11 Market research methods for fresh consumer and competitor insights

From surveys and focus groups to social media watching and consumer interviews, these market research methods are here to give you great insights.

There are plenty of roads that lead to Rome, and the same goes for market research. Consumer research through online surveys is a super powerful way to gain a true understanding of your target market. But there are other market research methods that can be used alongside them to make sure you have the most comprehensive understanding of your current and potential customers. 

In this guide, we’ll take you through no less than eleven popular market research methods. Keep on reading to find which ones are right for your research objectives.

Primary and secondary market research methods

Market research can be divided into big categories, primary research and secondary research. Let’s briefly remind ourselves which is which.

Primary research

Using primary research, you collect primary data by conducting research yourself. This data can come from surveys, focus groups or any of the other methods we’re about to dive into.

To make the most of your research budget, you’ll ideally combine different primary types of market research. For the best insights you can combine qualitative and quantitative market research. This is so that you can back up your hunch (which often comes from qualitative research) with cold, hard data (quantitative research).  

Secondary market research

Secondary research uses secondary data (surprise!), aka data that has been collected by others. It’s largely quantitative research, but can also be broader. You will merely analyze this data for your own interpretation—you’re not collecting new information.

Effective market research often combines the two methods, for instance to test whether your own market research is in line with existing insights. 

You could conduct your own surveys, and then use secondary research to find similar research from that target market to compare.

11 Market research methods 

Searching for the research methodologies for your brand? From surveys to focus groups and in-depth interviews to observational research here are the market research techniques to consider. 

1. Surveys

Type: Primary market research

Benefits: 

  • You can tailor it exactly to your business, from target group specs to product-related questions
  • If done right, it’s highly accurate, relevant customer data that gives you a competitive advantage
  • It’s (almost) real-time: you’ll be making decisions based on recent data
  • It’s easily repeatable: to make sure you stay 

Drawbacks: 

  • You need to define and find the right target group
  • You might need to survey a substantial amount of people to get accurate data
  • Formulating survey questions can be tricky for first-timers. Having dedicated research experts on hand would help here…

Works best for: 

  • Getting to know your target group to build accurate and detailed personas 
  • New product development, creating products tailored to what your customers want
  • Pricing research: you directly ask the right people what they’d spend
  • Creative testing: it’s a great way to get peoples’ opinions, anonymously and in large volumes
  • Brand analysis: find out how people feel about your brand
  • Market analysis: find out what brands consumers are considering

Surveys are an extremely versatile market research technique and can be used for a wide variety of research purposes. With Attest’s survey templates, you hit the ground running. Customize the questions in every online survey template to make them fit your needs and start surveying 125 million consumers in 58 countries. 

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2. Observation

How do shoppers move in a store? How does layout affect the way they buy? What packages draw their attention? With observation, you learn a lot about the things that are hard to put in words in a survey or with desk research.

Type: Primary market research

Benefits: 

  • Gives you relevant insights into not just what people claim to do, but actually do, knowing and unknowingly
  • Gives you accurate insights, because consumers are observed in a natural environment and real situations
  • You get more info, because you can also analyze non-verbal behavior

Drawbacks: 

  • It’s fairly expensive to set up depending on the scenario
  • Difficulties in quantification: Interpreting and analyzing the results might be hard depending on the situation
  • Struggles with sample size: It takes time, resources and a lot of people to get enough accurate data
  • There’s a lack of control: in natural settings, unexpected things can happen 

Works best for:

  • Evaluating an ongoing behavior process
  • Testing visual or physical elements: for instance, package design
  • Getting actionable insights into the buying habits of your target customers

3. Experiments

One of the most fun market research methods is experiments. You can test out new products, or put existing products in the hands of a new target group to see if there’s any potential there.

Type: Primary Market Research

Benefits: 

  • You can make it as specific and thus relevant as you want
  • High level of control: you design the experiment
  • Play with variables to see how it affects the outcome
  • Results of an experiment can be duplicated to test accuracy

Drawbacks: 

  • Depending on the experiment, it can be costly or difficult to accurately set up
  • Created situations might not be realistic, skewing the research results
  • It can be a time-consuming process to set up and get enough data
  • Because of its scope, you likely won’t end up with a lot of data so you may need to back your experiment insights up with research that includes more data

Works best for: 

  • New product development: test different types of products
  • Creative testing: test out campaigns and marketing messages

4. Interviews

If you’re conducting your own market research, interviews are a great way to get a more in-depth look into who your customers are, and what they are looking for from you. An in-depth interview is an opportunity to ask the things that mightn’t come across well in written surveys.

