It is very hard for market researchers to offer a better service if they don't have a clear view of what companies conduct market research and I am very keen to hear what other people think. In particular, I am keen to hear if people have additional categories, are good examples. The four main uses of market research, by commercial organizations, in descending order of importance (in terms of spend) are:

Monitoring performance, for example, ad tracking, brand awareness, viewing figures, usage, customer satisfaction, mystery, and shopping. Finding things out, for example, the size of a market, current usage patterns, and market opportunities. To test ideas and products, for example, ad testing, pack testing, and pricing research. To help create new products, ideas, campaigns, etc. .


Monitoring studies tend to be ongoing (as opposed to ad hoc) and they tend to be quantitative. The 2013 ESOMAR Global Market Research report shows this is the largest category of research spend, accounting for between one-third and half of all research dollars (depending on which category you assign some of the items to). As well as large-scale quant trackers, other approaches include automated and online measurements, mystery shopping, community panels, and social media research.

To find things out

This type of research is often called exploratory and is normally conducted ad hoc (i.e. not as part of an ongoing study). A wide range of research techniques is used for this purpose, for example, qual, quant, research communities, social media research, and semiotics. The specific aims of the research will often dictate, or at least suggest a specific approach. For example, a market sizing study is typically going to require a large scale quantitative study with a careful sampling plan. By contrast, understanding the role of tea in a community’s life could be tackled with a wide range of approaches, from ethnography at one end of the spectrum to analyzing loyalty card data at the other.

Testing ideas and products

This category includes ad testing, concept testing, product testing, much of NPD (new product development) research; it also includes testing whether a model or idea is true. This type of research is usually conducted ad hoc, utilizing qual quant, and/or research communities. Some of the newer brain and biometric techniques find their home in this category, in particular in ad testing. For example fMRI, EEG, implicit association, eye-tracking, and facial coding.

Creating ideas and products

Although qual research, especially focus groups, have been used for many years to ‘ideate’ new products and services, this category of research has grown considerably since the arrival of social approaches, in particular, research communities. Of the four categories listed here, creation is by far the smallest, but perhaps one of the most exciting.

Your thoughts?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think these four categories broadly encompass why commercial organizations conduct market research? Would you add, delete, or change any categories? What about the examples within the categories, do they seem about right to you?

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