6 types of marketing research

Marketing research, also known as market research, involves finding out information that determines if a new product, service, or approach is viable for a business. Different types of marketing research can be conducted in-house or through a third-party outlet, and there are various methods available to gather and acquire feedback from your target market.

Marketing research is imperative for businesses of all sizes and industries. It supplies a fact-based foundation, one that helps a company to make wise decisions with any future decisions. Without this research, there is a much greater chance a business makes poor decisions, and these can lead to significant, even terminal, damage.

You know marketing research is important. However, which process is the best fit for your company? There are different types of marketing research, each with its pros and cons, and they can benefit in distinct ways.

This blog post will take a closer look at the six main types of marketing research. With the details below, you can decide on which type – or types – are best for your upcoming project, whether this is developing a new product or starting up a business.

Exploratory Research

telescope with sea in the background representing one of the types of marketing research

When attempting to solve a problem that has not been clearly defined before, a company should utilize exploratory research. This involves gaining a greater understanding of the problem, although it is unlikely to supply conclusive results. What it does, however, is identify issues, and each of these can be an area of focus with future research efforts.

Researching a problem that has minimal existing information may seem difficult. Yet, various methods are available to conduct an effective exploratory research campaign, and these assist with revealing new insights and data that offer a level of resolution to the problem.

Advantages of exploratory research.

Some advantages include:

  • It gives you the ability to take a challenging problem – one that has yet to be studied in any depth – and narrow it down. You can uncover valuable information that was not previously available.
  • Along with being cost-effective, exploratory research is both flexible and open-ended. There are no limitations in terms of how you proceed with this method.
  • For future research efforts, it provides a great framework. With a body of research already built, it makes it easier to overcome new, tricky research problems you encounter.

Disadvantages of exploratory research.

Some disadvantages include:

  • Conclusive results are not usually gained through exploratory research. Furthermore, because there is minimal preexisting knowledge, results can end up being subjective or even biased.
  • The research is not often generalizable or valid from an external point of view.
  • No existing model is in place with exploratory research, which means it can be labor-intensive to build a suitable structure for this type of research.

Example of exploratory research in use.

The owner of an ice cream parlor believes adding extra ice cream flavors will lead to more customers. The issue: there is no conclusive proof this is the case, so further information is required. With exploratory research, the owner is able to discover if this is the key to attracting more business or if a better idea is available.

Descriptive Research

Reading glasses on a notebook paper.

Descriptive research is a strategy that involves identifying, determining, or describing the phenomenon or population in question. Rather than focus on the “why” of the subject, descriptive research is about uncovering the “what” of the subject.

Simply put, of all the types of marketing research, this one helps to fill in the gaps about what a certain phenomenon is (rather than why it occurs) and how it affects different variables or anything beyond the surface information. Descriptive research helps to identify elements like the size, frequency, and location of the thing you are studying.

Advantages of descriptive research.

Some advantages include:

  • Descriptive research allows you to collect and analyze facts, using these to produce an in-depth, precise understanding of the research-related issue you face.
  • If you utilize observational data collection methods, you can receive answers in the natural environment of responders. This helps determine their behavior accurately and acquire high-quality feedback.
  • It is versatile, quick, and cost-effective. Descriptive research can be utilized for a large range of purposes, and the sample size is typically large.

Disadvantages of descriptive research.

Some disadvantages include:

  • Statistical techniques or tools cannot be used to verify problems with descriptive research.
  • With an observer present, this can affect the nature of answers from respondents. They could pretend, for instance, that their responses are not entirely accurate – particularly if any questions revolve around intimate subjects.
  • Repeating the descriptive research process can be tricky because of its observational nature.

Example of descriptive research in use.

An apparel design company wants to measure data trends for its latest line of clothing. The company uses descriptive research to look at two different age groups: 18-24 and 25-34. The research reveals the older age group, in general, did not take to this line of clothing. It also offers insight into what clothing they liked and disliked, giving the apparel company knowledge about what trends to follow in the future.

Causal Research

Woman with coffee in one hand while using a laptop.

Also referred to as explanatory research, causal research is a tactic used to evaluate the cause-and-effect relationship that exists between two different situations. Cause-and-effect can be affected by a wide assortment of factors, so causal research incorporates experiments to gather statistical evidence about the relationship, if any, between the two.

Following this initial part, causal research will often take a closer look at the data to understand the development of the relationship and how it works. Furthermore, a researcher afterward could modify the circumstances of one situation, analyzing how this impacts the other situation.

Advantages of causal research.

Some advantages include:

  • You are able to optimize processes and resolve issues within your business strategies. This is because causal research allows you to learn about each aspect and all nuances of your system.
  • Causal research opens the door to more objective results. Outside influences are reduced as participants or subjects are usually selected by random sampling tactics.
  • A repeatable, dependable process is possible with causal research, making it useful in multiple contexts.

Disadvantages of causal research.

Some disadvantages include:

  • Within data, it can be difficult to extract the cause-and-effect relationships. This is certainly the case with complex systems and understanding how a particular variable can affect a different one.
  • Due to the difficulty of controlling all variables, it is a challenge to measure the outcome when a variable is altered. Findings with causal research can then produce errors.
  • It is a time-consuming process. To be able to identify and positively change relationships, multiple experiments are often required.

Example of causal research in use.

