In the opening chapter of the third volume of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Elizabeth Bennet tours Fitzwilliam Darcy’s estate at Pemberley. Lizzie has bluntly rejected a marriage proposal from Darcy earlier in the novel, wishes to avoid seeing him ever again, and believes him to be summering elsewhere. Darcy arrives home sooner than planned and bumps into Lizzie while she’s gawking at his opulent digs (my words, not Jane’s). Austen describes a deliciously awkward encounter between her characters, but the BBC’s “Pride and Prejudice” delivered the scene that’s seared into Britain’s collective consciousness.

In the 1995 mini series, Darcy, played by Colin Firth, stops to cool off in a small lake and then, still dripping wet, approaches his house wearing only his underclothes and riding boots. There, as in the book, he meets Lizzie, played by Jennifer Ehle. Their shock at seeing each other and subsequent sputtering dialog is some of the most subtly delightful acting and slyly hilarious television I can think of.

English people gushed about the series because it teased a beloved novel’s implicit sexual tension to the surface until viewers were flush with it (and because Colin Firth was devastatingly handsome in his wet white shirt). But it’s relevant to our theme today because the scenes in which Darcy is revealed in all his humanity catalyze Lizzie’s love for him and lead to their eventual engagement. Your customers’ humanity can do the same for you.

Econs vs Humans

For decades, economic theorists understood people to be free, rational, selfish, and consistent. Celebrated economic models are based on this understanding. The psychologists who advanced decision making theory in the late 20th century called such people “econs,” and according to them, econs don’t exist.

In his book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman uses the term to introduce his section on choices.

“To a psychologist, it is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable. [Psychologists and economists] seemed to be studying different species, which the behavioral economist Richard Thaler later dubbed econs and humans.”

Kahneman goes on to discuss the decades of dialog between psychology and economics that defined a large part of his career and gave rise to the discipline of behavioral economics. During this period, it became clear that humans give an irrational amount of headspace to vivid outcomes – anything we can imagine clearly, like plane crashes or zombie apocalypses. We have an outsized fear of loss. We find it hard to step back, consider the options beyond those presented to us, and gain a broader view. And we can change our relationship to an outcome simply by reframing it in our minds.

The picture of humanity that Kahneman and his generation of psychologists helped us see is not fully rational. We’re certainly changeable. Our emotions and intuitions set us in motion while any analytical thinking we’re capable of tries to catch up.

Quant vs Qual

You’re planning a campaign for a manufacturing company that makes press fittings, a product that enables pipefitters and plumbers to quickly, easily, and cleanly join two pipes together. You can have similar information about contractors who use your products in two formats, quantitative and qualitative. Here are some pairings to help you appreciate the differences between the two.


Quant: 95% of contractors want to experience no delays in supply

Qual (summary finding and illustrative, representative quote): Contractors care about timely product availability. They need to know they can get the parts and supplies they need in a timely manner to complete their jobs.

“We have strict deadlines, if we go past substantial completion, we’re fined $8,000/day, which is not cool.”

When you read the quantitative data, you might have thought something like, “Sure! No one likes to wait. Seems obvious.” But if you don’t know much about large construction projects, the quote may have felt like a revelation. And it’s not just the size of the fines that’s so powerful – the frank emotion in the language speaks volumes.


Quant: 90% of contractors want to be on the cutting edge; 85% of contractors prioritize protecting their professional reputation

Qual: Contractors also want to feel confident in the tools and methods they’re using. Seeing or hearing peers who have been successful with a method or tool (like press) provides peace of mind when they’re considering something new.

“Soldering has gone by the wayside. [Magneti’s client’s product brand] seems ok, but that O-ring inside fitting, any O-ring in any setting, they decay after a while. When they decay, they will have a leak. But with soldering, once it’s soldered, it’s soldered. New materials might be making O-rings failsafe, but it hasn’t been around long enough to know.”

Would you have understood the interplay between the two stats in this section without the quote? The first stat looks like an invitation to lead with innovation, but the qualitative insight highlights a risk aversion that gives “cutting edge” new meaning. Cutting edge how? In safety features? The answer to that question dramatically changes how your campaign should feel.


Quant: Large contractors significantly over-index in their desire for swag

Qual: Contractors look to their reps and suppliers to keep them abreast of the tools or options they should be considering — preferably over lunch.

“Our company baseball hat says [competitor brand] on the back of them. Our sweatshirts say [competitor brand]. We don’t have anything from [Magneti’s client’s brand]. Buy us lunch, raffles, appreciation stuff. It’s a bigger company, we have buying power. You’d be shocked by how much we spend on [Magneti’s client’s brand] parts, millions this year.”

Here, the quant reminds you that “what’s in it for me” is always a relevant question. The qual, however, generously lets you know that you’re losing mindshare to competitors just because you haven’t given away enough baseball hats.

Qualitative data doesn’t just reveal the real, sweatshirt-clad humans behind the numbers. It’s good for the real humans trying to work with the numbers, too.

