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When you’re not a pet rock: Six qualitative research sins, Part 3

A slightly different version of this article originally appeared in Quirk’s Research Review, May 2005, page 40.

Part 3 in a 6-part series.

Sin #3: It’s not a product; it’s a bundle of attributes.

We could spend hours discussing how this assumption has constrained market insight for products where attributes are neither readily changed by the manufacturer nor independent (health care is an excellent example). “Which is more efficacious, drug A or drug B?” is a red herring in any setting. What qualitative can tell us is:

Do perceived efficacy differences, if any, actually affect decision-making among drugs in this class? If so, when and why? If not, what does and how?

Qualitative is no better place than quantitative for the faulty assumption that all decision-makers are consciously trading-off all attributes all the time. Nor is it a setting in which to “validate” attributes (domains and measures) and levels (threshold values) used to make decisions where the attributes are not universally salient and defined (two vs. three bedrooms is clear, a “crunchy” vs. “not crunchy” cereal less so). Eliciting the shortcuts used to decide between products whose attributes themselves are subjective calls for methodologies other than qualitative work, e.g., taste tests for the cereal or heuristic market research for pharmaceuticals.

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