The characteristics of quantitative research contribute to methods that use statistics as the basis for making generalizations about something. These generalizations are constructed from data that is used to find patterns and averages and test causal relationships.
To assist in this process, key quantitative research characteristics include:
- The use of measurable variables.
- Standardized research instruments.
- Random sampling of participants.
- Data presentation in tables, graphs, or figures.
- The use of a repeatable method.
- The ability to predict outcomes and causal relationships.
- Close-ended questioning.
Each characteristic also discriminates quantitative research from qualitative research, which involves the collecting and analyzing of non-numerical data such as text, video, or audio.
With that said, let’s now take a look at each of the characteristics in more detail.
But let’s first look at the importance of quantitative research and when it does matter!
Importance of quantitative research
In the context of a business that wants to learn more about its market, customers, or competitors, quantitative research is a powerful tool that provides objective, data-based insights, trends, predictions, and patterns.
To clarify the importance of quantitative research as a method, we’ll discuss some of its key benefits to businesses below.
Before a company can develop a marketing strategy or even a single campaign, it must perform research to either confirm or deny a hypothesis it has around an ideal buyer or the target audience.
Before the proliferation of the internet, quantitative data collection was more cumbersome, less exhaustive, and normally occurred face to face.
Today, the ease with which companies can perform quantitative research is impressive – so much so that some would hesitate to even call it research.
Many businesses conduct questionnaires and surveys to have more control over how they test hypotheses, but any business with a Google Analytics account can passively collect data on key metrics such as bounce rate, discovery keywords, and value per visit.
The key thing to remember here is that there is little scope for uncertainty among the research data. Questionnaires ask closed-ended questions with no room for ambiguity and the validity of bounce rate data will never be up for debate.
Fundamentally speaking, quantitative research endeavors to establish the strength or significance of causal relationships.
There is an emphasis on objective measurement based on numerical, statistical, and mathematical data analysis or manipulation.
Quantitative research is also used to produce unbiased, logical, and statistical results that are representative of the population from which the sample is drawn.
In a marketer’s case, the population is usually the target audience of a product or service.
But in any case, organizations are dependent on quantitative data as it provides detailed, accurate, and relevant information on the problem at hand.
When it comes time to either prove or disprove the hypothesis, companies can either move forward with robust data or drop their current line of research and start afresh.
Versatility of quantitative statistical analysis
On the subject of proving a hypothesis are the statistical analyses a business must perform to arrive at the answer.
Fortunately, there are numerous techniques a company can employ depending on the context and the goals of the research.
Used to identify the value of attributes that influence purchase decisions, such as cost, benefits, or features.
Unsurprisingly, this analysis is used in product pricing, product launch, and market placement initiatives.
An analysis that determines the discrepancy that exists between the actual and desired performance of a product or service.
A simpler version of the conjoint analysis that marketers use to analyze customer preferences related to brand image, preferences, activities, and also product features.
This is also known as “best-worst” scaling.
TURF, which stands for total unduplicated reach and frequency, is used to ascertain the particular combination of products and services that will yield the highest number of sales.
The use of measurable variables
During quantitative research, data gathering instruments measure various characteristics of a population.
These characteristics, which are called measurables in a study, may include age, economic status, or the number of dependents.
Standardized research instruments
Standardized and pre-tested data collection instruments include questionnaires, surveys, and polls. Alternatively, existing statistical data may be manipulated using computational techniques to yield new insights.
Standardization of research instruments ensures the data is accurate, valid, and reliable. Instruments should also be tested first to determine if study participant responses satisfy the intent of the research or its objectives.
Random sampling of participants
Quantitative data analysis assumes a normal distribution curve from a large population.
Random sampling should be used to gather data, a technique in which each sample has an equal probability of being chosen. Randomly chosen samples are unbiased and are important in making statistical inferences and conclusions.
Data presentation in tables, graphs, and figures
The results of quantitative research can sometimes be difficult to decipher, particularly for those not involved in the research process.
Tables, graphs, and figures help synthesize the data in a way that is understandable for key stakeholders. They should demonstrate or define relationships, trends, or differences in the data presented.
The use of a repeatable method
Quantitative research methods should be repeatable.
This means the method can be applied by other researchers in a different context to verify or confirm a particular outcome.
Replicable research outcomes afford researchers greater confidence in the results. Replicability also reduces the chances that the research will be influenced by selection biases and confounding variables.
The ability to predict outcomes and causal relationships
Data analysis can be used to create formulas that predict outcomes and investigate causal relationships.
