Today’s business decision-maker has an abundance of marketing research services available to them.
Understanding what market research is and how best to use research methodologies to your advantage is vital in reaching your target customers and increasing ROI.
In this ultimate guide, our market research company will discuss 12 types of market research as well as their pros and cons.
The most common types of market research include:
- Online Surveys
- Phone Surveys
- Omnibus Surveys
- Mail Surveys
- Intercept Surveys
- Ad Concept Testing
- PR Surveys
- Mystery Shopping
- Focus Groups
- In-Depth Interviews
- Feasibility Studies
Qualitative vs Quantitative Market Research
First, it’s important to establish the two categories of market research, qualitative and quantitative, in order to gain a better understanding of the various marketing research methodologies.
Qualitative research is an exploratory type of research, designed to gain a deeper insight into the underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations of a consumer.
Qualitative research allows your target audience to answer questions like:
- How did this commercial make you feel?
- What do you like most about X product?
- Why are you more likely to buy X product over Y?
Quantitative research is a statistical type of research, used to quantify and answer objectives by generating numerical data.
For example, an organization can conduct an online survey to collect statistical data on its brand, through the opinion of its customers.
Quantitative surveys can measure metrics such as:
- Customer satisfaction
- Likelihood to recommend
Types of Market Research
There is no one "best" market research methodology as the most appropriate method depends on the specific research question and the target demographic.
Different research methods have different strengths and limitations.
Below, we cover the most common types of market research and their pros and cons to help determine which methodology is best for your unique needs.
For a short synopsis, I recommend watching the video from our market research company below.
Online surveys are a form of quantitative research aimed to gain feedback and insight on a specific objective. Web surveys are designed, programmed, and administered – you guessed it – online.
With the rise of technology, most surveys online are equipped to be taken on smartphones and tablets as well.
Advantages of surveys online ✅
A major benefit of conducting surveys online is reaching a mass audience at low costs and in little time.
Traditional survey methods like phone or mail often require a large budget to achieve successful and accurate results.
An organization can obtain quick feedback from customers with a web-based questionnaire at little to no cost.
When working with an online survey agency, organizations can create, send, and receive results all in a matter of days.
Here is the process Drive Research follows when conducting online surveys for our clients.
Reduces response bias
Respondents may be more opt to provide honest feedback with online surveys as well.
Being that there is no moderator or interviewer, survey participants feel more inclined to offer up raw emotions and opinions on a company, products, or services.
This eliminates any bias injected by an interviewer.
Online survey disadvantages ❌
As much as technology has progressed through the years, it’s nowhere near perfect. Technical mishaps happen every day and online surveys are no exception.
A poor user experience associated with technical problems such as a slow page load time, or worse timing out, can subsequently affect the online survey data.
Unfortunately, these online glitches aren’t always apparent at first sight. Significant errors within online platforms often don’t show up until the survey results are complete.
Less detailed feedback
Oftentimes, our market research company is asked: how many questions should I ask in my survey?
It’s also a good rule of thumb to keep online surveys short and sweet. 15-20 questions is the sweet spot.
That's because, unless informed otherwise, participants are less likely to stay fully engaged in a survey that takes more than 10 minutes to complete.
Therefore, with little real estate, it’s difficult to obtain detailed answers to key business questions.
Phone surveys began as a core market research methodology decades ago and still prove to be at the forefront of market research methodologies.
This type of market research centers around collecting deeper feedback from a two-way active communication between the interviewer and respondents.
Phone survey advantages ✅
Two-way communication forum
The advantage of conducting a phone survey lies in the high quality of data it provides.
As opposed to other market research methodologies, phone surveys allow for an active and personable conversation between the interviewer and the participant.
Gather more in-depth insights
In comparison to online surveys, interviewers are able to receive additional feedback from respondents.
In other words, you are at the mercy of how much or how little participants are going to answer a question online – whereas phone surveys allow interviewers to ask respondents to explain their answers.
Respondents are more likely to answer phone survey questions in greater detail because it takes less time to voice your opinion than it would to type or write.
Survey participants from anywhere
Phone surveys are also at no mercy of the locale.
