An Introduction to Qualitative Market Research by Mike Imms, Gill Ereaut

By Mike Imms, Gill Ereaut

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Mason 1996; Silverman 1997). This wider definition of the scope of qualitative research methods often comes as a surprise – and an interesting one – to commercial practitioners. In practice, however, commercial researchers do make informal use of many non-interview sources. They will often look at relevant popular culture, look at and ‘read’ retail spaces and merchandising, or simply watch people in relevant settings – but they do not specifically itemise or explicitly charge for this work. This does not (as yet) officially fit into accepted definitions of what constitutes a commercial qualitative research project, but falls into the area of ‘added value’.

KEY POINTS • Qualitative market research practitioners play a dual role – they have accountability not only to research standards, but also to their clients’ objectives. • Each qualitative market research project is a ‘contract’ – and once contracted, the practitioner has limited autonomy over such factors as the scale and nature of the enquiry, timing and fees. Similarly, the scope of the project is specified by the client. • A key characteristic of commercial qualitative market research is that it has been largely ‘systematised’ into a unit of service that can be bought and sold.

Broadly speaking, there are very many different possible approaches to the qualitative market research task; here are a few examples. • There is what might be called a clinical approach – drawing on models of psychotherapy or psychoanalysis to structure interactions with respondents and to draw inferences from data. • It is possible to take a broadly positivist approach to qualitative research, drawing parallels with natural science – here it is assumed that there is a stable reality that can be accessed fairly unproblematically in research, say through questioning respondents.

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