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Market research methods

We design surveys using our surveyProg tool. April 19, 2018
You can find out more about the customers you are trying to reach if you use market research effectively. You have a choice of different methods, depending on what your product or service is and how much time and money you are able to spend.

When conducting market research, you may be trying to study:

  • Attitudes - how a respondent thinks or feels about something
  • Behaviours - what actions the respondent has taken or plans to take
  • Demographics - such as age, income level, and gender
  • Firmographics - the characteristics of an organization
Here is a list of some popular approaches, with information on when and how to use each most effectively.

Table of Contents
  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Personal interviews
  • Task analysis
  • Usability testing


Surveys involve asking a series of questions to a sample of the target population that is large enough to be statistically valid. Surveys generally offer primarily closed-ended questions, although some open-ended questions may be included. Surveys can be administered by mail, telephone, email, Internet or in person.

Best uses
  • Develop a profile of your users:
  • Identify client segments
  • Determine client characteristics
  • Validate or prioritize customer needs
  • Assess client satisfaction
  • Gauge customer awareness:
  • General awareness about your business
  • Post-advertising campaign awareness
  • Track changes in attitudes and opinions

Focus groups

Focus groups are moderated group interviews and brainstorming sessions that provide information on users' needs and behaviours.

Best uses
Focus groups can be useful for the following types of discussions:
  • Exploratory - Obtain information on general attitudes, understand the circumstances under which customers might require your product or service (triggers), understand their desired outcomes, and so on.
  • Feature prioritization - If trade-offs have to be made among various customer needs, focus groups can be helpful in prioritizing them.
  • Comparative analysis - Understand where else customers go to get similar information, services or products and what attracts them to those sources.
  • Trend explanation - If you notice a trend in the way that customers use your website (for example, they always use the search function rather than navigating through the structured product list), then focus groups can be used to better understand why this is happening.

Personal interviews

Personal interviews are semi-structured discussions with an individual. They include open-ended questions where the interviewer can probe further to understand underlying perceptions and behaviours.

Best uses
Personal interviews are a more expensive alternative to focus groups and are generally used in the following situations:

  • The topic is too personal or sensitive to be discussed in a group, or confidentiality of the participant is required.
  • A person's opinion may easily be influenced by others in the group.
  • It is as important to learn as much about what people don't know about a subject, as what they do know. In a group setting, knowledgeable participants may inhibit less knowledgeable ones from participating.
  • Logistic problems may make groups impractical. For example, if participants are geographically dispersed, travel time and costs may be prohibitive.
  • The interview subjects are executives from competing firms who would be reluctant to open up in a group situation.
  • The interview subjects are busy and it is difficult to schedule group sessions, or it is important to visit interview subjects individually at their convenience.

Task analysis

Task analysis seeks to understand the thought process and actions of participants in order to improve the design of a website or tool. The participant is given a specific task to perform, and the interviewer observes and notes where the participant runs into problems and where he or she is successful. It is different from usability testing, as it is not testing the usability of a website.

Best uses
Task analysis can be helpful in understanding how people currently use your website (or other websites). Using this approach, the participant is given a specific task to perform. For example, buy a particular product or find the location of a nearby store that sells your product.

Usability testing

Usability tests are structured interviews that focus on the usability of specific features of a website or other user interface.

Best uses
Usability testing is best used to evaluate prototypes of planned websites or planned changes to an existing website. It is used to evaluate the interface and to note any problems faced by users, in order to give feedback to developers.

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