Especially with the move from landlines to mobile phones, phone survey companies are able to connect with respondents whether they are traveling, on their lunch break, taking a walk outside, etc.
Phone survey disadvantages ❌
Where phone surveys may provide high-quality and immediate results, it is not as cost-effective or time-efficient as other market research methodologies.
Phone survey companies must collect a long list of participants to speak to, to then spend hours having detailed conversations or leaving voicemails.
Must conduct the research at specific times of day
Another factor driving the collapse of phone surveys is that the study has time constraints to work around. This means phone survey participants will likely only be available to speak outside of business hours.
Other factors such as taking care of children, going to the gym, and running errands can limit the available time respondents have to complete a phone survey.
Omnibus surveys or piggyback surveys are a type of online survey. However, instead of one company sponsoring the market research, the survey includes questions from multiple different organizations.
This type of market research allows several brands and businesses to purchase a few questions as part of a much larger survey.
- Company A wants to ask respondents about their recent car purchases
- Company B wants to ask respondents about home mortgages
- Company C wants to ask respondents about coffee preferences
A market research company, like Drive Research, takes these different objectives to create a multi-sponsor survey. When the survey is complete, each company is only given access to results from the questions they sponsored.
This type of market research typically takes 3 to 7 days to complete.
Thought, the length of the timeline depends on how quickly the survey draft is signed off on and how difficult the target audience is to reach.
We'll only just scratch the surface of omnibus market research in this article. For a full overview, read our Ultimate Guide to Conducting Omnibus Surveys.
Advantages of omnibus surveys ✅
Omnibus surveys carry many of the same advantages as online surveys: cost-effective, timely results, and access to a large sample of respondents.
These aspects become even more advantageous being that only a handful of questions are asked in most cases.
Therefore, a significant benefit of omnibus surveys is that Responses from a general population can be gathered in minutes.
If you are looking for a low-budget market research methodology, omnibus surveys are as cheap as they come.
Disadvantages of omnibus surveys ❌
Increased chances of respondent burnout
Because several organizations are purchasing questions to create an omnibus survey, the questionnaire can become quite unruly.
There is no guarantee that your questions will be asked at the beginning of a survey when respondents are most engaged.
There is a chance respondents will have answered 50 questions, before answering yours.
At this point, many respondents are disengaged and are not providing quality feedback. Realistically, they're rushing to complete the omnibus survey to receive an incentive.
How to avoid respondent burnout in omnibus surveys
To avoid this, find a market research company like Drive Research that creates shorter surveys and can guarantee a goal number of responses.
Oftentimes when a client is looking to conduct an omnibus survey, our market research firm does not wait till other organizations join in.
We can field your survey questions within 24 to 48 hours.
Omnibus survey real-world example
Recently, Drive Research was hired to conduct an omnibus survey.
The steps to complete an omnibus survey include:
- Finalizing the survey
- Programming the survey
- Creating the deliverables
The following survey was created and approved on a Monday, programmed and launched on a Tuesday, and the results were delivered to the client that Thursday.
Overall, the process took four days to complete.
About the omnibus survey
- The survey took an average of 3 minutes to complete and included 15 questions.
- There were 2 additional screener questions used to confirm the survey reached the specified target audience.
- The survey received 1000 responses.
- Fieldwork for the survey began on February 2 and lasted until February 3, 2021.
With a probabilistic sample, a total of 1000 responses at the 95% confidence level offers a 3% margin of error.
If the survey were conducted with another random pool of 1000 respondents, the results would yield within +3% or -3% of the stated totals in the reports.
The margin of error can be used as a guideline to understand the reliability of these results.
Results of the omnibus survey
- This client wanted to receive the raw data file for the survey and a question-by-question online report.
- The online report was interactive. By hovering over data in a chart, it will provide more detail.
- Users can also expand the open-ended responses to read each comment by selecting "Show Responses."
- Lastly, users can export the results into several different formats (i.e., PDF, PowerPoint, Excel, and Word).
Example reporting links for omnibus surveys
- Here’s an example of an online report for an omnibus survey. Exports are disabled for this example.
