The Ultimate Guide to Market Research Methodologies

Today’s business decision maker has an abundance of marketing research methods 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.

First, it’s important to establish the two types 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 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 a customer satisfaction survey to collect statistical data on their brand, through the opinion of their customers.

The customer satisfaction survey can measure:

  • Product quality
  • Pricing
  • Customer experience

Determining what market research method is best used to uncover your key business objectives is no simple task. In this guide, we will define various types of marketing research methodologies as well as the advantages and disadvantages one must consider before selecting a research method.

Use this guide to uncover the pros and cons of various types of marketing research methods, to understand what methodologies will best address your business questions.

What are online surveys?

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. With plenty of free online survey tools, organizations can create, send and receive results all in a matter of days.

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.

Get the answers you need to help grow your business at a low cost. Check out this list of free online survey platforms.

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 platform often don’t show up until the survey results are complete.

It’s also a good rule of thumb to keep your online surveys short and sweet. Unless informed otherwise, participants are less likely to stay fully engaged for a survey that takes more than 10 minutes to complete. With little real-estate, it’s difficult to obtain detailed answers to key business questions.

What are phone surveys?

Phone surveys began as a core market research methodology decades ago and still prove to be in the forefront of market research methodologies.

This form of qualitative or quantitative research centers around collecting deeper feedback from a two-way active communication between the interviewer and respondents.

Phone survey advantages

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 participant.

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 answer in greater detail.

Respondents are more likely to answer the questions in greater detail because it takes less time to voice your opinion than it would be to type or write.

Phone surveys are also at no mercy of locale. Especially with the move from landline 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.

Phone surveys may also be constrained by time. This meaning, 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, running errands can limit the available time respondents have to complete a phone survey.

What are mail surveys?

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 the mail.

Mail survey advantages

Depending on the industry, say banks and credit unions, businesses cannot reach their audience through online outlets due to organizational restrictions. Mail surveys offer a personalized, credible solution to this problem.

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 surveys may seem like an archaic methodology, but they do offer some intriguing benefits. Learn about conducting this type of research with a mail survey company.

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 market research methodology.

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, then it is to write one.

The process behind 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.

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.

What are intercept surveys?

Intercept surveys are a form of quantitative research focused on capturing "in-the-moment" feedback from respondents. Intercept surveys are typically used after people attend an event or eat at a restaurant to collect perception information. This this type of feedback can also be collected before or during a participant’s experience.

The data received from intercept surveys are usually collected via tablets or paper and pencil interviewing techniques. If utilizing tablets or other electronic devices, be sure the survey platform you are using has as 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 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, a market research company representing Pepsi can conduct an intercept survey 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 surveys help remove this.

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 are 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.

What is mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is a form 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 company 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 employee’s 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 surveys 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 for a poor experience. This single instance may not truly represent a typical customer visit.

What is a shop-along?

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?

What is an 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.

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.

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.

What are focus groups?

Focus groups are a form of qualitative research which 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.

Participants often answer questions like:

  • 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 groups 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 offer 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.

Looking for a focus group facility in NY? Learn 3 of the most basic and core criteria to consider when choosing a focus group facility.

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, demographic of participants, amount of travel, etc.

You must also be weary of focus group moderator biasness. The moderator running the session may subconsciously ask questions in a way that influence participants of a focus group. These bias interactions can skew the data of focus group results.

What are in-depth interviews?

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 web chat. 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.

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 organization. Partnering with a company who knows your industry can give you the best recommendation and make market research a less daunting tactic.

Keep up with the latest market trends and gain a competitive advantage in your industry with our full service market research company.


Contact Our Full-Service Market Research Company

Drive Research is a market research company located in Syracuse, NY. Our team has the knowledge and tools to design a robust market research study, should it be the right fit for your business.

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