Advances in automation and digitization have not only increased the pace at which we can conduct primary research but have created new opportunities for integrating research activities. From data collection through analysis, reporting, and ongoing knowledge management, applying a holistic approach can help leverage every bit of value from each project and each insight.
Two areas of research that can be effectively conducted in tandem are market research and UX (user experience) research. While the two might overlap in terms of methodology and each can generate findings that are relevant to the other, they are distinct sub-disciplines. Knowing when to deploy them in an integrated way and when to keep them separate requires understanding what each can achieve.
Market Research vs. User Research
So, what is the difference between market research and user research? The essential difference lies in the questions posed. Market research investigates what—what will people buy?—and who—who are the people that will buy a specific thing? User research focuses on how and why—how does the user engage with the product and why do they do it in that way?
We use market research to understand all we can about the marketplace and the customers who comprise it. Areas of inquiry include purchase behavior, perceptions about brands, product features, and pricing. We might segment the market using demographic and/or psychographic variables and behavioral factors such as purchase frequency.
Market research might include a scan of the competitive landscape to inform brand strategy and product positioning, and industry trends and outlooks to provide solid context for product development choices.
Market research uses both quantitative and qualitative methods depending on the project objectives. Surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews (IDIs), observational techniques (ethnographies), diary studies—any or all might be used in market research.
Often referred to as UX or user experience research, user research examines how customers interact with products. What are they trying to accomplish and how well does the product work for them? What problems do they encounter? What needs remain unmet? How well do actual use cases align with the product team’s understanding?
Because user research is concerned with in-depth queries among relatively small samples of people, it typically focuses more on qualitative tools and often incorporates observation. The tools are the same as those used in qualitative market research: ethnographies and usability testing, focus groups, IDIs and diary studies.
How to Set Your Research Teams Up for Effective Collaboration
Market research and user research each have a crucial role to play in creating the complete story for a product. They often come into play at different points in a product life cycle, but not always. Once a product has been launched, both approaches will be deployed and re-deployed. This can present opportunities to build on insights generated by the other team as well as collaborate on research projects.
What are some best practices that support and encourage collaboration between user and market research teams?
Set the stage for collaboration by making sure the market research and user research teams are each familiar with what the other does. When each team understands the fundamentals of the research handled by the other team, how it is done and the kinds of insights it generates, then everyone is better equipped and more likely to reference knowledge the other team has built. And they can provide consultation in their respective areas of expertise.
A centralized knowledge management platform, also sometimes referred to as a research library or insights engine, will help each team gain greater visibility into what the other is working on. Both teams can publish finalized research reports, as well as information about the methodologies and tools they are using. Team members can also comment and ask questions of one another in the platform, helping them grow their understanding of what the other team is working on and uncover new opportunities for collaboration.
Stay in Touch
Maintaining routine communication between the teams also nurtures collaboration. Just as the product team and the marketing team need to stay in touch, there is tremendous value in keeping the market research and user research teams in regular communication. It helps ensure important and relevant insights are shared back and forth and makes it easier to recognize opportunities to work in tandem on data gathering.
Market research and user research teams may also wish to collaborate together on a research roadmap that can be shared in their knowledge management platform. This will reduce the risk of the teams duplicating one another’s efforts and allow them to identify projects where it makes sense for them to work together.
While market research and user research are distinct sub-disciplines, they often overlap in any of three ways that can make collaborative projects extremely rewarding: timing, technique, and target respondents.
It will often be time and/or budget constraints that drive blended research designs. Still, when the teams have established communication patterns and basic understanding of each other’s missions, then blended research can yield richer insights as well as save time and money.
Effective collaboration happens when people can readily discover and access available knowledge that could be relevant to their needs, when they can easily find and tap the expertise of colleagues, and when there is a venue that cultivates interaction through Q&A and other conversations. By making a knowledge management platform part of your infrastructure, your organization can create these opportunities to wring maximum value from every research dollar they invest.