Market Research Methods You Should Know

Louise Principe
Mar 24, 2022

Knowledge controls access to opportunity and advancement. This saying is especially true in business, wherein information serves as the foundation for successful strategies and models.

But in a world that’s brimming with all types of information, extracting the most relevant insights on a specific market or audience can be challenging. This is where market research comes into play – it allows you to understand your target audience better, fill any gaps in your market, learn your competitors, and allocate your resources in the most profitable ways.

If you intend to conduct market research, you’ll need to be well versed in marketing research techniques. This complete guide breaks down the major market research categories and their different methods to help you better serve your customers and steer your business in the right direction.

  1. Primary Vs. Secondary Research

  2. Primary

  3. Primary research is original research you conduct yourself or employ a third party to carry out for you. It involves going directly to the source and getting in touch with your target market to ask questions and collect data. Examples of this are interviews, focus groups, and mobile market research.

When conducting primary research, you can gather two types of information:

Exploratory research - This approach aims to investigate a problem through independent exploration. It is extensive and open-ended, mainly focusing on lengthy discussions with a small but validated group of respondents, otherwise known as a sample.

Specific research - This approach is more precise and seeks answers to previously identified problems often discovered through exploratory research.

Primary market research has the advantage of helping you gather first-hand information about the needs of your customers and prospects. It also enables the company or individual to control the ownership of their data.


Secondary research is the act of seeking out data and research that already exists – this means that researchers aren’t required to amass their own intelligence. Your job as a secondary researcher is to find existing data that can be implemented in your specific project. This research is beneficial if you have limited resources to conduct your market research.

Secondary sources include the following:

Public Sources - These sources offer a lot of good information free of cost so researchers can document any available information.

Examples: government agencies, business departments, public libraries

Commercial Sources - Although a reliable data source, these usually involve cost factors such as subscription and association fees.

Examples: research and trade associations, financial institutions, publicly-traded corporations.

Educational Institutions - Collecting data from these sources is often overlooked. However, the educational sector generates more research than any other sector

Examples: colleges, universities, technical schools

Media Sources - These information sources provide both first and second-hand accounts regarding topics such as economic development, politics, market research, and demographic segregation.

Examples: newspapers, journals, magazines, TV and radio stations

Internet Sources - This is one of the most popular ways of collecting information due to its accessibility and convenience. Data is readily available on the internet and can be viewed or downloaded at a click of a button.

Examples: websites, forums, social media

Quantitative Vs. Qualitative Research


Quantitative research measures the opinions, attitudes, and experiences that respondents report by generating numerical data. This data is then collected for producing statistics, identifying trends, and finding prevalence.

The goal of quantitative research is to quantify and generalize results so that the market researcher can conclude the best course of action. It can also be utilized to test a theory or hypothesis, detect causal relationships between variables, predict outcomes, and create generalizations on broad populations.


In contrast to quantitative research, qualitative research is more descriptive in nature. It is designed to gain deeper insight into the opinions and motivations of consumer purchases. As such, this research doesn’t aim to describe a situation or occurrence – instead, it seeks to establish the reasoning behind it.

This research relies on psychological, ethnographic, and sociological approaches to gather insight from their target audience. Qualitative research usually takes place in a natural environment, either online or offline, wherein participants can provide thorough responses to any questions or prompts the researcher may have.

10 Methods of Market Research


In-depth interviews involve speaking to one participant at a time and documenting their responses. The interviewer asks open-ended questions relating to the research topic and the participants’ experiences while encouraging them to answer in-depth. Even though it requires more time and resources to execute, this method produces profound insight into what consumers value and prioritize.

Depending on the goal of the interview, the format of the discussion may change. Some interviews can be a free-flowing conversation between the participant and the moderator, which is loosely confined to a general topic of discussion, or they may be highly structured with very specific questions.

This technique is ideal for exploratory research. If your objective is to gain a deeper understanding of a consumer’s problems, motivations, and underlying perceptions, conducting individual interviews may be the right approach for you.

Focus Groups

In focus groups, moderators use a scripted series of questions or topics to spur a natural discussion within a group of people. A focus group consists of a moderator and people who share the same demographic attributes to represent a target market. Unlike interviews, which are usually one-on-one, focus groups mimic a natural discourse between multiple people – allowing members to bounce off each other's thoughts and ideas, providing different perspectives on each topic.

Focus groups are helpful if your goal is to get a reaction to your product or advertising. They can yield valuable insights into customer attitudes and are also an excellent way to uncover new product or service development issues.


Surveys are a widely known and utilized method for gathering a large quantity of data for analysis. This technique involves distributing survey questions, either open-ended or close-ended, to respondents through a questionnaire – this can be done either in person, over the phone, through email, or online.

This market research method is highly versatile due to the range of question formats it can offer. Some examples of these formats are:

  • Dichotomous: These questions can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  • Multiple choice: Has three or more options that allows for single answers. It may be wise to include an ‘other’ option if the respondent’s answer differs from the given options.
  • Checkbox: Gives participants the flexibility to check single or multiple answer options in response to a question.
  • Rating scale: This format is used to assign value to a specific topic using a range of answer options on a scale (0 to 10, 1 to 100, and so on).
  • Likert scale: Used to assess a person’s perspective or opinions on a subject. It consists of a range of answer options that span from one extreme (strongly disagree) to the other (strongly agree).
  • Matrix: Usually presented in a grid format with rows and columns. Each column represents an answer that can apply to each question in a row.
  • Demographic: This format consists of questions that gather information such as gender, age, and education level.
  • Question and answer: Involves asking open-ended questions with written or verbal answers.