- Here’s an example of an online crosstabulation report for an omnibus survey.
The crosstabulation reports can use any single response or multiple response questions (i.e., urbanicity, age group, gender, household income, marital status, race and ethnicity, children in the household, the highest level of education completed, employment status, or state).
The crosstabulation reports help bring more value to the results.
Emails, text messages, voicemails. Our inboxes are flooded with them. What about physical mail?
What once was labeled as an antiquated form of communication, mail surveys are back with a vengeance.
Mail surveys are a quantitative marketing research data collection method in which respondents complete questionnaires on paper and return them via postail mail.
Mail survey advantages ✅
Mail surveys may seem like an archaic methodology, but they do offer some intriguing benefits.
Best for industries with PII restrictions
Depending on the industry, say banks and credit union market research, businesses cannot reach their audience through online outlets due to organizational restrictions.
Mail surveys offer a personalized, credible solution to this problem.
Good response rates
Direct mail surveys also earn a good response rate.
Where most think direct mailers receive a 1-2% response rate, a mail survey company like Drive Research has seen an average response rate of 10-15%.
When potential participants actually open and hold the mail survey in their hands, many will opt to reply.
An email or online survey is much easier to ignore.
Mail survey disadvantages ❌
Before you run to the post office, it should be noted that the average data quality and time invested in mail surveys deter non-restricted industries from choosing this type of market research methodology.
Timely and costly
The process of conducting mail surveys can be long and strenuous.
Only after you create and format the survey for mail, return for postage, fill and send the direct mail piece, and finally wait for responses to return are you able to start entering data.
Produces less detailed feedback
When choosing to participate in mail surveys, respondents are less likely to provide detailed answers as they would on the phone or online because it takes less time to talk or type a response, than it is to write one.
💡Pro tip: Use a mail survey company
Are you intrigued by the advantages of conducting a mail survey, but don’t have the time required for a successful study?
When partnering with a mail survey company, much of the grunt work will be out of your hands.
A mail survey company handles all aspects of mail surveys, including a customized questionnaire template, data collection, and analysis of results with a detailed report.
Intercept surveys are a form of quantitative research focused on capturing "in-the-moment" feedback from respondents.
This type of market research is commonly used after people attend an event or visit an establishment to collect perception information. Although, data can also be collected before or during a participant’s experience.
The feedback received from intercept surveys is usually collected via tablets or paper and pencil interviewing techniques.
If utilizing tablets or other electronic devices, our intercept survey company recommends using a platform with offline functionality.
Do not rely on Wi-Fi offered by large venues such as concerts or sporting events, because you will be fighting to connect to the internet with thousands of people.
Intercept survey example
Compared to other types of market research methods, intercept surveys allow for immediate, top-of-mind feedback from your customers.
For example, to test the success of a digital billboard at a New York Mets game, an intercept survey company representing Pepsi can conduct market research outside of Citi Field.
After the game, interviewers will approach fans as they are leaving the stadium to ask questions like:
- What billboard(s) did you remember seeing inside Citi Field?
- What type of food or beverage did you consume during the game?
- Are you more likely to choose Pepsi or Coca-Cola? What is the reason for this choice?
Drive Research conducted intercept surveys at 5 college football stadiums across the country.
Learn about our objectives, approach, and outcomes of the stadium intercepts.
Intercept survey advantages ✅
By approaching an audience remotely after the experience you are trying to test, the context is top of mind.
Interviewers in turn receive a fresh, candid response. Often times online or email surveys aren’t sent until days/weeks/months after an event has taken place.
This space in time can allow for a misguided representation of what actually happened.
Intercept survey disadvantages ❌
With this specific example, Pepsi would need permission from Citi Field to conduct this survey. Without permission, there is no survey and they’re back to the market research drawing board.
Another drawback to intercept surveys is lower participation rates compared to other market research methodologies. If people are leaving a venue, they are ready to go home or to their next destination.
They likely are not prepared or willing to stop and take an unsolicited survey. Rewards or trinkets are important to offer here.
Ad concept testing can be considered both quantitative and qualitative market research depending on the approach that is used.
