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Market Research vs. User Research – 3 key differences explained

Written by Jake Pryszlak

On April 24, 2020
user research
Market research versus user research is often not talked about, because to the naked eye, it doesn’t fit into our work streams as market researchers. On personal reflection I haven’t actually talked too much about user research in my ResearchGeek blog until now.
 
User research is a key element of the UX armoury to understand how individuals act and use product features.
 
Lets not forget something, user and customer experience are very different things.
 
User research allows you to dig quicker and deeper into user needs and problems. It gives us a valuable perspective from consumers or ‘people’.
 
 
Have you ever seen a piece of research which has focused on why a product is awesome for the customers, and how to reach those customers. There might be data on which website visitors have the best conversion rates, and which product appeals most to that demographic.
 
Which ever type of research conducted, you first have to build trust between your customers in your use of their data to underpin business decisions. Whether you are only using their name or if you are using all the data you hold on their particular name, consumers need to trust you. You can find out how you can do that here – https://researchgeek.co.uk/build-consumer-trust-in-your-brand/
 
A question often asked in any business is..
 
“So why do we need to conduct user research if we already know about our customers”
 

Market research and user research – they are not the same!

 
This doesn’t mean either one is unimportant than each other. Knowing your market and understanding your user needs are both very important aspects for any product to be successful.
 
This also doesn’t mean you have to conduct either or. Both market and user research should complement and inform each other.
 
So here are some of the key differences between market research and user research that I will explore:
 

A key difference is scale

 
A big difference between market research and user research is the scale of operation. In market research it is very easy to conduct a quantitative survey which is national representative to 2,000 people. Whereas user research conducts focus groups and small tasks based on small groups of individuals.
 
Market research is quantitative, centred around numbers: visitor numbers, conversion rates, market size. Traditionally they are all about big numbers and percentages. Depending on the scenario, conducting a survey for 10 people isn’t going to be particularly helpful.
 
Compare that to user research that often looks tiny because of its qualitative nature. User research is often centred around feedback — how people use things, what makes them frustrated, how they try to deal with problems.
 
Its often thought that market research at scale can be expensive and it can take a long time to produce a report. But, now there are many different agile solutions in the market place who are able to turn around questions and reporting within 24-48 hours so you can make actional business decisions. You can take a look at companies such as UserZoom, Fastuna and Glow!
 

So, can you ever have too much data?

 
We live in a world where data is king/queen for many business so how can you order and analyse so much data over time without thinking..
 
“Where do I start?”
 
I create a go to guide for this topic recently which you can find here –https://researchgeek.co.uk/too-much-data-and-not-enough-understanding/
 

Market and User research ask different questions

 
Marketing research is all about what people want and how their opinions about a product or service change over time.
 
On the other hand, user research asks separate questions which are specific to individuals but is still very important.
 
Let me take you through an example
 
As convenience became ever more important, coffee shops expanded and thus spent a lot of money on marketing research to understand what consumers wanted and how to deliver these conveniently.
 
The results were clear: People wanted to order coffee on the go and then for their order to be ready for when they arrive. Sound familiar?
 
The breakthrough came from user research when using the different coffee shop apps to understand how an when people used the apps and what they needed from it.
 
An important Insight was gathered across all apps. People wanted to know when they could order which would mean their coffee would be hot when they arrive.
 
5 years later and the vast majority of coffee shops offer an App and a pick up delivery service.
 
It takes market research to identify something that people want — in this case, convenient drinks. But it takes the deep insights of user research, and UX design, to understand what a better experience would be.
 
At the end of the day, the more times individuals use your coffee app, the more engaged they are.
 

The final key difference between UX and market research is how you slice and dice the information

 
An important thing to remember is that market research is about what people want, while UX is about what is useful. Whilst they are both different, segmentation is very much an important aspect of both techniques.
 
Lets say you are a SaaS company who sells software for around £$3,000. With that in mind, consider you have two different customers: Jake and Ben.
 
From the marketing perspective, they might be pretty similar.
 
Their budgets are pretty similar. Your product is in their spending range.
 
They belong to the right market segment: they both work for businesses that might need your solution to help them.
 
Their demographics — education and age — are pretty similar.
 
So first things first, from the demographics of Jake and Ben, they are both within the segment which you would sell to as a SaaS solution.
 
Now lets say we carry out many user interviews of which Jake and Ben are included.
 
We find out about their behaviour including what business they work for, how they run their individual departments and the two don’t seem quite so similar.
 
All the sudden both Jake and Ben are not similar at all. The things they need from your product are very different.
 
As you can see, this not only means that marketing research and user research aren’t the same; It also means they inform different areas of a product process. If you did your user research a month before launch, and realised Jake and Ben and their needs, you wouldn’t be able to do much about that. Your app either has those functions or it doesn’t; you’ll have to sell those functions right.
 

To conclude my ramble about market research and user research

 
Market research is valuable because it shows us broad information; user research is valuable because it gives us deep insights. It is not market research versus user research it should be how you can connect the dots between both techniques. However, a business may only need one and this is fine. What is clear, though, is that both kinds of research are important. Without the directions that they give, a product will be steered blindly. And successful products are never steered blindly. They are created with both user and market research which underpins a well oiled machine/product.

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