The Qual Sandwich For Researchers Who Are On No-Carb Diets

A Ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce Sandwich

Once upon a time, when most market research projects took three to six months to complete, we would often sandwich large quantitative studies between two slices of qualitative research. First, we would do focus groups to understand the language of the customer and to learn their attitudes and behaviors in their own words. Then we would incorporate that language and those insights into a structured questionnaire, which we would field to hundreds or thousands of prospects and customers. Finally, we would review some of the findings, or flesh out some areas where we didn’t have color commentary, with a last focus group.

With today’s tight timelines and even tighter budgets, many full-service researchers have gone on the Atkins diet: no carbs, no qual. Their study is just what they consider the meat: the quantitative research.

A questionnaire is designed to cover new insights, but that gets much harder to do when all it does is encode your current understanding of the market. Survey instruments that are written solely from desk research often fail to adequately capture many aspects of the market being studied: how clients talk, how they are really using products in the market, what their concerns actually are—rather than what they are assumed to be. Garbage In, Garbage Out, as a questionnaire out of sync with the target market ends up skewing the results.

Just like the carb conscious swap white bread for flatbreads, the budget conscious can save on qualitative research. Rather than flying key decision makers to each group, live videostream the groups instead. Or, if a focus group is off the table, use online or mobile qualitative research to uncover initial insights about the market.

When the 4th Earl of Sandwich invented his eponymous meal, it was so that his hands wouldn’t get greasy while eating at the gambling table. Too many quant researchers are taking a gamble when they fail to include qualitative research in their study designs.

Jeffrey Henning, PRC, is president of Researchscape International, which provides “Do It For You” custom surveys at Do It Yourself prices. He is a Director at Large on the Marketing Research Association’s Board of Directors. You can follow him on Twitter @jhenning.



  1. This is a great post! I am seeing many more hybrid solutions, combining qual and quant. For example, at CMI we developed yPrescribe, a combo of a choice model patient profile exercise with the qual “why”?
    It got to the heart of the marketer’s issue – how to address doctor segments with specific messages. Very cool.
    That is just one example that I have seen recently where qual and quant made a very tasty sandwich! Maybe more of a panini?

  2. The Panini Approach! This just might catch on as a buzz phrase in our industry.

    I couldn’t agree more that sacrificing a qualitative component weakens the holistic nature of understanding for the marketer. I would also add that Big Data avalanches are another place that qual should not be overlooked. A company may know who, what, where, when and how their customers purchased their products, but the —the emotional and/or rational context of how the consumer ultimately came to their decision needs to be digested to give the marketer the components of organization and clarity.

    “Sandwiching” or hybrid diets are providing an accurate and nuanced understanding of the consumer and more confidence in your results.

  3. Totally agree with the previous comments. Jeffery, this a great post! Thank you.

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