Types of Market Research

It doesn’t matter what type of product or service you provide, understanding what your target audience thinks is the key to delivering more of what they want and your business succeeding. But which research method to use?
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Types of Market Research

What is market research?

When we refer to market research, or marketing research as it’s otherwise known, we are essentially talking about a set of techniques that is used to gather information and better understand a company’s target market.

Once collected this information can be used by businesses to design better products, improve user experience and develop marketing messages that attract quality leads and help improve conversion rates.

You may already be using analytics software such as Google Analytics to examine what people are doing at scale, which can provide useful insight into how people are interacting with your products. However, user analytics and dashboards can’t tell you what these visitors are thinking and why they are doing what they are doing.

You can only get this information with market research. In addition, through market research you can test out how your customer might use your product before your main launch, which can sometimes throw up ideas and uses you might never have considered, helping you achieve greater success when it finally goes to market.



One of the simplest and most popular ways to carry out market research is through an online survey – using a structured questionnaire which is distributed to your target audience via a multitude of channels for them to complete over the internet.

Offering the ability to reach out quickly to large groups of people, surveys can be used to find out just about anything, from what customers most like about your brand, to the kinds of products your market needs.

Together with effective data analysis and reporting tools, the insights that can be collected through an online survey can improve the quality of your decision making.

Pro and cons

When you need a fast, cost-effective and accurate market research solution, online surveys offer a compelling choice. But as with any market research approach, there can be some drawbacks, so it’s good to be aware of these too.

The benefits


Online surveys are extremely quick to create and distribute, meaning that you can get 1000s of completed responses back in just a few hours – essentially providing you with real-time insights.

More accurate

Compared with other market research methods, the online survey approach enables deeper insight, as it allows the participant to input their own data transparently into the system without bias. In addition, the audience isn’t part of a dedicated research panel, which means more honest responses can be collected.


Online surveys are available at a fraction of the cost of other market research methods, while providing high quality tools to set-up and analyze your data.

Fast analysis

As long as you have the right market research survey software in place, your survey responses should be processed automatically, giving you access to raw data that can be analyzed immediately, or any other time that is convenient for you. And with access to highly quality reporting and analysis tools, you’ll have everything you need to improve the quality of your decision making moving forward.

The limitations

Answers may not be completely honest and accurate

One of the biggest challenges, is that if your survey is too long or confusing you might get bogus or inaccurate answers. And since there is less accountability, the chances for people just hitting buttons to finish are high.

However, if you keep your survey short, construct your questions carefully to avoid respondent straight lining and check the wording of your questions, so they can be easily understood, you should be able to keep any issues to an absolute minimum.

No interviewer available to explain anything

Depending on the subject and content of your survey it can be challenging in some instances getting the information you were hoping for from respondents, when there’s no interviewer present.

But again, you can help minimize any issues by providing more detail about what your survey is about and what you’re hoping to achieve in your survey summary. Further clarification can be provided through the careful wording of each question.

Practical considerations

Before you create a survey there are number of considerations to think about if you’re to maximize the value you’ll gain from it.

1. Set a clear obtainable goal

When it comes to your overall survey goals they should always be very top level and achievable, such as over the next 12 months we want to reduce turnover by 10%, or in a year’s time we want to increase our product share of a market by 5%.

Once set, you can use it as a reference point for prioritizing your questions.

2. Clearly define your audience

This part goes hand in hand with the first step, as your goal typically defines the audience in question – your customers (or a subsection of them), may be people who live in a given area, or match a certain demographic profile.

In general, you’ll see better response rates when your survey is targeting people who represent the most relevant respondents, rather than going for as wide a distribution as possible. This is because outside of workplace surveys, respondents will be spending their own time to complete the survey, so unless they are interested in the subject, or see some clear benefit to taking part then there will be a high risk of non-participation.

Besides your own customer contacts, consider using services such as survey panels, which can provide a fast, effective way of reaching out to the audience you need when you don’t have enough of the right contacts yourself.

3. Get the right mix of questions

From closed-ended to open-ended questions. From basic multiple choice to matrix, ranking and Likert style questions. When choosing your question types, make sure they will meet your needs in terms of gathering the data you require, while keeping your survey fresh and interesting to maintain respondent engagement.

