What types of marketing research should I conduct?

One of the things I find myself saying over and over again to clients and students is Don’t Guess.  When it comes to making marketing decisions, don’t rely on just your gut, do your homework.   Conduct research and get solid facts to back up your proposed strategies.  But what type of research?  Well that depends on what you want to know!


Secondary Research: Secondary research involves analyzing existing data and information collected by others. This includes sources such as government reports, industry publications, academic journals, and market research reports. Secondary research provides valuable context and background information, helping to understand market trends, competitor strategies, and industry benchmarks. While secondary research is cost-effective and readily accessible, it has limitations.

  • It wasn’t created to answer your specific questions, so you may have to make assumptions about the relevance to your specific question
  • You didn’t conduct the study, so you do not know how reliable the data is  Now if you are using census data or reports from other reputable sources, this is less of a concern. 
  • The sample pool may not include your ideal clients. 

Primary Research: Primary research involves gathering fresh data to address specific research questions or objectives. This can be achieved through methods such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, and observations. Conducting primary research allows you to collect information directly from your target audience, ensuring relevance and specificity.  However, primary research can be costly and time-consuming, requiring resources for data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Quantitative Research: Quantitative research focuses on gathering numerical data and analyzing it statistically. This type of research aims to measure and quantify opinions, attitudes, behaviors, and market trends. Quantitative research employs structured methodologies such as surveys, experiments, and statistical analysis techniques. It provides reliable and generalizable insights, allowing for data-driven decision-making. However, quantitative research may overlook nuanced qualitative aspects and fail to capture how strongly someone feels about a particular issue.  To construct a qualitative study, you have to limit the choices you give participants, and in doing so, may eliminate or overlook an important element. 

Qualitative Research: Qualitative research aims to explore underlying motivations, attitudes, and perceptions through non-numerical data collection methods. This includes techniques such as open-ended surveys, interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic research. Qualitative research is valuable for gaining a deeper understanding of consumer behaviors, preferences, and emerging trends. It allows researchers to uncover insights that quantitative methods may miss, facilitating hypothesis generation and theory building. Qualitative research is often time-intensive, subjective, and may not be easily generalizable to broader populations. It can however, give you a starting point for a broader, quantitative study


Once you select the type of information you need, there are many ways to collect the data, including:

Focus groups –  Focus groups bring together a small group of individuals to discuss specific topics or products in a facilitated environment. They enable researchers to observe group dynamics, uncover attitudes, and explore perceptions. These groups are a qualitative tool, ideal for exploratory research to identify issues and themes to be expanded upon in detail in quantitative studies.  A sample of participants are brought together (based on specific characteristics such as demographics or buyer behavior). A facilitator asks questions and guides the conversation.  The results are not projection able and may impacted by different types of bias including:

  • Acquiescence bias (the desire to say yes to please the interviewer)
  • Dominance bias (stronger participants can alter the results from less dominant participants)
  • Researcher bias (where the research leads or impacts the participant responses indirectly). 

One to one interviews – This method is conducted directly between an interview and another participant, where there is a two-way conversation happening between each member on research topics. Interviews offer in-depth qualitative insights by engaging with individuals in a conversational format. They allow researchers to probe deeper into respondents’ thoughts, opinions, and experiences. Often, the interviewer will prompt discussion by asking a series of open-ended questions. The results may be still be subject to some bias. 

Surveys – Surveys involve collecting data from a sample of individuals through structured questionnaires or interviews. They provide quantitative insights into consumer preferences, behaviors, and demographics. A survey is a list of open and closed-ended questions that are put together and sent to a participant digitally — either by email or through a survey software that collects the answers automatically. Survey questions can vary and using the right survey question for your goals is important.

Observational research  – Observational research involves systematic observation and recording of behaviors, events, or phenomena in their natural settings. This type of research allows marketers to study consumer behavior without direct interaction or intervention, providing valuable insights into real-world actions and decision-making processes. Observational research complements other research methods by providing unbiased and unfiltered data, but it may present challenges such as observer bias and ethical considerations regarding privacy and consent. Integrating observational techniques into the marketing research toolkit expands your understanding of consumer behaviors  

The bottom line.  There are lots of marketing research methods and tools available for you. So when it comes to making good marketing decisions, don’t guess rely on the data to point you in the right direction. 




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