July 23, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Qualitative versus Quantitative data, and why PR needs to be good at both

Qualitative versus Quantitative data, and why PR needs to be good at both

One of those topic areas in which people’s eyes seem to glaze over are discussions on qualitative and quantitative data. Maybe it is the words themselves (they sound similar), or perhaps their use evokes being back in school for some. People know what they are, they just can’t always keep the terms straight.

More importantly than keeping the terms straight is understanding why both are so important for PR. Working both types into PR programs is a solid way to add to your measurement metrics for reporting and future planning efforts.

Quantitative data

Quantitative data can be conveyed using a number. In other words, it is information that is collected and can be numerically represented. Standard surveys are one type of quantitative data—when you run a survey, the end result will give you percentages in each answer to a question when you furnish the survey-taker with a list of possible responses from which they must choose. When looking at media coverage, quantitative data would be items such as the number of company name mentions in an article, or number of mentions over a period of time.

Qualitative data

Qualitative data cannot be pinned down to a number.  A good example of qualitative research that is useful to PR is focus group responses. While you cannot extrapolate focus group responses and apply them to broad audiences in a statistically valid way, the depth of insight provided when individuals respond to open-ended questions can be invaluable.

How PR can apply each type of data

The examples of the types of data provided above show how PR can use qualitative and quantitative data as part of an overall measurement program. Collecting qualitative data—conducting surveys, primarily—is one of the best ways to measure outcomes of PR programs. The AMEC Integrated Framework highlights the usefulness of surveys as an effective means to track outcomes by referencing them as a way to show evidence of things like changes in attitude, increased trust, preferences, learning and knowledge, and intentions.

Qualitative data can be very useful in uncovering opinions and information about a product or brand. Allowing consumers to provide feedback outside of a rigid set of responses can be illuminating. Importantly, it can allow the consumer the chance to provide context to a response. For example, I recently responded to a brand satisfaction survey that had a mix of fixed and open-ended response types. One of the fixed response questions asked how satisfied I was in my ability to find an associate to provide assistance in the store—I gave a low ranking in my response because it took quite a while for me to locate someone. However, in the open-ended response box, I was able to provide context for my low score—the store was inordinately busy and a number of associates were clearly tied up helping others. The qualitative data provides important context to the quantitative response.

Data collection, whether qualitative or quantitative, can be expensive. It’s important to understand when this information is best used and most valuable. Used correctly, both qualitative and quantitative data are an important part of measuring PR programs.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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