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Market research defined: types and examples

Learn how to build the right market research program to support your business goals.

Guesswork simply doesn’t work for business success. You need to make informed decisions based on facts and metrics about your target market. How do you get that information? Market research, of course.

Before we begin discussing market research, we should clarify the difference between market research and marketing research.

In market research, you are studying a target market. Market research collects, analyzes, and utilizes data about a specific market, the product concept to be offered to that market, and customers (past, present, and potential future) for the product. The purpose of market research is to find out the viability of a product or service in the target market.

Examples of market research include target market, market size, market segmentation, and market trends.

Marketing research covers new product research, product development, advertising research, customer research, pricing, public relations, and everything from product conception to branding. Basically, it is research into the market in which the business wants to succeed and an assessment of the business’s marketing strategies. The purpose of marketing research is to inform decision-making for all marketing activities.

Examples of marketing research include advertising effectiveness, concept and product testing, and brand perception.

Market research is a part of marketing research, so there is some overlap. Examples of the overlap include research into the competition, pricing, product attributes, and demand. 

You can remember the difference between market research and marketing research with this quick tip: Market research typically involves research relating to markets (size, target market, segmentation, demand) and marketing research involves research related to marketing (concept testing, advertising awareness, brand awareness).

Market research is crucial to the success of your business because the valuable information learned about your target market allows you to develop products and create marketing campaigns that will appeal to your target customers.

Market research is important because it:

  • Allows you to make informed business decisions
  • Helps you avoid costly mistakes
  • Builds credibility
  • Helps you predict trends

There are many types of market research—procedures and methodologies used to analyze data. The type of market research you perform is based on what you wish to learn, how you want to apply the results, and any goals you’ve set in relation to the research.

Primary research is a methodology for directly collecting data for your own use. It is the most reliable and accurate method for collecting data because you are collecting and analyzing it with your goals in mind. There are several ways to perform primary research.

In a focus group, you bring together a group of six to ten people who share some common characteristics (i.e. age, buying habits, or location). The group will be led by a moderator in a discussion of a predefined topic, such as a product, customer experience, or marketing message. 

Focus groups tend to be more difficult to run because the interviewer/moderator must record participant answers while moderating the discussion. They are suitable for gathering information, but if not conducted properly, they can result in skewed data. 

Skewed data can result from bias in a group setting:

  • Acquiescence bias from a participant wanting to please the moderator
  • Dominance bias of stronger participants altering the answers of less dominant participants
  • Researcher bias if the moderator impacts participant responses indirectly

Focus groups are good for qualitative research into new concepts, product launches, product updates, and marketing ideas.

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Whether you consider yourself a pro or just getting started in the market research world, you’ll learn something new by reading our quick start guide.

Surveys are carefully crafted questions delivered to a target market to yield the best possible insights into customer feelings and behaviors. They may be delivered by paper survey in the mail, telephone, or online questionnaire. A mix of open and closed-ended questions are generally used.

Surveys, especially online surveys, are easy to create, gather data, and analyze. SurveyMonkey even offers 150+ survey templates to help you get started. And SurveyMonkey Audience can find and survey your target audience in minutes.

It’s beneficial to use surveys to learn more about your target audience. They can be taken by current, former, and potential customers. Surveys are great to use in conjunction with other market research methods for an in-depth analysis.

Interviews are individual conversations with members of your target market. Face-to-face interviews may be conducted in person or online with the assistance of a video conferencing platform. As you ask questions during an interview, you can read nonverbal cues and ask natural follow-up questions in response to the interviewee's answers.

Interviews help you gain empathy for customer experiences and uncover new insights into the customer experience. 

However, this method still has the risk of acquiescence or research bias.

Interviews can be time-consuming, both in collecting information and analyzing it later.

Ethnography is qualitative research that involves observing and interviewing respondents in their own homes or office to gain insight by observing everyday behaviors and lifestyles. 

By interviewing and observing customers in their own homes, you can see how your products fit into the context of your customers’ everyday lives. You may see areas for product improvement or areas for new products as you observe.

Ethnographic research is extremely useful, but it is also time-consuming and costly. It certainly has its place in research, but other methods are generally more efficient and effective for market research.

In secondary research, you use existing research data from reliable sources to help solve your problem or answer your question. It is beneficial because it takes less time, is useful in filling knowledge gaps, and can act as a foundation for primary research. However, you have no control over the data or methodology, the data has not been collected with your goal in mind, and you must verify secondary data to ensure the quality of the methodology.

Public sources like the library are very useful for gathering secondary data. You can find information in professional journals, newspapers, census records, and other publications there.

Government libraries or websites usually offer free reference materials to researchers.

Commercial sources of secondary data are useful but can be costly. These sources include industry and trade publications or media sources.

A lot of research projects take place on college campuses. You may be able to access recent studies conducted at universities and educational institutions with a simple Google search.

Qualitative research is a form of data collection from personal accounts and opinions. It is used to gain in-depth information about customers’ reasoning and motivations. It can be data collected from interviews, case studies, expert opinions, focus groups, or observational research. You can also collect qualitative data from surveys with open-ended questions for respondents to express their opinions in their own words in a text box.

Qualitative research focuses on the “how” and “why” of customer behaviors. It provides the opportunity to capture new concepts and unique perspectives.

Examples of qualitative research:

  • In-depth interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Observational research (ethnography)
  • Open-ended survey questions

Quantitative research relies on numerical or measurable data. It is typically used to make informed decisions or decide on a course of action. It can also be used to prove or disprove a hypothesis you have after analyzing qualitative research. Quantitative questions make up the bulk of most surveys.

Quantitative research can be collected by polls, surveys, and secondary research. The data can be used to provide benchmarks for future research and a foundation of knowledge for qualitative research. Larger sample sizes from quantitative research mean that your results will likely be statistically significant.

Examples of quantitative research:

  • Surveys
  • In-market experiments (launching a product in a single geographical location or demographic market)
  • Implicit data collection (passive data gathering during transactions from bar codes, or website traffic)

Businesses use brand research to create, manage, and maintain their brands. A brand includes images, logos, narratives, characteristics associated with it, values, tone, and company identity. The main purposes of brand research are to understand how your brand is performing in relation to the competition, identify areas for improvement, and determine positive attributes to showcase in your marketing.

Brand research can and should be used throughout the lifecycle of a business. 

Brand awareness is the extent to which customers in your target market are aware of your business, products, and services. High brand awareness means that customers are more likely to seek out your brand when making a purchase.

The following quantitative metrics help you assess brand awareness:

  • Direct traffic to your website
  • Website traffic numbers of visitors
  • Social media engagement (i.e. likes, follows, retweets, and comments)

Brand loyalty