Editor's note: Zach Mullen is a group manager of Burke, Inc.’s qualitative research department. He can be reached at zach.mullen@burke.com.

In the qualitative world, we are continually looking to extract meaning and applicability from sets of disparate experiences. How do different perspectives come together to influence and tell a singular story? How can one person’s experience be a microcosm for something that afflicts an entire set of customers? 

As we try to make sense of business questions and consumer behavior in a qualitative sense, we can utilize a set of tools that extends beyond just those tailored for market research specifically. Often, common literary devices can be a key to interpreting and analyzing swaths of qualitative information: themes, archetypes and juxtaposition. 

While at first glance, many of these can be perceived as only having applicability in the world of art and literature, they have become more and more present in the world of market research. Some of those overlapping examples can look like: 

Analysis. Anyone who’s studied classical literature or art history will tell you that the name of the game isn’t seeing things for what they are, it’s digging deeper and extracting the insight. It’s using analyses to understand a particular motivation or reason for action – all of which are hallmarks of the market research industry. 

Significance. How do we make sense of where something sits in the culture? In art and literature, it’s assessing how the creative work fits (if at all) into a particular moment in time. In research, it’s assessing white space and opportunity. Whether the “thing” is an oil painting or a packaged good, it’s asking ourselves what does this particular thing mean in the broader context? How is it significant? Does it stand out? And if so, why? In research, we ask ourselves these questions every day. 

Best practices. In every industry, th...