As hinted at earlier, data are also used to make broad or general inferences about a large population.
Causal relationships, in particular, can be described by so-called “if-then” scenarios, which can be modeled using complex, computer-driven mathematical functions.
Lastly, quantitative research requires that the individuals running the study choose their questions wisely.
Since the study is based on quantitative data, it is imperative close-ended questions are asked.
These are questions that can only be answered by selecting from a limited number of options.
Questions may be dichotomous, with a simple “yes” or “no” or “true” or “false” answer.
However, many studies also incorporate multiple-choice questions based on a rating scale, Likert scale, checklist, or order ranking system.
Four real-world examples of quantitative research
Now that we’ve described some key quantitative research examples, let’s go ahead and look at some real-world examples.
1 – A Quantitative Study of the Impact of Social Media Reviews on Brand Perception
In 2015, Neha Joshi undertook quantitative research as part of her thesis at The City University of New York.
The thesis aimed to determine the impact of social media reviews on brand perception with a particular focus on YouTube and Yelp.
Joshi analyzed the impact of 942 separate YouTube smartphone reviews to develop a statistical model to predict audience response and engagement on any given video.
The wider implications of the study involved using customer reviews as a feedback mechanism to improve brand perception.
2 – A Quantitative Study of Teacher Perceptions of Professional Learning Communities’ Context, Process, and Content
Daniel R. Johnson from Seton Hall University in New Jersey, USA, analyzed the effectiveness of the teacher training model known as Professional Learning Communities (PLC).
Specifically, Johnson wanted to research the impact of the model as perceived by certified educators across three specific areas: content, process, and context.
There was a dire need for this research since there was little quantitative data on an approach that was becoming increasingly popular at the government, state, and district levels.
Data were collected using Standard Inventory Assessment (SAI) surveys which were online, anonymous, and incorporated a Likert scale response system.
3 – A Quantitative Study of Course Grades and Retention Comparing Online and Face-to-Face Classes
This research was performed by Vickie A. Kelly as part of her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership at Baker University in Kansas, USA.
Kelly wanted to know whether distance education and Internet-driven instruction were as effective a learning tool when compared to traditional face-to-face instruction.
A total of 885 students were selected for the research sample to answer the following two questions:
- Is there a statistically significant difference between the grades of face-to-face students and the grades of online students?
- Is there a statistically significant difference between course content retention in face-to-face students and online students?
In both cases, there was no significant difference, which suggested that distance education as a learning tool was as effective as face-to-face education.
4 – A quantitative research of consumer’s attitude towards food products advertising
At the University of Bucharest, Romania, Mirela-Cristina Voicu wanted to research consumer attitudes toward traditional forms of advertising such as television, radio, and print.
She reasoned that consumer attitudes toward advertising impacted attitudes toward the product or brand itself, with a positive attitude potentially driving purchase intent.
To determine whether there was a link between these factors, 385 consumers in the Bucharest area were interviewed and asked to fill out a questionnaire.
Voicu ensured the sample was representative of the broader population in terms of two variables: age and gender.
The quantitative study results found that 70% of participants considered traditional forms of advertising to be saturated.
In other words, they did not have a positive attitude toward the advertised brand or product.
However, consumer attitudes toward food advertising were much more positive, with 61% of participants categorizing their attitudes as either favorable or very favorable in the questionnaire.
Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research
As the story goes, “data is the new oil,” yes, but what data?
Indeed, while quantitative research can be extremely powerful, it must be balanced with qualitative research.
Several qualitative methods might help enrich the quantitative data.
It’s critical to understand that quantitative data might be very effective in the short term.
Yet, it might not tell us anything in the long term.
For that, we need to use human judgment, intuition, and understanding of context.
In what we can label as second-order thinking.
Only by building qualitative understanding within quantitative methods combined with second-order effect thinking; can you leverage the best of the two worlds!
For instance, take the interesting case of how Amazon has integrated both quantitative and qualitative data into its business strategy.
This is part of Jeff Bezos’ “Day One” Mindset.
That enabled Amazon to understand when it makes sense to leverage quantitative vs. qualitative data.
As Jeff Bezos explained in 2006:
“Many of the important decisions we make at Amazon.com can be made with data. There is a right answer or a wrong answer, a better answer or a worse answer, and math tells us which is which. These are our favorite kinds of decisions.”
As our shareholders know, we have made a decision to continuously and significantly lower prices for customers year after year as our efficiency and scale make it possible.
