Market Research Vs. User Research: Which Does Your Business Need?

Market research vs. user research: which is more important? This is the question many businesses must contend with. One thing is for certain; a business needs to conduct research in order to identify viable opportunities, latent threats and customer sentiments and needs.

In today’s age of evolving digital technologies, customer needs have also become more demanding — 63% of consumers expect businesses to know their needs and expectations, while 58% of customers will switch businesses due to an unsatisfying customer experience.

Businesses must therefore be discerning on the research they decide to use, whether it comes from in-house or external providers. Usually, combining both kinds is necessary in order to conduct both primary and secondary research.

Market research and user research apply both; additionally, both of them can be used within the 6 main types of research.

This article provides insights when facing the market research vs. user research debate so that you can determine the most apt kind of research for your business.

Defining Market Research

Market research is a term that encompasses several processes and methods for extracting information about a market. Specifically, it denotes the practice of collecting, analyzing, interpreting and consolidating data on your customers and industry at large.

This includes gathering data and information on your competitors, target market and your own products, services and experiences. As such, it refers to a holistic approach to gathering research for your business, as it relates to your business and its overall niches and industry.

Conducting market research is essential for understanding your target market — the segment of customers most likely to buy from you. Additionally, it allows you to make continuous improvements to keep up with changes in customer opinions, attitudes, behaviors and demands.

Aside from enlightening your business on its CX, market research allows you to understand the inner workings of your entire field, from your direct competitors to those not within your niche, to innovations and much more. 

The Importance of Conducting Market Research

Performing market research is crucial for businesses big and small, for the reasons stated above and several others. First off, market research entails gathering secondary data from virtually all sources that pertain to your business and its encompassing industry.

From checking your competitors’ digital properties, to keeping tabs on their ads and social media, along with turning to trade publications, news, statistics and market research websites, it allows you to stay informed on all the ins and outs of your industry.

Then, there’s the customer side. Market research ensures a satisfying and friction-free customer experience by studying the concerns of your customers. This goes beyond studying secondary source trends and statistics.

Instead, primary research is a large component of the process. By conducting a consumer survey, interviews, focus groups, field research or running experimental research, you will gain a deep understanding of your customers. There are other methods of performing primary research, all of which fall under market research.

By studying your customers, you gain the imperative knowledge for catering to them, along with steering clear of their aversions. As such, you can avoid issues that tarnish your brand’s reputation along with those that trigger customers to patronize your competitors.

You can also run market research campaigns on your own products and services, to see how your target market truly feels about you. This practice can also help you discover what’s missing in your industry, allowing you to innovate quicker. 

Continuously running market research campaigns will thus guarantee you stay well-informed on all the concerns, needs and opportunities of your business and the overall market.

The Pros and Cons of Market Research

While invaluable for businesses who wish to not merely stay afloat but to become and remain competitive, market research also carries a few drawbacks. Businesses and researchers ought to be aware of both the benefits and pitfalls of market research.  

The Pros

  1. Allows you to stay abreast of all changes, behaviors and innovations within your industry.
  2. Enables you to conduct market segmentation to discover the segments making up your target market. 
  3. Grants you insight on all of your target markets’ needs, attitudes, aversions and sentiments.
  4. Helps you brainstorm and strategize more effectively, as you are equipped with data.
  5. Limits risks and liabilities.
  6. Propels higher sales.
  7. Measures viability of new products and services.
  8. Helps you find the gaps and limits in your industry, ideal for creating new products and offerings.
  9. Finds new markets and niches you can explore and eventually serve.
  10. Supports all decision-making processes.

The Cons

  1. The total sum of all the research making up market research can be expensive.
  2. It forms a long and winding process, which can make certain campaigns feel boundless.
  3. It requires keeping track of ongoing changes, as such, certain sources may not be as relevant and accurate of the industry.
  4. There are biases present in many sources of information:
    1. Primary research: survey bias, lack of field research to form conclusions, dishonest interviews, etc. 
    2. Secondary research: biases in secondary publications, outdated content rebranded as new (via date changes but no updates)

Defining User Research

User research comprises far more than usability testing. Also called design research, user research aims to study the users at the center of the design process of your products and experiences. As such, it involves examining the various needs, concerns and pain points of your target users.

This kind of research is primarily useful for product designers and experience producers, who use the insights from user research to make educated decisions for decisions. With this form of research, designers avoid or reduce product glitches, gaps and producing things with scant market demand.  

Like market research, it relies on a wide range of methods and processes in order to gain the information the designers and product managers seek. The various components that form user research can thus be used to discover design opportunities and crucial information to guide the design process.

User research involves conducting ethnographic studies via interviews or performing user testing, quantitative research on the ROI of your products and UX designs and surveying your target market. The latter involves a wide range of topics, such as existing product satisfaction surveys, surveys on your product ideas, surveys on competitor products and many more. 

