Market Research vs. User Research: Why Both Should be in your UX strategy
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Market research and user research often get tossed around as interchangeable terms in a lot of business settings. Whether it’s executive leadership, marketing departments, or your own development team, market research and user research are frequently confused.
While it may seem that there’s a lot of similarity between the two, digging into the proper definition and understanding of each reveals how they are different—and why you need to include both of them when developing a user experience strategy.
How Market Research and User Research are Similar
First, let’s look into why market research and user research often get conflated; in other words, the similarities between these two types of research.
In the grand scheme of things, both market research and user research are designed to provide you with important insights about your intended consumers or users. Each type of research utilizes similar research methods and may incorporate a combination of methodologies including surveys, focus groups, and so on.
The goal of both types of user experience research is to provide teams, and especially UX design teams, with critical information about what people want, how they use products or services, what they expect from a particular product or type of product, the usability of a product, and more.
Now you can see why the two are often talked about interchangeably—both market research and user research are performed so that you can find out what people want. But that is really where the similarities end and the differences become very important.
How Market Research and User Research Differ
This is where we can really explore the differences between these two, and where you’ll begin to see why both of them are important to the user experience process.
In the simplest terms, market research deals with, obviously, “the market”—in other words, an extremely broad review of how willing a large group of people is to buy a product. Market research is focused on quantitative methods and large sample sizes and is designed to represent how big a potential market size is, users’ interest in your product, etc. It also focuses on a broad sense of what people want and whether they would be interested in what you are selling.
User research, meanwhile, is based on qualitative research—narrative feedback, stories, and insights in a user’s own words. User research provides you with feedback on how they use a product or technology solution, what real-world user needs are, problems they may have encountered while using the product, and so on. User research, as a result, can help your UX team think about and find solutions to problem areas thanks to the direct and individual feedback provided. That’s information you would not gain from market research, but is critical to the UX development process.
What Problems Might You Encounter Collecting Research Data?
There are common challenges in collecting any research data, especially research related to UX problems and development.
The first, and perhaps most important, is the potential for bias in research, and this starts with the questions you are asking. When developing your research questions for focus groups, surveys, case studies, or any other method, you need to review both what you are asking and how you are asking the question as well. In order to get accurate data, you want to ensure that users and/or respondents are providing their honest feedback without being led or directed to a particular answer because of how the question was phrased.
Related to this, you want to ensure that your questions are simple, and do not contain multiple parts or questions within each one. Keeping it simple is key, in fact, in order to drill down to exact answers and the valuable feedback they provide.
Another challenge to UX research? Getting to the people you really want to hear from. This can require any number of different methods, including field research or bringing user groups into your business for on-site research and feedback. Your research plan may include interviews, for example, but will only offer your UX team useful information if prospective users and customers are the ones being interviewed.
These are just a couple of the potential challenges that you may encounter in UX research, which is why it is important to fully develop your research plan before embarking on the process.
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How Should You Present Research to Key Stakeholders?
Now that you’ve got your research findings, the next thing to consider is how you bring them to the stakeholders, leaders, product managers, or anyone else in the organization. This brings us to the first piece of advice—know your audience.
What that means, in this case, is having an idea of how familiar the people in the room are with UX design, with the intended audiences, and with the goals of the research itself. When in doubt, it never hurts to establish a baseline for everyone in the room by beginning with brief explanations of the UX research methods, the intended goal(s), target demographics, applicability of the findings, and so forth.
Another key consideration is to get your data organized. The best way to present the results may not be the same as the way in which the data was collected. For example, the questions you asked of users might have been arranged in a helpful order for the purposes of surveying or interviewing people, but the information provided in their answers will often lead down a different path—and that’s where the really useful information can usually be found.
Speaking of presenting your UX research data, it is also critical to consider the visual presentation as well as the story your data tells. Graphs, charts, images, icons, and more can be useful, but only if they are supporting and reinforcing the information like user feedback or user behavior. This is also related to knowing your audience; for example, some stakeholders may prefer a visual presentation, while others may want the full report complete with additional detail on the findings. Both methods (and many others) are valid, but the approach you choose should take into consideration what the individuals and departments will need from you and your team.
How Do You Incorporate Research into User Experience Development?
Now that you’ve got your data together, how do you put what you have learned into action for your UX design or development process?
The first answer is to involve your UX research team early in the design process. While UX research can sometimes get added to a project midway through, the very best results (and the highest level of usefulness) from research can only be realized if considered from the very start. User research can help to define the product development roadmap, and may often identify potential customer experience issues or challenges prior to development, thereby saving time and money.
Another key is to ensure that all teams and personnel involved understand just what UX research is, and how it can help everyone involved to be more successful in their development. Whether it’s the design team, the marketing department, or any other stakeholders, having robust and useful UX research available informs every key decision and makes the entire process smoother and more efficient.
You can, and should, also consider leaning on your UX research to help identify customers’ potential use cases, pain points, and other product interaction factors that can impact satisfaction and adoption.
Finally, your UX research will be an important piece of the measurement puzzle; understanding what has worked and what hasn’t in your UX design can be revealed through the research data before, during, and of course after development.
Making Design Decisions for the Present
UX research is a field that more and more organizations are recognizing the usefulness of, but there is still a fairly steep learning curve and a process to get everyone on board with the process and potential benefits.
Both market research and user research are key components when it comes to UX research, and the information here should provide you with a solid foundation from which to build a strong case that both need to be a part of any group’s UX strategy.