For example, brands can utilize online surveys and/or focus groups to measure consumer feedback regarding a set of advertisements.
The objective of ad concept testing is to compare various advertising or marketing messages to see which of the tested ads resonate most with the brand’s target audience.
For an in-depth overview, I recommend reading The Ultimate Guide to Ad Concept Testing Surveys.
Advantages to ad concept testing ✅
Rely on data-driven marketing strategies
Ad concept testing is an excellent way to develop and refine marketing campaigns before launching them to the public.
Think of it like this. Buying a house is a huge investment. For this reason, many homebuyers tour and assess the property to limit any unwarranted costs after purchasing it.
The same analogy can be used for data-driven marketing strategies.
Spend marketing dollars more wisely
An ad concept testing survey assures that you are putting your money into the right message and design before investing too much money.
Better yet, this type of market research can help brands increase their return on investment than not conducting any research at all.
Disadvantages to ad concept testing surveys ❌
While I’d say the pros of ad concept testing far outweigh the negatives, I’ll play devil's advocate for just a moment.
Just like any market research study, if done incorrectly concept testing can produce misleading and inaccurate data.
As a result, brands end up making near-useless decisions as they drain more time and resources into a marketing campaign.
How can you assure it is done correctly so that doesn’t happen? I’ll be frank – stop working with a marketing agency for ad concept testing.
PR surveys gather public opinion about a certain topic and are a useful type of market research to invest in.
A quantitative form of research, PR surveys are a fantastic way for businesses to garner publicity as they gather statistical data that can be used by news outlets for various stories.
These surveys are also referred to as:
- Content surveys
- Public opinion polls
- PR polling
When working with a PR survey company, brands can administer the questionnaire to a specific demographic group or the general population. From there, the standard online survey process is followed.
Advantages of PR surveys ✅
There are plenty of benefits to conducting public relations surveys.
We’re stating the obvious here, but journalists are always hungry for the latest findings on any topic. Using data from a PR survey in a press release is a great way to attract attention from journalists.
Grow brand awareness
PR surveys can draw potential customers and clients to your brand. Say a figure from your custom PR survey catches the eye of a journalist and it ends up in a popular publication.
Not only will you have your statistic published, but this exposure has the chance to draw a number of people to your business.
Generate more backlinks and improve website visibility
All this activity will positively affect your brand’s website, too.
Your data being referenced on news publication websites has the chance to:
- Generate backlinks
- Increase your domain authority
- Boost website traffic
For example, Drive Research often conducts public relations surveys as a link-building strategy. Our research has been featured on USA Today, CNBC, Yahoo News, and more sites. As a result, we've seen thousands of more pageviews to our website and an improved domain authority
Be seen as an industry thought leader
When a brand is linked to accurate data, it automatically is seen as a trusted source by the public. People will begin to associate your organization with having reliable information about a specific topic.
Again–this could lead to increased customer activity and loyalty.
Disadvantages of PR surveys ❌
One disadvantage of PR surveys is simply choosing a topic to conduct a study on.
In a way, this could be seen as a “good” disadvantage–having too many topics is better than having too few.
But in order to get public attention, you’ll need to choose the perfect topic. This takes time and will require teamwork.
Conducting a PR survey does not automatically guarantee you will see media attention from the results. It is important to find a topic that is unique and headline-worthy.
Mystery shopping is a type of market research using professionally trained shoppers to assess an experience in a natural storefront or retail environment.
Both qualitative and quantitative, mystery shopping is a perfect project to test all areas of customer service.
Mystery shopping examples
Two common best practices of mystery shopping are recruiting actual customers or hiring a market research team to uncover key business findings.
Say you are the owner of an Italian restaurant and you want to test how friendly the wait staff is. You can hire actual customers to eat at your restaurant by providing them with an evaluation form to track their experience.
Another example of mystery shopping could be testing employees’ knowledge of your product or service line.
A bank or financial institution could choose to hire a mystery shopping research company to call and speak with a loan officer as if they were a prospective customer looking to buy a house.
