the numbers, giving context for and bringing to life otherwise one-dimensional data.

Once you are engaged in actual consumer stories, understanding how the business decisions you make will impact your consumers becomes easier and clearer. The story aspect of qualitative research allows the data to come to life and transcend beyond the immediate results. For instance, consider hearing a data point that females aged 25–40 who make less than $20,000 a year, with kids under the age of 10, are more likely to purchase Product A over Product B. What does that mean for your company? How should you change your marketing to reflect that data point? Does it make sense to even change your marketing? The real question is, “Why do they prefer Product A over Product B?” in terms of qualitative data.

With qualitative research, you must be careful not to take one quote from a respondent to be the ultimate truth. Quotes are great to add color, explain further, and provide specific examples. But they are not meant to be the be-all and end-all of the research. They should be looked at in their entirety with the research, not individually.

Using Quantitative & Qualitative Research Together

At the highest level, combining quantitative and qualitative research methods allows you to narrow your focus so you can make smarter decisions, using multiple data types/points, and focus your development or optimization efforts where you’ll have the most impact. The hardest part of conducting quantitative research is determining the underlying cause for why numbers result in a particular way. Utilizing qualitative research with quantitative provides the lens to create impactful key findings. It can also be helpful to use qualitative research prior to quantitative to inform answer choices for a quantitative attitudes and usage study for example. Doing so ensures you’ve got the right exhaustive list of answers, which allows respondents to choose answers that are more relevant. Ultimately, the relationship between data points and consumer stories can culminate into the challenges and/or opportunities that should be addressed with action.

Examples of Quantitative and Qualitative Research by Objectives

Quantitative: attitudes and usage, prioritizing concepts or claims, prioritizing features for a product, evaluating prices, line optimizations, competitive analysis

Qualitative: exploratory research, refining concepts or claims, refining messaging/creative, mobile shop-alongs.

The Research Design

Before you start designing a hybrid research study, you first have to define all objectives related to the business need. A use-case could start with the need to prioritize and develop a concept for new product development. From there, you’d then have to assess the objectives by research method, such as prioritizing concepts through a quantitative phase and refining them further in a qualitative phase. Lastly, determine the order or type of execution of the research. In other words, should both phases be executed together, or one before the other? Then, identify if you want to refine all concepts before prioritization or prioritize and refine only the winning concept.

Before fully designing and implementing a hybrid research design, keep in mind these best practices:

  • Objectives should start at a high level before determining what answers you should get from each phase of research
  • Avoid conducting both methods of research with different vendors, as methodologies and quality of insights can vary and impact results
  • Keep audience types consistent so insights can be translated across both phases
  • Remember, hybrid research doesn’t have to be conducted at the same time or immediately following a previous phase; sometimes it’s just about the ability to apply it in an iterative approach

We incorporate several different options for hybrid research, from combining our Exploratory Research Group™ with an Agile A&U™ to a concept or creative test followed by a refiner. Some next steps for hybrid research also include combining big data with survey data. To see an example of how a product innovation team at Nestle uses hybrid research in an iterative way to achieve product innovation success, take a look at the case study below.

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