Other user research methods and tactics include:

  1. Accessibility evaluations to ensure an inclusive design of your product.
  2. Studying customer journey maps, essential to understanding your customer journeys, a major aspect of digital CX (customer experience) or UX. 
  3. Studying website analytics to understand traffic, bounce rates and other metrics to learn which content engages and which requires improvement. 
  4. Evaluate information architecture via card sorting so that you assure your design is structured logically. 
  5. Conducting contextual inquiries via field research (in-store observations, observing product testers) and digital observations (chats, a customer experience survey)

The Importance of Conducting User Research

User research is of the utmost importance when it comes to design strategy, as it functions as a foundation for it, along with a continuous source of insights to strengthen it. It equips project managers, designers, markets and business owners themselves with key data to buttress your design ideas and decisions. 

This kind of research allows you to pinpoint the best candidates for using your product, as well as the members of your market segments who would be most likely to engage with a digital asset. In turn, this aids your marketing strategy, as you’ll understand which segments to target your marketing efforts. 

User research can foster this activity, as creating a successful marketing strategy relies on avoiding the mistake of marketing to everyone. As such, you cannot target all the segments of your target market in the same way. You’ll need to create different messaging towards each segment, some of which require marketing entirely different products and experiences. 

User research thus forms the bedrock of a productive marketing strategy.

Moreover, user research forms the basis of a product-design cycle. While you may be confident in a product idea, design or upgrade, it is useless if no one else has a need for it or finds it difficult to use. Thus, user research assures that there is both demand and like its name implies, usability, within your product. 

It avoids the further design, planning, development and expenditure of resources on an unwanted or faulty product or experience idea.

It also grants you insights into who the users themselves are, the context in which they’ll use your product or experience and the problem your product/experience solves. Additionally, it helps you understand all of their needs from your business, especially in relation to products and experiences.

Essentially, product success hinges on user research.

The Pros and Cons of User Research

While necessary to conduct user research presents several deficiencies as well. Researchers and business owners should comb through both the advantages and pitfalls of user research before they set out on conducting it.  

The Pros

  1. Without UX research, your design is left with nothing but assumptions and intuitions.
  2. Forms the initial steps of producing an entirely new product/experience or innovating on an existing one.
  3. Contextualizes the use of your products, such as the environments they are used in and the problems they help solve.
  4. Gives you deeper insights into your site users and customers. 
  5. Ensures you create products that your target market desires.
  6. Helps you avoid usability issues and glitches.
  7. Saves you both time and money on flawed products or those that your target market doesn’t need.
  8. Allows you to understand what your users don’t use your products/experiences for.
  9. Ensures you evaluate your design with data reflecting the needs and behaviors of your users.
  10. Lets you understand the impact of your design on your target market.

The Cons

  1. Users don’t always remember everything they do and use a product for. 
  2. User research data is complex and thus requires plenty of time to conduct, consolidate and analyze.
  3. The risk of researching the wrong audience, as survey respondents and other study participants may be dishonest about using a particular product or experience.
  4. Confidentiality is not assured, as users may share screenshots of your products for competitors to see. This occurs in user testing and experimental research. 

Market Research Vs User Research Faceoff

Aside from delving into the key specifics and of these two forms of research, the needs they help fill along with their flaws, it is useful to understand the key facts that separate them. The following graph shows the key differentiators between these forms of research.

Market ResearchUser Research
FocusCustomers, products and the market at largeProduct needs, usage
Key componentsdemographic, behavioral, economic, and statistical information Information on product needs, fits, uses, user movements, mechanisms
Sample sizeLargerSmaller
RepresentativityHighLow
ThemeWhat people buyHow people use a product
InsightsTouch upon broader topicsDeeper insights on less topics
Quantitative/ QualitativeBothqualitative
GoalMeasure industry needs and trends, customers and competitors to release viable offeringsMeasure and improve the user experience

Which Method Does Your Business Need?

Market research vs. user research may appear to be something of a showdown, a battle in which only one form of research must be chosen. But when it comes to conducting either form of research, there is no battle or face-off.

Not to be anticlimactic but there is no winner in this “showdown” — which is not to say you’ll need all the types of research available, as aforementioned in the introduction. For example, some businesses may require correlational research, while some may only require causal research.

However, when it comes to market research vs. user research, there is no either-or. All businesses, even B2B businesses must conduct both forms of research. 

This is due to various reasons. 

Concerning the latter, there is a lot of overlap in these forms of research. For example, both heavily rely on using surveys to reap key insights from a target market. Both also involve studying the product and user experience. Both involve carrying out primary and secondary research.

As for the latter, although a B2B business may not offer any products, it will always rely on digital customer experience. It is virtually impossible to exist as a B2B business — or virtually any kind — without a website. Many such businesses also invest in social media and content marketing. As such, they’ll need to understand user experiences.

In summary, businesses can achieve success by conducting both market research and user research; the two exist hand in hand, with one buttressing the other. A strong online survey platform can plan, support and fully execute both kinds of research. As such, you’ll need to choose an online survey provider wisely.