In this example, a bank could evaluate their employer based on:
- Knowledge of home and mortgage loan services
- Ability to clearly communicate and identify a solution
- Speaking in a friendly and professional manner
- Following through on a promise to follow up with the “prospective customer”
Mystery shopping advantages ✅
Compared to survey questions that skew positive answers, mystery shopping can provide informal opinions and feedback on a variety of in-store elements such as cleanliness, product placement displays, and store layout.
The value and results found from partnering with a mystery shopping company, allow organizations to reevaluate their business from the outside looking in.
This type of market research clearly identifies training needs and sales opportunities to ensure a positive customer relationship on the front line.
Mystery shopping disadvantages ❌
When considering mystery shopping as a market research study you must also take into account, a participant’s experience in a store only represents a single interaction with the staff and store location.
A busy day, short staff, or various other customer service elements can cause a poor experience. This single instance may not truly represent a typical customer visit.
A similar market research methodology to mystery shopping is shop-along research.
A shop-along is where an interviewer accompanies a customer while they browse a store for different items, asking a series of questions throughout the consumer’s shopping experience.
This is to likely take place in a grocery store or various retail locations.
Those who participate in a shop-along are either pre-recruited by a shop-along company or intercepted on the spot before entering the store.
In either case, participants are usually rewarded with high cash incentives because of the level of evasiveness during their shopping experience.
Shop-along research advantages ✅
An interviewer can study a number of different action behaviors during a shop-along to see if a customer interacted with an end cap or what path they took from one department to the next.
The shop-along experience can also be more interactive, with an interviewer asking the participant questions like:
- You looked at this item but put it back on the shelf. What was your reason for this?
- Do you typically visit the produce section first upon entering the store? Why or why not?
- Do sales such as, “buy 2 get 1” influence your buying decision? Why or why not?
Shop-along research disadvantages ❌
A drawback to shop-along research is negatively affected data. Because participants know they’re being studied, they may drift away from their normal purchasing behaviors and decisions.
Customers might choose a product they otherwise would not, like buying name-brand products instead of their typical store products in fear that their purchase will be viewed as cheap.
Example of a shop-along study
Grocery or department store locations aren’t the only markets that can benefit from shop-along research, but brands who sell their products in these locations too.
Take for example, Downy. Downy would like to understand the purchasing behaviors behind customers looking to buy laundry detergent.
To blind the study, a shop-along company would intercept customers on the spot.
The interviewer would list off different products (eggs, milk, etc.) to determine if laundry detergent is on the customer’s grocery list. For the purpose of this type of shop-along research, it’s best that participant is shopping in an unbiased and natural environment.
Once reached the laundry detergent aisle, an interviewer will ask the same questions as any other product.
The customer will likely provide honest insight into their purchasing decision because they don’t know this is the purpose of the study.
💡 Pro Tip: Hire a shop-along research company
To avoid misconstrued data, it is important to work with a shop-along company as they will provide experienced interviewers to ease the nerves of the consumer.
Better yet, a shop-along research company will work with your team to design evaluation forms and understand your unique project needs.
Focus groups are a form of qualitative research that involves an open dialogue between 4 to 12 participants and a trained moderator to guide the discussion.
A focus group company will often recommend holding two separate groups to answer the same questions.
If only moderating one focus group, you may have 3 axe grinders steering the discussion in one way, which will lead to inaccurate feedback.
Having a second focus group will act as a gut check to verify the findings from the first group.
Focus group participants often answer questions such as:
- How would you buy X product?
- What would you change about X product?
- What did you like about X product? What didn’t you like about X product?
Focus group discussion advantages ✅
A focus group allows a group of targeted individuals to talk through their opinions, reactions, and feelings surrounding a product, commercial, advertisement, etc.
This targeted group of individuals generally offers insight into how the larger market would react to these same marketing tactics.
These group discussions are best held at a focus group facility equipped with a one-way mirror.
In doing so, you are able to have an inside look while research is conducted – a quality not a lot of other research methodologies can provide.
Focus group discussion disadvantages ❌
With higher quality research and data, comes a higher price tag. Focus group fees depend on a variety of factors such as time of day, length of the focus group, the demographic of participants, amount of travel, etc.
