Different Audience Research Methods And What Each One Can Do For You

By Posted in - Audience Research & Content Strategy & focus groups & Higher Education & interviews & Monitoring & Observation & Questionnaires & Research & Strategy and Planning & Student Marketing & Student Recruitment & Surveys & Tools & University & Websites on January 12th, 2015 0 Comments

How well do you know your audiences? Do you know what they think, feel, want and need from you as a business? As digital marketers and communicators, it is essential to research our audiences in order to understand their wants and needs, and adjust our strategies in response to this.

But where to start? There are various methods used within research, and they all have their strengths and their weaknesses. A good starting point before making any of these decisions is to clearly outline what you want to find out, why you want to find it out and who you want to find it out from. Once this has been decided, you can decide how you are going to do it.

Quantitative vs Qualitative

There are two kinds of data, quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative data deals with quantities and numbers, and is easy to measure. This type of data would be useful for statistics as part of an infographic or to show clear graphs of audience behaviour.

Qualitative data is in depth analysis into why your audience behaves in such a way. This data can’t be measured as easily, but is incredibly useful as it will give context to a finding.

You can mix these two types of data together – the quantitative data will help you define your findings, and the qualitative data can help you describe your findings.

There’s a wide range of methods you can use to carry out research on your audiences, but it is advisable to choose these methods depending on the kind of data you wish to collect.


Surveys and questionnaires are a fantastic (and relatively easy) way to gather data, and can provide you with quantitative (and on occasion qualitative) results that are easy to measure and analyse. They can be created online and distributed by email, social media or advertised on websites, using online tools such as Survey Monkey, Zoomerang or Polldaddy. They can also be created offline, with the questions being asked in person, depending on what kind of audience you wish to gather data from.

Beware the pitfalls of online questionnaires, however – if you post a survey online with no controls over who takes part, you might find yourself with a lot of results that you can’t use!

Advantages Disadvantages
Quick to design and send out to large samples Not able to gain detail behind the responses
Easy to measure Doesn’t ensure responses from relevant participants



Interviews are a conversation between two people, with the interviewer instigating questions to develop in-depth insights into audience behaviour. Interviews gather qualitative data, and can be conducted in person, via instant messaging or on the telephone. In order to analyse interviews thoroughly, it would be a good idea to record your participants, just make sure they know you are doing it and have agreed to it. You can use Skype and GoToMeeting for your interviews if it isn’t possible to speak to your participants in person.

Interviews are great for finding out the story behind the data. The responses you get in an interview can bring a human element to contrast the raw numbers produced by a survey.

Advantages Disadvantages
Able to gain in depth responses Not as easy to measure and analyse
Ensures the participants you are speaking to will be relevant to your research Participants could be influenced by the interviewer or the interviewing environment


Focus Groups

Focus groups are ‘group interviews’ with a twist. The researcher will ask a group of people relevant to the research a question, and the focus group then discuss it and share their opinions with each other whilst the researcher observes. In the session, make sure you manage the conversation carefully, as there could be a dominant participant who controls the conversation and influences other participants. To combat this, within the session keep things interactive by encouraging your group members to write down their ideas on post-it notes or on a white board. This could evoke responses from quieter participants who may not feel comfortable speaking out in the group situation. This is once again a qualitative research method and is usually carried out in person.

Advantages Disadvantages
Able to generate extra data from the group interaction Not as easy to measure and analyse
Allows a large sample size for qualitative data collection The researcher could have less control in a focus group setting compared to an interview



The final kind of research is observation, in which the researcher observes the participants and collects quantitative data in a natural setting. Observation can be carried out online, or in a situation like a focus group. It can retrieve useful data to compare what your audience says with what they do.

Advantages Disadvantages
Can compare the data to responses from participants to make a comparison The observations can not be generalised
Generates relevant and quantifiable data If a group is aware they are being observed, they may behave differently


There can be ethical implications with all kinds of research methods, so when embarking on a research project, be mindful of ethical guidelines and adjust the project immediately if there looks like there could potentially be a problem.

So there you have it – four different research methods to sink your teeth into. Here at Pickle Jar Communications, we can research your audiences in great detail in order to inform a great content strategy further. If you’re interested in this service, please get in touch with us.

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