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When it comes to conducting market research, there’s a wide variety of methods that organizations can employ to uncover meaningful insights. The selection of the most appropriate research methods is driven by several factors, including the scope of the research, the questions an organization is trying to answer, and the availability of research participants. 

The field of market research is broad: entire books have been written on specific types of research methodology, and there’s no shortage of information to help guide your strategy. If you’re just starting out on your market research journey, consider referring to Cipher’s definitive guide: The Ultimate Guide to Market Research (coming soon!). 

Before exploring different methods, it’s important to understand the various approaches to market research. These will guide the choice of methods, and are important in helping researchers understand how to best structure their research endeavors.

Understanding the Different Types of Market Research

There are a couple of different ways to categorize market research methods. These are: 

  1. Primary research methods vs. secondary research methods
  2. Qualitative research methods vs. quantitative research methods 


It’s important to understand the different attributes of these distinct branches of market research.

Primary Market Research vs. Secondary Market Research

Researchers use primary market research techniques to gather information directly from research participants. When most people think of market research, they think of primary market research. Techniques like interviews, surveys, and behavioral observations are all classed as forms of primary market research.

Secondary research is a vital component of market research that is often overlooked by inexperienced researchers.

Secondary research is a vital component of market research that is often overlooked by inexperienced researchers. The practice of secondary market research covers the process of incorporating existing bodies of data generated by a third party. There is no limit to the scope of data sources researchers can consult: from expansive datasets from providers like the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) to more specific information, like the performance of a particular product during clinical trials

A comprehensive market research process encompasses both primary market research and secondary market research. Generally, primary market research enables researchers to uncover new insights that highlight behaviors and opinions. Secondary market research serves to add a rich layer of information that helps researchers better contextualize their research findings in the broader scope of the market. 

Qualitative Market Research vs. Quantitative Market Research

Market research can––and should––incorporate both qualitative and quantitative techniques to ensure that complex issues are researched in a comprehensive manner. 

Qualitative market research seeks to build an understanding of complex ideas and concepts, and these methods are applied in the exploratory phase of the market research process. Qualitative research is typically conducted on a relatively small scale, and uses methods like focus groups and interviews to explore complex issues. This, in turn, generates a series of hypotheses researchers can test with more rigorous techniques. 

On the other hand, quantitative research uses data-driven techniques that produce numeric, quantifiable outcomes. Research is conducted on a much larger scale, featuring hundreds, or even thousands, of participants. Quantitative research is primarily conducted using surveys. There are a wide variety of ways to structure market research surveys in order to perform more complex research that produces definitive results. 

The Five Most Common Research Methods

The discipline of market research has been around for nearly a hundred years now, and new techniques have constantly emerged that promise more accurate research results. Let’s explore the most commonly applied market research techniques today:

#1 Focus Groups

A focus group is a type of qualitative primary research. Researchers gather participants in a group of 6 - 10 people, and a facilitator guides the group through a conversation that encourages participants to explore several ideas and concepts related to the research topic.

The facilitator encourages participants to share their opinions, presents opposing points of view, and stimulates the discussion throughout the duration of the event. Focus groups usually occur in person, but have moved online recently, and are sometimes observed by members of the organization that is sponsoring the research. 

#2 In-Depth Interviews

Another popular form of qualitative primary research is in-depth interviews. These interviews may last around 30 minutes. In an interview, a market researcher will ask participants detailed questions about a range of topics related to the research, with the flexibility to press deeper when the participant provides an interesting answer. 

In-depth interviews offer perhaps the richest context available to market researchers, but don’t scale all that well. Conducting interviews is time-consuming, and it’s difficult to quantify the output. Market researchers typically use in-depth interviews during the exploratory phase of any given market research initiative. 

#3 Surveys

Surveys are perhaps the most ubiquitous market research technique. In simple terms, a survey can be defined as a series of questions answered by research participants. In most survey formats, every participant receives the same set of questions. These questions may be posed as closed-ended questions, making it relatively straightforward for researchers to analyze answers and produce quantifiable insights. 

Surveys can vary from simple questions that ask respondents to answer yes/no questions, to more complex types of analysis, including conjoint analysis or TURF analysis. While these types of research are more complex to administer, they can yield far more detailed insights than standard surveys. 

#4 Observation Techniques

Observation techniques have become more popular in recent years, and enable researchers to uncover deep insights into how consumers actually act, not just how they say they act in surveys or interviews. 

There are several different types of observational market research techniques. One of the most prominent, especially in the consumer packaged goods industry, is shopalongs. In a shopalong, researchers accompany participants through a grocery store and aim to understand the rationale behind their purchasing decisions. Another popular form is ethnography, where researchers observe consumers interacting with a product in order to make more informed product design decisions.

#5 Prediction Market Research

One of the most exciting developments in market research in recent years has been the innovation of prediction market research techniques. In prediction market research, participants are asked to predict how others similar to them might act, bet virtual currency on their predictions, and then explain the logic behind their decisions. 

These predictions are analyzed by advanced algorithms which develop a series of predictions on the projected development and adoption of new trends, technologies, and innovations. Critically, prediction market research is significantly more accurate than conventional market research techniques.

Prediction market research can often be conducted three to five times faster than traditional market research.

In addition to this improved accuracy, prediction market research can often be conducted three to five times faster than traditional market research. If you’re interested in learning more about prediction market research, check out HUUNUⓇ Futures, an innovative prediction market research service from the team at Cipher

Choosing The Right Market Research Methods

It’s never been more important for organizations to conduct frequent, detailed market research that enables them to take the pulse of their key constituents in real-time. But choosing the right market research methods for any given issue is a challenge and, often, it can be best to rely on professional assistance

The research methods detailed above, and many more, play an important role in helping organizations make decisions with greater clarity and a higher degree of confidence. But without experienced market research professionals to guide the process, it’s easy for the research to go off track. In fact, it’s entirely possible organizations will end up more confused than they were at the start of their research process if they execute their market research projects poorly. 

For guidance on market research, schedule a call with one of Cipher’s market research experts today.