Indeed, this was the core tenet of Amazon’s flywheel.
And Jeff Bezos also explained:
This is an example of a very important decision that cannot be made in a math-based way. In fact, when we lower prices, we go against the math that we can do, which always says that the smart move is to raise prices.
Indeed, as Jeff Bezos further explained:
We have significant data related to price elasticity. With fair accuracy, we can predict that a price reduction of a certain percentage will result in an increase in units sold of a certain percentage. With rare exceptions, the volume increase in the short term is never enough to pay for the price decrease.
In short, optimization tools leveraging quantitative analysis are quire effective in the short-term and relation to first-order effects activities.
However, in many cases, that doesn’t tell you anything when it comes to its second-order long-term consequences!
Jeff Bezos explained that extremely well:
However, our quantitative understanding of elasticity is short-term. We can estimate what a price reduction will do this week and this quarter. But we cannot numerically estimate the effect that consistently lowering prices will have on our business over five years or ten years or more.
And he introduced the difference between quantitative data vs. human judgment, which is a qualitative measure!
Our judgment is that relentlessly returning efficiency improvements and scale economies to customers in the form of lower prices creates a virtuous cycle that leads over the long term to a much larger dollar amount of free cash flow, and thereby to a much more valuable Amazon.com.
He highlighted how long-term, unpredictable and counterintuitive bets were the result of human judgement:
We’ve made similar judgments around Free Super Saver Shipping and Amazon Prime, both of which are expensive in the short term and—we believe—important and valuable in the long term.
Quantitative research examples
There is a lot of discussion around the ideal length of social media posts online, and much of it is anecdotal or pure conjecture at best.
To cut through the noise and arrive at data-driven conclusions, brand building platform Buffer teamed up with analytics software company SumAll.
In this example, the research involved tabulating and quantifying social media engagement as a factor of post length.
Posts encompassed a variety of social media updates, such as tweets, blog posts, Facebook posts, and headlines. The study determined:
- The optimal width of a paragraph (140 characters).
- The optimal length of a domain name (8 characters).
- The optimal length of a hashtag (6 characters).
- The optimal length of an email subject (28 to 39 characters), and
- The optimal duration of a podcast (22 minutes) and YouTube video (3 minutes).
Where SumAll sourced its quantitative data varied according to the type of social media post.
To determine the optimal width of a paragraph, the company referenced social media guru Derek Halpern who himself analyzed data from two separate academic studies.
To determine the optimal length of an email subject line, SumAll referenced a 2012 study by Mailer Mailer that analyzed 1.2 billion email messages to identify trends.
Tallwave is a customer experience design company that performs quantitative research for clients and identifies potential trends.
In the wake of COVID-19, the company wanted to know whether consumer trends the pandemic spurred would continue after restrictions were lifted.
These trends included buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS), and blended, cook-at-home restaurant meals.
Tallwave also wanted to learn more about consumer expectations around branded communication.
In a post-pandemic world, were health and safety precautions more important than the inconvenience they caused?
Would customers abandon digital experiences and flock back to brick-and-mortar stores? Indeed, was it wise to continue to invest in infrastructure the customer didn’t want?
To collect quantitative data, Tallwave surveyed 1,010 individuals across the United States aged 24 and over in April 2021.
Consumers were asked various questions on their behaviors, perceptions, and needs pre and post-pandemic.
The company found that while customer behavior did change as a result of COVID-19, it had not changed to the extent predicted. Some of the key findings include:
- Convenience trumps all – while many brands continued to focus on health and safety, customers still value convenience above all else. Safety-related needs were the next most important for all age brackets (except Gen Z).
- The role of digital experiences – most survey participants who used a company’s digital experience viewed that company more favorably. This proved that in a post-COVID world, the flexibility for consumers to choose their own “adventure” is paramount.
- The accessibility of digital experiences – the survey data also showed that interest in digital experiences declined with age starting with the 45-54 year bracket. Since 66% of those aged 55 and older reported no desire to continue with online experiences after COVID-19, Tallwave argued that increasing digital literacy would drive greater adoption and engagement over the long term.
- The characteristics of quantitative research contribute to methods that use statistics as the basis for making generalizations about something.
- In a quantitative study, measurable variables are analyzed using standardized research instruments. Importantly, data must be sampled randomly from a large, representative population to avoid biases.
- Quantitative research data should also be presented in tables and graphs to make key findings more digestible for non-technical stakeholders. Methods must also be repeatable in different contexts to ensure greater outcome confidence and validity.
Read Also: Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research.
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