If you have to choose between quality and quantity, always choose “both.” The idea that you should have one or the other … or, indeed, that you should choose one over the other … is bad policy all the way around. You need both. Your clients and your audience deserve both. If you’re not integrating qualitative research and analysis into your public relations campaigns, you are shortchanging yourself and your clients.
So, what is qualitative analysis, and how is it different from quantitative analysis?
First, we need to address exactly what it is not. Sometimes, PR reps will try to fly by assumption or guesstimates, rather than doing the hard but necessary work of analytics. There’s really no such thing as an “educated guess” in today’s big data world. You really can know. And, when you don’t know, but you pretend to, we have a cliché for that: “pulling numbers out of your … hat.”
For the most part, quantitative analysis is simple, easy and concrete. It’s lines on a spreadsheet, trends, percentages, profit or loss, ROI. When you finish a campaign and you can see, in real numbers and in real time, the amount spent versus the profit, attention or media gained, this is quantitative analysis.
Qualitative analysis measures a campaign, a message or any other metric or factor by its quality, rather than its quantity. It’s more about how we go about describing those factors or metrics … without using numbers. It’s also about measuring influence and likelihood, the study of motivation, preferences, choices and whims. Of biases and hopes and desires. You can’t always put a number on “want to,” but you sure can sell to it. And the better you understand it, the more you will sell.
If you are looking for quantitative data, you may want to conduct a specific survey, collect and measure massive data sets, employ tracking software to measure ROI or compare data sets taken at different times and in different situations, but involving at least one constant.
For qualitative data, consider a focus group, a series of case studies, random interviews and essay-style surveys or questionnaires that allow participants to extrapolate on the standard answers.
Another way to think of it: quantitative data records and measures investment. Qualitative data records and measures experience. You may not be able to put a specific dollar figure on the worth of a good first date, a trip to the theater, walk in the park or a week in the Bahamas, but you know how much you are willing to spend on each of these. And, after the fact, you can be certain to feel you got a bargain or you got ripped off. In every case, that assessment requires both quantitative and qualitative measures.
In public relations, measuring the value of experience and the power of messaging to influence may not always involve specific numbers that you can easily place on a graph or a balance sheet. But that doesn’t mean those factors are not important. Sometimes, they are among the most important ways to delineate a win and a missed opportunity.
Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States.