Understanding the difference between qualitative and quantitative data gives you the insight you need to leverage the value of both. Almost every major objective you face as a membership manager – whether it be driving the success of your events, boosting your renewal rate, capturing more applications, etc. – can be improved by understanding the difference between these two forms of data.

Quantitative data is about (surprise surprise) quantity. Cold, hard fact – quantitative data is a simple matter of counting. This data gives you clear insight into questions like:

  • How many people clicked a particular survey response?
  • How many registrants did your last event get?
  • How many members renewed last year compared to the year before?

Qualitative data is about quality. Where quantitative data offers black-and-white responses, qualitative data is full of color. This data gives you insight into questions like:

  • What did attendee’s like most about your last event?
  • Why did that member choose not to renew?
  • What do members think of your member portal?

Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Data Type

In your day-to-day, you’ll inevitably be exposed to all types of qualitative and quantitative data. Every email you read from a member could offer the opportunity of important qualitative insight. Every report you generate presents quantitative information.

Most often, the insights we need to effectively solve important problems require us to organize and blend both our quantitative and qualitative data. When we understand the strengths and weaknesses of both forms, we can leverage each types’ strength to make up for the others’ weakness

Maybe you get an email from a member that they can’t log into your member portal. This email offers qualitative insight into a member’s experience,

Quantitative data

The strength of quantitative data is that it is completely clear and often very easy to collect. True/False responses on a survey don’t require interpretation and are extraordinarily easy to fill out. Email open rates are clear as day and collected automatically.

The problem with quantitative data is that it is very limited. It can only tell you what something is (i.e. your email open rate is 19%, you gained 30 members last month, etc.). With quantitative data, it’s difficult to confidently understand why things are.

Quantitative data is plentiful and easily available. Some sources include:

  • True/false or multiple choice survey questions
  • Website analytics
  • Event analytics
  • Workshop headcount

Qualitative Data

Where quantitative data struggles to let you know why things are, qualitative data succeeds. Long answer fields on a survey give users the opportunity to share their experience with you in-depth. Though their responses require interpretation, the insights you’ll receive from doing so aren’t readily available from true/false or multiple-choice questions.

Beyond survey’s, you can also collect qualitative data from:

  • Interviews. One-on-one conversations offer deep insight into any topic you’d like to investigate.
  • Focus groups. Like a scaled-up interview, in-person or online conversations with targeted groups offer plenty of qualitative information.
  • Observational research. Observing people during, for example, your events (even casually) can help build your understanding of how they respond to your efforts to drive engagement.

Extracting Insights

Getting the most out of both data types requires you to leverage each types’ strengths to accommodate the others’ weaknesses.

When quantitative data presents a problem – but no route to a solution – collecting qualitative data can fill in the gaps. Likewise, when qualitative data presents a problem, quantitative data can help you define it and chart a path to a solution.

Here’s an example:

Use Case 1: Optimizing Event Registrations

In the post-event survey you sent out after your last event, one member mentioned a frustrating experience they encountered during registration. They tell you that they were attempting to register for your event online with their tablet, but found the process confusing as your ticket-types all appeared to be the same, but were priced differently. Later that week they completed their registration on their work PC and discovered this was due to some unfortunate formatting on their mobile device. Important content was not immediately visible on their smaller screen!

This problem solved itself for this user, but what about others?

Diving into quantitative data about your registration forms, you might discover a higher-than-average number of prospects not completing their registration for this event. Drawing quantitative data from your membership management software and website analytics, grouping these users based on the type of device they used to attempt registration might reveal that this problem has affected quite a few members! If tablet or mobile users seem to be unsuccessful at event registration, a few simple copy adjustments could be all it takes to significantly boost registrations for your next event!

Use Case 2: Driving Website Applications

Running a report on your website analytics, you notice that application conversions are low. You want to make your website a more powerful tool for capturing new applications, but aren’t sure where to start. Your low conversion rate has shown you that there is a problem, but in order to find out why there’s a problem, you know you’ve got to collect qualitative data.

Maybe you send a survey, or have a conversation with a prospect or three that didn’t complete their application. Whatever your method, you capture the qualitative data you need to discover that your website is difficult to navigate on non-desktop devices. Users want to apply for membership, but find the experience of doing so frustrating.

By exploring the problem revealed by quantitative data, you’ve defined it comprehensively. Invest in the mobile-optimization of your website, watch your conversion rate climb, and enjoy the feeling of victory now that you’ve validated your insight into this problem and its solution!