Qual for Empathy

Many quantitative reports read like this:
The following characteristics were measured across contractor segments:

  • 94% prioritize their customers’ long-term satisfaction
  • 85% prioritize the protection of their professional reputation
  • 95% want to experience no delays in supply
  • 90% want to be on the “cutting edge”
  • 92% value the manufacturer’s history of innovation
  • 93% care about the manufacturer’s warranty

If you were planning your campaign with only data like this, you could be forgiven for feeling overconfident. With a list of overwhelmingly majority needs so clearly articulated, you might decide to just trot out the specs that satisfy those needs. You’re in econ mode, and you’re sure the job’s as good as done – until you get your hands on the qual…

“[Engineers] might mention [Magneti’s client’s product brand], but then we can buy whatever we want as long as the pressure rating is the same. If someone has a good relationship with another vendor, or an equivalent fitting is cheaper, then they’ll buy that. From an installation standpoint, for our pipe fitter, a press fitting is a press fitting; they’ll use anything with a decent reputation.”

Get inside your audience’s mind, and you’ll be reminded that they have options. Things could go a dozen different ways.

At Magneti, we rely on quantitative data every day for strategy and campaign development, to understand our clients’ target markets, and to measure our marketing results. We have informed opinions on acceptable margins of error for decision making in a business setting. We love pretty graphs. We hope you do, too.

But qualitative data, with all its lengthy and sometimes self-contradictory or profanity-riddled quotes, is your best hope of seeing your audience’s humanity – bound by context, stretched by various tensions, somewhat selfish, sometimes risk seeking or risk averse and sometimes irrationally so, perhaps simultaneously some combination of scared, smart, determined, inert, or optimistic – like real people. Marketers should take time to get out of econ mode and listen like psychologists, and good qualitative research is the method for it.

Qual for Creative

Remember Kahneman’s insights: Once we’re inside our audience’s minds, we should not expect to find a completely rational environment. Humans don’t have the whole picture, and thinking things through is hard work. When we run out of patience for it, we’ll follow our guts.

That’s why good creative work is emotional. Many people in business can build a rational argument. Fewer can exercise enough empathy to imagine the spark that will hook a target, propel a storyline, fuel a campaign, or galvanize a movement. Qualitative research provides reliable paths to empathy. It’s easier to

  • Imagine an emotional arc for a campaign if you can feel your audience’s feelings with them,
  • Decide which product benefits to highlight if you know your audience’s deepest frustrations,
  • Generate new reasons to believe in your service if you’ve heard your audience express their skepticism,
  • Choose words that will resonate if you have access to your audience’s language.

If, as Kahneman taught us, humans experience emotions unavoidably and automatically, and if they’re as influential in our decision making processes as our rational faculties, then emotion is what we want our campaigns to produce. Emotion is also the means by which our creative teams conceive of evocative campaigns. As Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” But our creative teams aren’t our customers. They don’t experience their pains and joys, so we’d better be sure our research programs include a methodology that conveys those things.

Qual for Exploration

Quant helps you measure the dimensions of a known universe. Qual will help you discover new dimensions. While many researchers conduct qualitative inquiries to add texture to quantitative findings, when we’re choosing between executing a qualitative component before a quant component or after one, we choose the front end whenever we can.

One of our go-to methodologies for qualitative research is interpretative phenomenological analysis. We ask participants to tell us stories about their experiences in a safe environment, and that alone will generate narrative “data” that’s rich with emotion. But once those experiences are on the table, we also give participants the opportunity to try to make sense of them with us. We help them process moments, journeys, and periods of life and try to understand their own behavior, and we gain clarity as they do.

This enables us to follow surprising threads. We can probe perceptions we would never have thought to measure and listen for the ideas and emotions associated with them. Not every thread leads to relevant insights, but sometimes a conversation will raise some new node on the conceptual landscape, and then we’ll hear something similar in another conversation, and then we’re on the path to discovery.

As long as the methodology is sound, qualitative research returns no false positives – every perception recorded is a real perception. Many of those perceptions should be sized in some quantitative follow up, but almost invariably, they give us a brighter universe with expanding boundaries and / or more points in its constellations.

For a range of generative business activities – product innovation, brand identity and messaging development, campaign strategy, and others – qualitative research insights are uniquely valuable, little suns illuminating new horizons.

Qual for Understanding

A good researcher’s analysis isn’t limited to the content of the discussion. Because so many of our conversations are had using video, we can listen for changes in inflection, shifts in tense, emphasis on certain words. We can watch for revealing body language. Even as research participants begin to better understand their own motives through conversation, researchers begin to understand who they are regardless of the topic. We’re able to imagine how they might respond in a new scenario, how they might feel about a new set of options, what might surprise and delight them.

And as we code and analyze the data of many conversations, themes emerge, and we move past insights into the experiences of individuals to gain a vision of an entire audience as it exists “in nature.”

Many founders get started in business having had a similar vision: They gain clarity on some need that exists, whether or not they’ll ever manage to meet it. But as their tribes expand, that vision can blur. Qualitative research brings the essentials, old and new, into focus.

At Magneti, we believe researchers haven’t done their job until they’ve listened carefully enough that they can’t help but love their audience. And that brings us back to Colin Firth.

Humans In Nature

Andrew Davies wrote the screenplay for the BBC’s “Pride and Prejudice.” He understood the themes of the book, the context in which it was written, and the manners and mores of the period in which it’s set. But he understood something else. Austen’s characters represented real people who would have had real human experiences far beyond what can be captured on the page. He saw them as though they existed in nature, as, in his own words, “living, breathing young human beings with all their hormones buzzing around.” And then he helped his audience see them, too, and a nation fell in love.

Our task as marketers is to see our customers and clients in the same way and to meet them where they are, in nature. You don’t need a white shirt and a hosepipe. But you might benefit from some good qualitative research.

Magneti aims to be the most effective and innovative growth marketing team in Colorado.