The Marriage of Behavioural Data and Qualitative Understanding

Qualitative Research is often flawed

“Customers don’t know what they feel, don’t say what they know, and don’t do what they say. Market research is three steps removed from real behaviour.”
~ David Ogilvy

In recent years I have heard the following questions, challenges and statements many times in many forums around the world;

‘Is Qualitative understanding of our consumers and shoppers of any value?’

‘Should we rely and focus purely on the tangible, reliable behavioural data’

‘We don’t do Qualitative research anymore attitudinal data is worthless, we only use behavioural data’


comparing two green apples

Behavioural data only shows us the ‘What’ of the past

“Data is great at giving you information, giving you knowledge; but it doesn’t give you understanding and that is its great failing.”
~ John Hegarty

On the flip side of the failings of many forms of qualitative research I have often heard the following challenges/cries for help regarding the challenges of only using behavioural data;

‘Behavioural data provides no insight on ‘Why’ certain behavioural patterns are happening.’

‘Behavioural data only shows me the past and doesn’t provide any insight into where the new growth territories will come from?’

At Redbird we view the different sources of data as different tools within our ‘Strategic Insight Toolbox’.

Each tool has it’s purpose/use. You can’t use one tool to do all of the jobs you need to do. Often there is an order in which you need to use the tools in order to get the desired outcome.

In our opinion saying that qualitative understanding is useless is like saying we don’t believe in ‘spanners’… we only use ‘hammers’ here.

The trick is in selecting the right set of tools for the task at hand, and in knowing what the strengths and weaknesses of each are and the best order to use them in to compensate for the weaknesses.

Certainly not all ‘hammers’ are equal they can vary in quality. A good workman has a selection of handpicked quality tools in his toolkit that he can draw on for his different requirements.

Girl in the shopping isleLet’s take a quick but very valuable example: How do I use behavioural data and qualitative understanding to identify and understand the groupings within a supermarket category in order to drive growth for my brand and the category overall (why we should focus on category growth?, well … that’s another Brain Biscuit coming your way).

When we want to understand a category and the patterns within it, to be able to maximise the value it offers to its consumers, what should we do? How can we predict future growth with a lens that only shows us the past and never the future?

Firstly, we always lead with the robust behavioural data. Here we identify ‘real’ behavioural patterns and groupings, the ‘what’. Then we use our qualitative understanding to understand the ‘why’ the needs and occasions that these different groupings/segments meet.

This allows us to:

Improve the Shopping Experience

  • Money is elastic, time is not (Herb Sorensen): Each shopper has a mental time limit within a supermarket category; a limited ‘tolerance level’ on how long they can spend searching for and exploring the products available.
  • Understanding and mapping the category needs and the hierarchy of decisions that a shopper works through (often at an unconscious level) enables us to layout the products in a way that feels intuitive and aids speed of shopping.
  • When the ‘time to find’, the item on the shopping list, is short this frees up shopper time and energy for inspiration and exploration which is more likely to result in one more item being purchased.


Maximise the Value from the Real Estate

  • Fine-tune the price, pack and product architecture within the category and its segments/sub-segments to maximise value and range efficiency.


Offer Innovation that Drives Sustainable Growth

  • Understand historical growth through the lens of needs/occasions within the category
  • Layer in trend analysis and extrapolate from the need/occasion understanding to predict what future innovation could drive category growth.

lined up shopping trolleys

When used in this way the partnership of behavioural data and qualitative understanding becomes a powerful tool set for driving sustainable growth.

My Grandma used to warn “A bad workman always blames his tools.” Know your tools what they are best used for and what their weaknesses are. Use good quality tools in combination. In this example; use behavioural data to determine the segments within a category and use good (more observational based) qualitative research to understand the why and the what next.

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