The content of your questions should try to focus on two or three topics that will have the greatest impact on your business goals.

4. Keep your survey relatively short

Ultimately respondents will be taking time out of their busy day to take your survey, so it pays to keep it relatively short if you want them to complete it. By keeping it short you’re also more likely to generate quality responses from your survey takers.

5. Consider including a survey incentive

Depending on the content of your survey, you may consider including some sort of incentive to help increase your response rate. Besides cash incentives, potential incentives could range from entering respondents into a prize draw, to giving them a gift card voucher if they answer all of your questions.

6. Preview and test your survey before sending it

Imagine issuing your survey only to realize that you forgot to add a question, or you didn’t include a vital answer choice to one of your questions.

Previewing your survey before you send it, will help prevent this, while testing it with a small sample of respondents will enable you to see how your questions are perceived, so you can make any necessary improvements, which will contribute towards greater success when you issue your survey for real.

When to use this research type

From better understanding the needs of existing customers and interests of prospective new customers, to being able to better measure brand awareness, drive product and pricing improvements and identify new market opportunities. When it comes to research types, the versatility of the online survey means it can be used for so many different purposes.



Face-to-face interviews have long been a staple of the market research landscape. And given the fact that some of the inherent aspects, features and possibilities in a face-to-face interview cannot be captured or replicated by any other method, the face-to-face interview will always be a part of the market research tools mix. When face-to-face interviews are not possible, telephone interviews offer an effective alternative.

Pro and cons

When considering which approach to use, the interview method is no different to any of the other types of market research, in terms having strengths and weaknesses. Although the interview method offers many benefits, particularly when you’re looking for more in-depth information about why people feel and behave the way they do, it’s not without its drawbacks, as we’ve also outlined below.

The benefits

Personal Interaction and empathy

Depending on your area of research, a face-to-face interview with a quality moderator that can demonstrate strong empathy, can really get to the heart of what a participant is feeling.

When participants feel safe and understood, it’s much easier to get them to open up and share their emotions, resulting in a depth of information that would be difficult to achieve under a different approach.

Capturing non-verbal cues

While a well-designed online or mobile survey can improve data quality, by guiding respondents with a set number of response options to choose from or ensuring that certain questions are asked in a specific order, they can’t pick up non-verbal cues including emotions.

These can only be captured in a face-to-face interview and can provide additional context and reinforcement of what a respondent is saying.

Keep interviews on focus

Compared with other methods such as online and mobile surveys, where respondents often complete their survey in the midst of other distractions such as texting, reading and answering emails, video streaming, web surfing, social sharing and more, research interviews tend to be conducted in environments free from distractions.

In addition, because the interviewer has control over the interview, he or she can ensure the interviewees remain focused and on track to complete their research.

The limitations

Relatively high costs

Cost is a major disadvantage for face-to-face interviews. This is because researchers need to allow for the cost of hiring the interviews, whether they’re in-house or recruited from a market research firm. In addition, there could be some administration costs and extra expense if you needed to hire a venue to conduct the interviews from.

The quality of your data depends on your interviewer

The quality of data you receive will often depend on the ability of your interview staff. While some people have the natural ability to conduct an interview and gather data well, getting a whole team of interviewers with the same level of competence is challenging. Some interviewers may also have their own biases that could impact the way they input responses.

Data processing

If your interview was administered on paper, the data you collected would need to be entered manually and a staff of data entry personnel hired to complete this process. However, this could be easily solved if you choose to use online survey software as part of your interview process and manually added the interviewees responses yourself as they answered each of your questions. For added benefit your data could also be immediately available for analysis.

Limited sample size

Your sample size is limited to the size of your interviewing staff, the area in which the interviews are conducted, and the number of qualified respondents within that area. So, if it’s too small, it may be necessary to conduct several interviews over multiple areas, which again can increase costs.

Practical considerations

From the structure of your interview, to your location for hosting it and the number of people you will be interviewing. There’s lots to consider before you get started with your interviews.

1. Structure

You need to think carefully about the structure of your interview and the time that is available to you, so you can get the right mix for your needs.