Type: Primary Market Research

Benefits: 

  • You can gather a lot of in-depth data
  • A lot of control: you decide who to interview and what to ask
  • You can make it hyper-relevant to your research

Drawbacks: 

  • Finding the right participants might be difficult
  • Setting up in-person interviews can be an organizational hassle
  • Analyzing and quantifying answers is tricky
  • Interviews are less anonymous, which can cause respondents to answer differently

Works best for: 

  • Qualitative research, to get more context on dry data
  • Consumer profiling: get to know what makes your customers tick
  • You have an idea for a new product or business, and want to know what people think

5. Focus groups

Focus groups let you see how consumers feel and act, but also come with a social aspect. A focus group perfect for testing out product ideas and seeing if your messaging sticks. Using a focus group is a great qualitative market research method to give more context to numbers or surveys.

Type: Primary Market Research

Benefits: 

  • You get to hear customer feedback in their own words with more detail, not with predetermined options
  • Get deeper insight into our what’s important to customers by listening to discussions in the focus group 
  • Get more in-depth information about feelings and motivations

Drawbacks: 

  • There’s the risk of moderator bias
  • Finding a sample group that really represents your target group and gathering them is challenging
  • It can be time-consuming to gather data on larger scale
  • It’s hard to confidently draw conclusions from the data when there’s less of it

Works best for:

  • Testing marketing materials or new products
  • Getting to know your customers for consumer profiling
  • Marketing analysis: find out their buying process and what competitors they consider

6. Public data/desk research

We recommend you kick off any research with a little secondary data for exploratory research. Find out what’s already known and what statistical data is available, so you avoid doing unnecessary double research. 

Type: Secondary Market Research

Benefits: 

  • It’s relatively easy to find, depending on what you need
  • It’s a quick way to get to know a new market
  • It’s a cost-effective way to do market research

Drawbacks: 

  • Data might not be recent, relevant or complete 
  • Source might not be reliable
  • … basically the data might not answer your brief because it wasn’t collected for or by you 

Works best for: 

  • Getting a quick, initial overview of a market and its developments
  • To see if it’s in line with primary data that has been collected
  • To identify gaps in knowledge for a broader market research

7. Purchased data

If you work with a market research firm, you can often get access to exclusive, purchased data. This can be sales data, or the insights from a high-end market research study. 

Type: Secondary Market Research

Benefits: 

  • Easy: you don’t have to do anything but analyze it
  • Often higher quality data
  • Not being public data, it could give you a competitive advantage

Drawbacks: 

  • You have less control of where the data comes from
  • It might still not be complete or recent
  • Not choosing the right partner might result in low-quality data

Works best for:

  • When you don’t have much time to do your own digging
  • Analyzing market potential based on sales numbers

8. Field trials

If you want to know how a marketing campaign will work, you can test it on a smaller scale with a field trial. This will help you collect data and fine-tune your marketing strategy before taking it to your main market.

Type: Primary Market Research

Benefits: 

  • Gets you accurate, real-world data: you analyze people in natural scenarios
  • Role and relevance of social context is accounted for
  • It’s extremely specific and thus relevant to your research

Drawbacks: 

  • Costs a lot of money: you already need a developed product or message to test
  • Takes time to set up and collect enough data to analyze
  • Insights can be hard to interpret

Works best for: 

  • Testing a new product, for instance with an MVP
  • Putting quantitative data in context: filling in the gaps with more qualitative insights

9. Social listening

If you want to uncover industry trends, or collect information from your target audience without asking them questions directly, dive into social media. Keeping an eye on what’s being said all over the web can help you determine where your competitive advantage lies, for instance by looking at what people are complaining about with competitors. 

Type: Primary Market Research

Benefits: 

  • There are plenty of tools available that make it easy
  • There’s more and more data available to analyze
  • You can get real-time insights

Drawbacks: 

  • Might give a distorted image: people are more eager to complain online than to leave compliments, and social media audiences are probably not representative of your true market
  • There’s no guarantee you will get any valuable data: there might not be enough, or it might be incoherent

Works best for: 

  • Continuous social listening: gather more data over time and see how sentiment develops
  • Brand analysis: test brand awareness, reputation and more
  • It’s a great place to start a customer satisfaction survey: you could find out what to focus on based on what people are saying online

It’s worth figuring out if it’s the right method for you, though. Here’s our lowdown on why social listening might not give you the insights you really need. 

10. Competitor benchmarks

Supplement your research on purchasing habits and how people spend money with sales data from competitors. This will help you determine what people really spend—not just what they claim—and how much of a market opportunity there is for you.