An online retailer runs an advertising campaign in one state for three months. In this same time period, the retailer experiences a 10% sales revenue increase. To see if the advertising campaign was the root cause of this increase, the exact same campaign is used in other randomly selected states. With causal research, they compare sales data for each region, analyzing if a fruitful cause-and-effect relationship has occurred between advertising and sales with the test campaign.

Predictive Research

Man with two laptops open, both with charts on them, representing predictive research, one of the types of marketing research.

As the name suggests, predictive research is built around trying to forecast outcomes, effects, costs, and consequences to understand how various business elements could appear in the future. Both current and historical data are combined with statistical analysis techniques, allowing researchers to predict how future actions could affect a business.

Advantages of predictive research.

Some advantages include:

  • Predictive research helps to reduce risk with business decisions. You are able to analyze potential future scenarios, helping you to assess outcomes that are most likely.
  • It makes it possible to optimize different aspects of a company. By analyzing data, you can spot trends and identify new opportunities.
  • You can use predictive research to enhance efficiency across operations. It is possible to be proactive in making improvements, taking the appropriate steps when necessary.

Disadvantages of predictive research.

Some disadvantages include:

  • It is still only a prediction. There is no guarantee the research will result in reality. As a result, you still have to proceed with a level of caution after using predictive research.
  • The validity of a predictive research model can change over time. As certain factors become less or more important, this can impact the model and its effectiveness.
  • The data used dictates how good the model is for predictive research. If trends do not change over time, for instance, there is little to go off when predicting changes for the future.

Example of predictive research in use.

A business can decide to analyze the performance of its sales team. They can take the sales for the past months and use these statistics to predict how many sales will be made in the next six months. If this number is not to a necessary standard, the business could decide to make changes, like adding a new sales member, changing their process, and so on.

Conclusive Research

Man on a tablet looking at bar graphs.

A company will use conclusive research to gather information, analyze it, and use this to make decisions and reach conclusions. If a business is dealing with a certain issue, it can use conclusive research to provide them with guidance to solve this issue. This is one of the more popular types of marketing research because of the clear goal.

Advantages of conclusive research.

Some advantages include:

  • It supplies a business with accurate data. This is helped by conclusive research being able to facilitate large sample sizes of data.
  • Conclusive research can be beneficial when attempting to identify causality between two variables.

Disadvantages of conclusive research.

Some disadvantages include:

  • With conclusive research, there is the possibility of response bias. This can ultimately skew the results that are gathered.
  • Conclusive research is not helpful when trying to identify the causes behind a specific event, motivation, or behavior.

Example of conclusive research in use.

To prove a hypothesis about their target audience, a business sends out surveys – complete with closed-ended questions – to their customers. The information gathered with these survey responses gives them the guidance that will either prove or disprove their hypothesis.

Primary vs. Secondary Research

Man and woman by a desktop computer that has two screens, representing Primary vs Secondary research, one of the more involved types of marketing research.

Primary research is one of the types of marketing research that involves the use of self-conducted research methods to learn more about a certain subject. These methods include interviews, surveys, observations, and focus groups, and they are utilized to collect data that has never been collected previously.

Secondary research, on the other hand, makes use of data that already exists. This research includes everything from studying analytics to using GapScout to pick out valuable information from reviews and social media.

Advantages of primary and secondary research:

Primary research advantages include:

  • The data you gather through primary research is unique. It is not available for public consumption, and nobody else – including your competition – has access to this data.
  • Primary research campaigns give you the most up-to-date information. This is not data from years ago. It is as current as it possibly can get following the conclusion of a campaign.
  • Data collection can be done with speed and efficiency. This is the situation if the likes of opinion polls and on-page surveys are used.

Secondary advantages include research:

  • You get instant access to a lot of different data sources. This can be used to provide your business with a lot of valuable insights and answer possible questions.
  • Secondary research saves both time and resources. The data is already there for you to extract and use.
  • It is possible to reanalyze old data, comparing it with any new data that has been collected, to uncover new points of view, understandings, and conclusions.

Disadvantages of primary and secondary research:

Primary research disadvantages include:

  • Primary research can be a time-consuming process. This is the case when conducting the likes of experiments and face-to-face interviews. Research can take months or even years.
  • It can be costly to run primary research campaigns.
  • Data gathered can be biased depending on who the data was collected from and how the data was collected.

Secondary research disadvantages include:

  • The data you collect could be out-of-date. The more out-of-date the data, the less effective it is for your research efforts.
  • Secondary research might not be specific to your requirements. The data is not designed precisely around your business and its needs.
  • There is no control over secondary research data. The quality may not be to standard, or it could be biased.

Examples of primary and secondary research in use.

A company decides to create a new product. Before going into production, they decide to run a focus group for product development. With this focus group, the company can gain feedback from potential customers, including information about the features they like, dislike, and those they would recommend.

With secondary research, a company wants to find out more about its competitors, including what pain points customers have with their products. The company uses GapScout to analyze customer reviews. By doing this, they can discover negative themes that are shared about these products. The company can then use this information when developing their own product range.

Wrapping up the types of marketing research.

There are numerous different types of marketing research available. It is important you select the right research type for your business, although this is dependent on your objective or question.

By investing in marketing research, this helps your business to make informed – and ultimately more worthwhile – decisions. Not only will you save money and time, but it also makes your business a more productive, profitable one.

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Justin Ferriman
Justin Ferriman
Justin is the founder of GapScout, the easiest way for solopreneurs and small businesses to find profitable gaps in their market. Follow Justin on Twitter→

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