While closed questions can give you greater control over time, as they only require short answers, open questions will give you a deeper level of detail. You also need to think about any other materials you will be bringing into the interview and their importance to getting the feedback you need, whether that’s the introduction of products or visuals such as pictures or short videos.

2. Location

From on the street, to a designated premise or even remotely over the phone. The location for interviews can vary. However, face-to-face at a designated premise is often best, as interviewing in person enables a more relaxed interaction and appreciation of non-verbal communication.

Phone interviews are also an option, as they are generally simpler and quicker, but they should be limited to no more than 15-20 mins to keep the respondent focused.

3. How many interviewees?

The question of how many people you need to interview and whether you can interview in groups or should conduct them separately per person, is a good one.

While group interviews can help you to learn from interesting social interactions, one-to-one interviews are not only easier to set up, but will ensure you avoid group biases.

Generally, at least twenty interviewees are needed and maybe many more if greater confidence is required, or you want a wider spectrum of views.

When to use this research type

Similar to surveys, interviews represent another form of primary research, where you go directly to customers to learn about their needs and opinions.

However, unlike with other market research methods, face to face interviews provide the ideal environment when you need to collect more sensitive information, as they give you the space and flexibility to probe deeper to get the answers you need. Face to face interviews are also ideal for testing out ‘stimuli material’, which could range from anything such as a print advertisement to a prompt card with a list of brands or a new product packaging design.

Focus groups


A focus group is a form of qualitative market research, in which a group of individuals, usually no more than around ten come together to discuss specific topics. They are ideal for gaining deeper, more meaningful insights into who your audience is, how they behave and the factors that motivate their purchasing decisions.

Focus groups are usually conducted on behalf of a business or organization, with the help of a market research firm to discuss topics ranging from an organization or a brand, to products or societal figures.

The market research firm will ask them a series of questions or give them a product to try, after which they freely share their opinions, ideas and reactions. All their responses are viewed and studied to measure the likely reaction of the larger market population.

Pro and cons

There are advantages and disadvantages to running focus groups, and whether running one is right for your business or not will depend on several factors including:

• Whether you’ve used a market research company before
• What your primary market research goals are
• What your preferred method of communicating with customers is
• Your budget

Once you’ve explored this you’re ready to look at the pros and cons. As with any research method, there are limitations with this approach too. So, it pays to be aware of these before making the decision whether to use focus groups.

The benefits

Easily measure customer reaction (not just opinions)

In contrast to online surveys of phone interviews, face-to-face contact with your focus group helps to gain not only their opinions but also their reactions too, giving you the complete picture. This can be especially advantageous if you’re using these sessions to get their views on a new design, packaging or messaging.

Immediate benefits from a hands-on approach

Given the fact that your audience can physically interact with your products and concepts, this hands-on approach can often generate immediate ideas for improvement from the group.

These sessions can often throw up new ideas about how a product could be potentially used, that’s not already been addressed by a company or its competitors.


Compared with interviews, the condensed nature of a focus group can make it possible to solicit a quantity of opinions and feedback on multiple aspects of a product without the time intensive process of individually interviewing people.

Time saved in the research phase of product development is critical in rapidly evolving industries, particularly when a comprehensive focus group allows you to more rapidly expedite a product’s journey to the marketplace.

Helps keep participants engaged and focused

With the interactivity of communicating with other people and products and concepts, it’s pretty hard to switch off in focus groups. Subsequently this makes it simpler for researchers to keep participants engaged and focused on the job at hand, helping to maximize the quality of feedback they will get back from the sessions.

The limitations

Not as in-depth as other research methods

In contrast to individual interviews, focus groups are not as efficient in going into maximum depth on a particular issue. One major disadvantage of a focus group is the potential for some members to not express their honest and personal opinions about the topic at hand, put off by more opinionated or extrovert participants within the group.

Doesn’t always capture a cross-section of society

Just as more active participants in a focus group can skew the results, so might the group itself if it’s not really representative of your wider target market.