Type: Primary Market Research

Benefits: 

  • Get an accurate picture of the state of the market and your opportunities in it
  • Analyze how trends develop and anticipate your actions
  • Adjust your marketing tactics accordingly 

Drawbacks: 

  • It can be hard to find the data
  • Data from only one competitor might not be enough to go on
  • You can’t be sure the data is accurate

Works best for: 

  • Pricing research: set your prices according to what competitors are doing
  • Predicting market changes
  • Competitive analysis: see where you can beat them

11. Mystery shopping

Mystery shopping allows you to retrieve qualitative data from real stores, gaining a better understanding of the entire process a customer goes through when shopping at yours or at the competitor. It’s a form of observational research that does not focus on what consumers do, but at what players in the market do to attract said customers.

Type: Primary Market Research

Benefits: 

  • Get feedback from the customers’ perspective
  • Collect accurate, first-hand data
  • Gives feedback on hard-to-research aspects, such as staff performance and other internal processes

Drawbacks: 

  • Working with enough mystery shoppers might be expensive
  • There’s no guarantee they’ll find out anything useful
  • You rely on their reporting, which might be inaccurate 

Works best for: 

  • Testing internal processes
  • Crafting better customer experiences
  • Taking a peek at what competitors are doing

How to choose a market research method

While they all sound fun—at least to us, but hey—you can’t decide on a market research method based on how entertaining the execution is. Instead, here are the factors you should keep in mind

Budget

Think talking to people is free? Think again. Setting up interviews can be costly. First you have to dedicate time and resources to select the right candidates, and getting them to participate often comes at a price too. When defining your budget and choosing a research method, think beyond only the data collection process. How much do you need to invest in finding participants? Setting up a shop, in case of an experiment? What tools and people will you need to pay for to analyze results?

Timeline

When it comes to time, there are two things to keep in mind: how recent your data is, and how long you have before you need to make a decision based on the data. For the latter, it’s important to keep in mind that last-minute research is often hard to do, especially when it’s interviews or focus groups. With surveys, you collect relevant data and analyzing can often be done quickly. Desk research on the contrary might be just as fast, but you could be reading old data.

Sources

Keep in mind where the information is coming from, always. This goes not only for secondary research, but also for primary. Who will you be talking to? Why are they participating in your research? Could they be biased?

Goal of research: there’s a time and place for everything. Surveys are perhaps the most versatile research method of them all, but sometimes you need highly specific, real-life insights that can only come from experiments or field trials.

Accuracy: if you do the research again, how likely is it that the results will be similar? Choose a solid research method that you can ensure is accurate. This can be done by duplicating your own study, or at least comparing your results to similar studies. 

Do you need a market research agency?

You don’t have to do it alone. There are plenty of tools out there that can help you conduct market research. You might also have considered hiring a research agency to manage your insight-gathering. 

Here’s a quick summary of agency vs. in-house research:

In-house

Yes, you can definitely DIY. With the right tools, and some assistance here and there from research experts, conducting market research in-house becomes a breeze. The benefit of doing it in-house is that you can act quickly, and you have all data internally already—saving you tons of time and allowing you to act quickly.

Agency

If you’d rather focus on your own tasks and leave the market research to experts, you could work with an agency. These people crunch numbers for breakfast, and will take up the most time-consuming aspects of market research. When they’re done, they’ll present you with the results you asked for. You do have less control over the process and you depend on their availability. But remember, this will always come with a big price tag…

Mix it up

Mixing research methods? Then it can make sense to combine your strengths with those of an agency. If you’re comfortable doing surveys in-house, but want to follow up with observation for instance, you can choose to combine your own data with the resources and skills that come with an agency. 

Seasoned market researchers can take care of the parts you have no experience in, while you focus on the internal resources available. It’s crucial you work together with someone who is available, knowledgeable and has experience with your market segment. 

Choose the best market research method for your business

Using a variety of market research methods means you get a more complete picture, and better data to base your decisions on. There are many types of surveys that allow for the collection of an immense variety of data, but it’s important you tailor them to your research needs. Our market analysis template allows for exactly that, so get started today. 

FAQs

What are the 5 basic research methods?

The five common types of market research are: surveys, field research, including observation and experiments, desk research, interviews and focus groups and social listening.

Which is the best type of marketing research?

The most versatile, scalable, and one of the easiest ones is definitely surveys, but the best type of market research method depends heavily on the goal of your market research, your research needs and the resources at hand. If you want to get up close and personal with your target market, try sending a market analysis survey with Attest.

What are the roles of marketing research?

Market research is used to identify opportunities, minimize risk and help you craft more effective campaigns and marketing strategies. By getting to know your consumers and competition, you learn what position to take in the market to thrive.

Learn all about your target customers

By surveying your target market with Attest you can learn insights to inform your marketing, product and sales strategies.

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Nick White

Senior Customer Research Manager 

Nick joined Attest in 2021, with more than 10 years' experience in market research and consumer insights on both agency and brand sides. As part of the Customer Research Team team, Nick takes a hands-on role supporting customers uncover insights and opportunities for growth.

See all articles by Nick