I ran across this article recently on Inc.com. While you cannot expect an exhaustive guide on market research in one article, they did, in my opinion, oversimplify the use of quantitative studies (e.g. surveys) vs. qualitative studies (e.g. focus groups) indicating that with limited resources it generally makes sense to go quantitative (no reason was given for this assumption).
While quantitative research is certainly useful (and we have gained numerous insights for our clients through quantitative studies), qualitative studies also provide valuable insight. The most important thing is to know when to use one, the other, or both.
Quantitative studies, such as surveys, will yield hard numbers, and if done correctly, will be projectable to the larger study population. Surveys can help answer questions such as, “What is the satisfaction among my customers?” “How many people in my target market have a similar need?” or “How commonly held are perceptions of my company?” These studies can provide sound numbers and the ability to apply statistical tools to gain further insight from the data.
Qualitative studies, on the other hand, allow you to probe deeper into a topic. Focus groups, in-depth interviews, and ethnographic research, for example, can provide a deeper understanding of the topic. Common questions may include, “What are the perceptions of my organization or product?” “Why do people perceive my brand they way they do?” or “What are the unmet needs of my consumer?”
Often the two types are combined to provide the most complete answer.
There is no one size fits all solution for most problems in business and this is no exception. All answers are not created equal. The best answers will come from fully understanding the questions for the research, and then picking the best tools to answer them.