While focus groups strive to reflect a cross-section of the population, this can be challenging to achieve in practice. You should never just assume that your focus group is a fool proof representation of your wider audience. Similarly, the findings of any focus groups should always be used as a basis for further research, rather than accepted as fact.

Potential for moderator bias

In some cases, moderators can impact the outcome of a focus group discussion by inadvertently injecting their personal biases into the participants’ exchange of ideas, which can result in inaccurate results. If they’re not careful moderators can also lead focus group participants into reaching certain assumptions or conclusions about an idea or product.

Can be expensive

Compared with surveys and questionnaires, focus groups are much more expensive to execute.

While some participants may offer their time for free; many others will have to be compensated in cash or in kind, especially if you’ve had to recruit them. However, most of the expense is incurred behind the scenes. The questionnaires and product demonstrations must be carefully created to ask the right questions and help elicit the responses that will be most valuable to the company’s market research.

Practical considerations

When it comes to running focus groups, there’s a number of things you need to think about during the planning stage, if you’re to maximize the benefits of running them.

1. Preparation

The very first thing you need to do is identify the overall objective of your focus group and develop five of six key questions that you need answering.

Next, you’ll need to plan your session, before calling potential participants to take part in your sessions, following up with a further reminder in the days before your focus groups sessions to ensure they’re still able to attend.

2. Recruit participants

Whose opinion do you need to hear? Think about this question in terms of demographics, to make sure that your respondents represent the right target audience for what you need in terms of their demographical makeup, which could include your existing customers or another audience group.

3. Develop your questions

With sessions typically lasting between 1 to 1½ hours long, you should look to create no more than six questions. When developing your questions, always ask yourself about what problem or need you want to be addressed with the information you gather during the sessions.

Focus groups are essentially like multiple interviews, so therefore many of the guidelines for conducting focus groups will be similar to carrying out interviews.

4. Plan the focus group session

Make sure you have a firm agenda in place to ensure you get the most out of the session and all your participants are clear about what they have to do. This could look very similar to the following:

‘Welcome, review of the agenda, review of the goal of the meeting, review of ground rules, introductions, questions and answers, wrap up’.

Your ground rules are probably one of the most important areas to help keep the session on track. So, in order to keep members participating and your session moving along smoothly, you might like to consider the following ground rules for participants.
‘a) Keep focused, b) Maintain momentum c) Get closure on questions.’

Finally, remember to record the session with either an audio or audio-video recorder. Don’t count on your memory. If this isn’t practical, involve a co-facilitator who can be on hand to take notes.

5. Facilitate the session

The overall goal of facilitation is to collect the information needed to meet the goal of the session. So, after introducing yourself, reading through the agenda and explaining any means you’re using to record the session, you can now focus on facilitating the session.
When delivering your questions, allow each member in the group a few minutes to carefully record their answers. Then facilitate discussion around the answers to each question, one at a time.

After each question is answered, carefully recite back a summary of what you’ve heard.

To ensure objectivity, it’s important to ensure even participation, especially if one or two people are trying to dominate proceedings.
Consider using a round- table approach, which could include moving in one direction around the table, giving each person a minute to answer the question. If the domination persists, note it to the group and ask for ideas about how the participation can be increased.
When closing the session, tell members that they will receive a copy of the report generated from their answers, thank them for coming, and adjourn the meeting.

You’re now ready to analyze your feedback.

When to use this research type

As a rule of thumb, if you’re looking to secure a clearer direction for your products or services, having a conversation with your customers through a focus group can be hugely beneficial. Alternatively, if you have well-defined questions and need to reach a large group or multiple groups of customers, a survey may better suit your needs.

Consider too how the two approaches could provide greater insight when combined to meet similar goals such as product development research or A/B testing. In such a scenario, the focus group could provide the inspiration with the survey providing the factual validation.



Observational data is a valuable form of research that can provide information that goes beyond numbers and statistics.

Typically happening in the users’ home, workplace, or natural environment, rather than in a lab or controlled setting, observational research looks to understand how people naturally interact with products and other people, and the challenges they face.

In the world of market research, where integrity of detail is critical for profitable outcomes, observation allows for a more objective analysis of the facts, by moving directly to the information source instead of relying on someone else’s interpretation of it.