Oftentimes businesses choose to conduct online focus groups to reduce the cost of market research. Remote focus groups decrease costs associated with qualitative recruitment, travel, facility rental, and more.
You must also be wary of focus group moderator biases. The moderator running the session may subconsciously ask questions in a way that influences the participants of a focus group.
These biased interactions can skew the data of focus group results.
In-depth interviews (IDIs) are a qualitative market research method involving a direct, one-on-one engagement with individual participants.
IDIs are not bound to a single location as they can be conducted in person, on the phone, or via webchat.
Though, if the study requires visuals or videos to share, then an in-person or web conference interview is best.
In-depth interview example
In recent years, there has been an increase in B2B organizations utilizing in-depth interviews to speak with subject-matter experts who have a career in a specific industry.
For example, Cisco may consider using IDI research to speak with CEOs or IT purchasing managers to understand their buying process for technology equipment.
In-depth interviews can reveal information such as:
- The decision-making process for selecting a product
- Any stakeholders involved in the B2B buying decision
- What factors are considered before making the purchase
- Whether the company is happy with the product they chose
In-depth interview advantages ✅
As opposed to quick phone surveys, IDIs are reserved for deeper conversations lasting anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes.
IDIs also include more than just a survey representative but many roles of a market research company such as a moderator, a senior research analyst, and a project manager.
For this reason, it is important to have a scheduled meeting time for the in-depth interview company and participant to speak.
In-depth interviews disadvantages ❌
The downside to this type of market research is the time commitment and large budget necessary for conducting in-depth interviews.
Because participants tend to be high-level executives, some type of incentive is usually required to encourage participation.
With this in mind, there is a tedious vetting process that is now required to make sure potential respondents aren’t cheating the system to make a quick buck.
Once all qualified participants are chosen and the IDIs are scheduled, in-depth interview companies will then transcribe, analyze, and report back their findings.
A feasibility study is a type of market research that predicts the success or failure of a new business venture.
This could be a new product, service, concept, or location. It utilizes both primary and secondary market research to analyze the outcome of an idea or potential concept.
Drive Research often conducts feasibilities studies for:
- New product development
- New service launches
- New business concepts
- New business locations or an expansion to a new market
Many businesses find it important to work with a feasibility studies company and invest a little money now, before wasting money on a failed business venture down the road.
Advantages of feasibility studies ✅
Before investing too much money and time into a new product, service, or site location, a feasibility study relies on predictive analytics to inform better business decisions.
This not only gives business owners peace of mind but is a great study to present to potential investors as well.
Feasibility studies can also provide great insight to help encourage the success of a new concept such as:
- Who is the target audience?
- How likely are they to purchase this product or service?
- What are their main sources of awareness?
- Who are your competitors?
When introducing a new concept or location to the market it is best to make data-driven decisions. This is not the time to rely on assumptions or what you think will work.
Disadvantages of feasibility studies ❌
Feasibility studies are a more expensive type of market research. Because this methodology requires several components such as secondary research, competitor analysis, and pricing analysis it takes time to accomplish each task.
The more project management time a project takes, the more expensive the project becomes. As a result, new businesses do not have the budget needed for this methodology.
Benefits of hiring a full-service market research company
There is no one right way to conduct market research.
With different types of market research methodologies growing every year, it is helpful to partner your business objectives with a full-service market research company to make well-informed business decisions about your product offerings.
Whether it be how best to reach your target audience or learning the buying behaviors among current customers, a marketing research firm will work with you to decide what methodology is most beneficial for an organization.
Partnering with a company that knows your industry can give you the best recommendation and make market research a less daunting tactic.
Drive Research is a national market research company located in Upstate NY. Our team has the knowledge and tools to design a robust market research study for a variety of organizations across the country.
Interested in learning more about our market research services? Reach out through any of the four ways below.
- Message us on our website
- Email us at [email protected]
- Call us at 888-725-DATA
- Text us at 315-303-2040
A SUNY Cortland graduate, Emily has taken her passion for social and content marketing to Drive Research as the Marketing Manager. She has earned certificates for both Google Analytics and Google AdWords.
Learn more about Emily, here.