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Thinking Outside The (Research) Box

Stef.Francis's picture

‘Qualitative’ puts the fun in research. Okay, so perhaps only overzealous data geeks ever use the words ‘fun’ and ‘research’ in the same sentence, but I (and all of the Navigate research nerds) fall squarely in this camp. Depending on the objectives of the study, qualitative research can be the most effective method used to confidently drive key decisions for sports teams, leagues, brands and entities.

Qualitative research uncovers the cognitive associations linked to behaviors and perceptions, answering the “why’s and ‘how’s” that keep most ambitiously inquisitive marketers up at night.

When proposing and analyzing primary research (‘primary’ research is data created or gathered by the researcher versus finding existing data collected previously), two approaches can be taken: quantitative measures or qualitative measures. In short, quantitative research employs a survey instrument to numerically measure the attitudes and behaviors of a sample population. The researcher then uses statistics and mathematical computations to project the findings onto a larger population.

Qualitative research, though still focused on understanding the attitudes and behaviors of a given population, is conducted using smaller, more focused sample groups. For this reason, the findings tend to be informational, colorful and descriptive, as opposed to numerical. Traditional qualitative methods include in-depth interviews, focus groups, and observation techniques. There are countless ways to make qualitative research more cutting-edge, assuming it serves the research objectives. Some examples of creative qualitative designs include mobile video uploads, in-home ethnographic real-time experiences and creating mock reality TV settings. The possibilities are limitless for those willing to be adventurous in their approach to gathering rich information that is not easily obtained in a formalized setting. The benefit of qualitative research exists not just in its ability to uncover specific behaviors, but that it allows room for probing and peeling back the layers of respondent reactions.

When it comes to understanding the impact and effectiveness of sports sponsorships, it’s no surprise that the quantitative route is generally the most traveled. As marketers, there’s nothing more comforting than having several golden statistics that can defend your marketing efforts. Additionally, sponsorships often seek to reach a population that extends beyond game or event attendees (i.e. the Chicago DMA or the entire U.S. population), in which case a quantitative method is the easiest way the target group can be reached. Quantitative studies allow us, statistically, to transform basic questions into broad claims. For instance, through years of quantitative research, we have found that, on average, fans of a team who are aware of a sponsorship are five times as likely to purchase a sponsor’s product compared to non-fans. However, it’s qualitative research that lends the color and dimension to this information. Qualitative research may not be the most obvious choice when designing a research methodology, but the color and dimension it paints through the ‘why’s, ‘how’s and ‘what if’s is often what fills in all the gaps, creating an actionable marketing road map.

Here are just a few examples of how qualitative research can add depth to key research questions:

- In-home ethnography— using sports fans to understand how they consume their favorite sports games and how friends, family and digital devices impact their experience.
- High definition video capture—add color as to who the fans actually are and why they feel connected to their favorite team.
- A focus group or mobile exercise— to understand why someone engages with social media and what makes a message stick.
- In-game ethnography— to reveal how sponsorship activation impacts the fan experience.
- A mobile diary— to uncover how product/service usage changes after an attendee has been exposed to a sponsor’s product/service in game.

In this day and age, questions about our strategic decisions and budget allocations are complex. To stay current and cutting-edge with our marketing and sponsorship plans, our research needs to be too. The next time there’s a bold decision to be made, consider how much stronger it can be if a multi-dimensional foundation of qualitative research is used. As a passionate research nerd who has created more quantitative reports than I care to admit, I can guarantee that your audience (and boss!) will appreciate you for delivering a deep qualitative report that answers their questions through a method that lives and breathes beyond the one-dimensional confines of a bar chart.

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