Pro and cons

When it comes to types of market research, there are some distinct benefits to be gained from using the observation approach, as outlined below. While the observation approach offers a valuable perspective in any situation, it’s not without its own set of issues, especially when used in a market research setting. It’s therefore prudent to be aware of some of its drawbacks before you get started.

The benefits

It’s more realistic and true

Whenever direct observation is possible it must be pursued over self-reported metrics, as data collected through this medium offers a more reliable and realistic measurement of actual behavior.

In addition, given that through observation researchers can test their hypothesis in the real world, it’s far less hypothetical than other data collection methods.

It can help remove many response biases

Observation can be an effective way of eliminating certain response biases if the observation is done in real-time and any data gathered through observation is immediately recorded. Objectivity is also reinforced if the observation is done without the subjects under study being aware – otherwise known as the complete observer approach.

Better insight into all consumer behavior

Observation can enable researchers to obtain information which consumers may be unwilling or unable to provide. A good example, is infants who can neither understand our queries nor express themselves clearly, making observation the only way to research them.

Similarly, observation is the only appropriate tool for non-cooperative persons who are unwilling to provide data on their behavior.

The limitations

Lack of competence of the observer

Given that this approach relies heavily on the skills and experience of the observer carrying out the research, if they are not entirely competent in what they are doing it could hamper the validity and reliability of their observation.

Lack of clarity

Considering that not all human beings who are exposed to the same situations necessarily perceive the same thing, it can result in the observer only noticing what he or she wants to see, resulting in a lack of clarity.

The observer must also rely on their memory for the construction of their observation. So, if they’re to minimize any inaccuracies creeping in, they should record their observation immediately after they have observed an event.

Minimal control over physical setting

Given that the observer has limited control over the physical setting that he or she is observing, they may fail to obtain an adequate sample of data on which to base their conclusions. This can be the case in an unstructured situation, where so many things are occurring simultaneously that it becomes difficult to attend to them all.

Unmanageable data

If there’s not an effective agreement among all the observers about what data they should or shouldn’t be looking to collect, it could lead to them having to sift through piles of unmanageable data.

Possibility of distortion

Due to its very nature the act of observation is self-interfering, which in itself can introduce a bias, the direction and extent of which is relatively unknown. However, this can be reduced through the following steps:

  • A proper choice and location of observers
  • Inconspicuous recording
  • All other attempts at establishing observer neutrality

Practical considerations

Observation may sound simple in practice, but you need to have some firm guidelines in place of how you are going to carry out these sessions, if you’re to consistently get the most out of them.

1. Identify your objective

Whether it’s observing how potential customers are interacting with one of your concept products, or you’re observing how people behave in public areas. From the outset you need to determine what it is you want to observe and why.

When conducting observations, you’re trying to spot habits, patterns, behaviors, reactions and general information about people in a particular environment, to better understand what they do and eventually, why they do it (although observations alone often won’t tell you the “why”).

2. Establish a method of recording sessions

To maximize the effectiveness of observations, it’s important that you minimize or eliminate any disruptive or unfamiliar devices into the environment that you wish to observe. For example, it is often least effective to video record observations in situations where the people being observed know they are being filmed (but it’s usually unethical to film without telling them).

Subsequently, note-taking is the most common method, although in some public spaces you can also take photographs and conduct audio recordings.

3. Develop questions and techniques

Having determined whether you’re conducting an informal or a formal observation, you need to decide if there are any specific questions that you need answering or if you are going in completely open-minded. What you hope to learn will help guide you as to what you’re specifically looking for. Be prepared when entering an observation space by having a sound understanding of the type of information you are trying learn.

4. Analyzing behaviors and making conclusions

When it comes to analyzing behaviors and trying to make inferences as a result, try to separate the difference between what you observed (which are factual behaviors) and why what you observed actually happened. Typically, to make some sense of your observed data, you will need to interview people in the environment you are observing, either during the observation itself, or immediately afterwards.

When to use this research type

This particular type of data collection technique is particularly popular for UX research. It could also be effective in public places ranging from parks and high streets to train stations and airports, essentially places where it would be pretty difficult to carry out any other type of research.

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