Conducting a survey is advantageous if your goal is to question a relatively large sample, measure something objectively, or recruit participants for your quant/qual study. They can also be used effectively in employee or customer satisfaction research, pricing research, and fact-gathering.

Social Media Monitoring

This method involves searching for various topics on social media platforms and analyzing relevant social posts. For example, a company might search for mentions of their brand on Twitter to see the opinions of their buyers and potential customers. Since people share a lot of content on their social media accounts, there is an abundance of data to tap into and evaluate.

Social media listening is an effective method for market research because it democratizes consumer insight. Since the responses are unprompted, researchers can be fairly sure that the person is sharing an unfiltered account of their thoughts and feelings regarding the topic.

Market research attained through social media monitoring provides fast, accurate, and current information about your brand. Through this method, companies can determine trends and brand sentiments in real-time to help guide future enhancements and product development.


An observative research method allows researchers to watch customer behavior as opposed to user-reported behavior. This method involves observing consumer behavior and occurrences in natural environments like their homes and shopping stores.

In comparison to other qualitative marketing research techniques, an observational study is a direct reflection of your consumer’s “real life,” so the insights you gather are often helpful and reliable. While this method is traditionally conducted in person, it can also exist online using a mobile market research tool.

Here are a few examples of observational research:

  • Usability testing – Involves respondents evaluating a product or service through testing while observers watch, listen, and take notes.
  • Eye Tracking – Researchers study their participant’s eye movement during various activities. It reveals what grabs consumers' interest or attention.
  • Contextual Inquiry – Involves interviewing subjects as the researcher watches them work or play in their natural environment.
  • In-Home Observation – Watching a respondent go through their morning routine in their home might uncover valuable insights into pain points that need solving.
  • In-Store Observation – The interviewer accompanies the consumer while they browse and shop for items, asking questions as they tag along.
  • Mystery Shoppers – This technique involves hiring a secret shopper to act as an actual customer to evaluate their customer experience in-person, over the phone, or online.

Observational research is instrumental in helping you interact with consumers to get deeper insights during the shopping process, understand usage patterns, measure the time it takes to make a purchase decision, and get feedback on package design.

Field Trials

Field trials or experiments involve scientific testing wherein a hypothesis and variables are tested. They can be conducted in a controlled environment, such as a laboratory, or out in natural settings.

These experiments rely on independent and dependent variables – the researcher controls the independent variable to test its effects on the dependent variable. The key here is to try and establish whether there is a causal relationship between the two and how it can be applied to improve marketing strategies.

The best application of this method can be seen in A/B testing, which involves having consumers evaluate and dissect different versions of the same products or services to determine which is more effective.

Competitive Analysis

Competitive analysis is a strategic market research method where a company analyzes how they stack up against their competitors in the market. This involves identifying your rivals in the industry and studying certain aspects of their business. The information gathered from this process can be used as a point of comparison to identify your strengths and weaknesses relative to each competitor.

This research method starts by defining the products or services they offer, how they brand themselves, and their target market. Aside from this, your firm can also analyze different topics in relation to your competitors. It can also be from a marketing perspective (content, SEO structure, PR coverage, social media presence) or a product perspective (types of offerings, pricing structure).

Competitive analysis helps assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It gives you a sense of how you rank in the industry, provides valuable insight into successful business models, and allows you to implement more profitable business strategies.

Public Data

Public data involves seeking and analyzing market-related data that are open to the public. Often, this research is available free of cost on the internet or at the library. There are plenty of sources for this information such as research centers, polls, or government databases.

Data from public sources is often used to supplement primary market research. It can also confirm information and be measured against other data.

This method is ideal for researchers strapped for resources or those who simply need to support their research with additional information. With more and more data produced over time, researchers can build upon and create new studies from publicly accessible data.

Purchased Data

Purchased data is a method by which researchers can buy and analyze relevant industry and research reports. Several market research firms offer subscriptions for users to access their research databases, spanning various industries and locations.

This option can be helpful for small or medium-sized businesses that lack the time or resources to conduct primary market research. Purchased data can give you all your data in a clean and organized format, saving you time and effort.

Sales Data Analysis

Analyzing sales data is a useful method that can complement other marketing research techniques, such as competitive analysis, to evaluate the relationship between business strategies and sales. It offers valuable insight into the buying patterns of consumers in your market and assists you in spotting consumer trends.

Analyzing your sales performance provides insights about top-performing and underperforming products and services, selling problems, market opportunities, sales forecasting, and sales activities that generate revenue.

Choosing a suitable market research method

In selecting the appropriate research method for your project, you would want to consider your research objectives, resources, the type of data you need, and the pros and cons of each technique. It can also be wise to employ an experienced industry partner organization, such as Civicom Marketing Research Services, that delivers practical and unique market research tools and helps lead you through your research, enabling you to achieve more successful projects.

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Civicom® Marketing Research Services is the global leader in providing web-enabled solutions for your market research projects. Our technological suite of services includes online IDI and focus group facilitation, a mobile insights app, an online community platform, a qualitative multimedia curation tool, translation, and transcription, plus other solutions that will cater to your research needs. Get in touch with our team of experts to learn more about how we can help you achieve project success.

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