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User Research and Market Research are Better Together

Why and how to combine UX research with market research in the discovery phase and beyond.

If you’ve read just about anything we’ve shared on the User Interviews blog, one thing you’ll know is that every researcher approaches their craft a little differently. Best practices can help you get great results, especially when you’re getting started, but many of the researchers we’ve spoken to get just as much out of rethinking the conventional wisdom.

Today, let’s think a bit differently about the relationship between user research and market research. Here’s the challenge: stop thinking about research for product and for marketing as two totally different and separate things.

If you’re already on board with that idea, great. Hopefully this post can help you get your entire team on board too.

Market research versus user research?

Many companies will separate research for marketing and research for product into two different buckets, because they’re different things, right?

Well, right, but don’t build Chinese walls where they aren’t necessary.

User research is different than market research, but there’s more overlap between the two than status quo ways of doing the work would make obvious.

Market research helps you understand things about the audience you want to target. It informs your marketing, sales and brand strategy, enabling you to speak directly to what the market wants, needs, or doesn’t yet know it wants and needs.

This typically happens early on in a company’s development, and all too often that’s it—no one circles back to do research once things are humming along (though of course there are exceptions).

Market research typically relies on quantitative data, often self-reported survey data. This has some advantages, and many known disadvantages.

User research is all about understanding the relationship between your users and your product. It’s the who, what, when, why and how defining the context for your product. It’s generally a deeper dive than market research, with more emphasis on behavior, motivations, and including more qualitative methods.

In our UX Research Field Guide, we outline the different ways you can put user research into play at different stages of product development in order to achieve your research goals. It’s relatively common to conduct user research multiple times throughout the product development cycle, and we recommend to do research as early and as often in the product cycle as possible. If you’re already doing that, all the more reason to add marketing insights into your existing process.

Get More Bang for Your Research Buck

Whether your company is product-first or a marketing-driven or, like many, both or neither of those extremes, it’s safe to say that the more people who get value from your research, the more buy-in you’ll get for more research across the company.

Sharing insights and resources between user research and market research initiatives can allow you to learn more, faster, for less money.

That alone is reason to keep marketing and product in the research loop together, but arguably more importantly, keeping product and marketing research aligned will ensure that what you build, how you market it, and how people experience it are all truly aligned.

Sian Townsend at Intercom explains the importance of thinking about user research beyond the product, and considering things like customer experience and marketing:

Restricting the role of user research to collaboration with just your product team means critical aspects of your customers’ experience are never evaluated. You’ll miss out on studying relevant parts of the customer experience that flank your core product, such as the marketing site where people first learn about your product, or your process for handling customers who have billing issues months later.

Market research can help you figure out how your product could be improved, and user research can help you understand how to market to your audience. Both can give you valuable insight into people’s pains and motivations, which are the foundations that you need to be successful across the board.

Market research and user research together in practice

Here’s how you can bring it all together.

1. Find the Overlap

First thing to mention here is one of the golden rule of research, and business in general: know your goal.

When attempting to connect market research and user research, always keep your main objective in your crosshairs.

You can’t learn everything at once, but you can take advantage of the complimentary business goals that inevitably exist across your organization. Your job is to find the overlap between your core research objective and other research needs. As you share your goals and learn other team’s goals, opportunities to share relevant insights will appear organically, too.

2.  Make Connections

How do you find the overlap? By looping your product people in with your marketing people from the very beginning of any research project.

It’s a pretty simple tip, but can be easier said than done. If you’re getting started on a user research project, tap someone from marketing, discuss how your research could inform marketing initiatives, consider adding relevant questions to your study that would be particularly valuable for marketing and most importantly, share your results at the end.

The key here is to lay everything out on the table so that you don’t end up duplicating research efforts or missing out on opportunities to share important insight across departments.

If you have a research roadmap, share those across teams and find areas to combine efforts, rather than duplicate them, or create avoidable gaps.

3. Start with Generative Research

User researchers often use generative research to ask “what problem needs solving?” before they start coming up with solutions and asking “does this solution solve a problem?”

Market researchers are asking similar questions, trying to understand the market they’re building for, agnostic of a particular solution.

Jason Fried, CEO and Co-founder of Basecamp, used the “Jobs-to-be-Done” framework to understand product opportunities for Basecamp, an already very successful company. In his user interviews, he uncovered an important insight for marketing:  

For eight years we’ve been talking about Basecamp as a project management tool. What was interesting to me was that very few customers that we talked to really talked about project management. They didn’t use that term or really even think of it in that way. That was eye-opening to me. Different people said different things and had different reactions, but for me not hearing the words that we use or not hearing the description that we use or not even hearing the positioning that we use, that we’ve spent so much time trying to hone was really eye-opening.

Generative research can clearly give you valuable insight for marketing, and the same thing applies in reverse. If you’re conducting market research (or you’ve already done it), chances are you’ll uncover ideas for problems to solve with your product. So, show and tell!

4. Consider the Product Development Cycle  

Good user researchers plan their research alongside the product development cycle. Here’s a simple version of what that might look like:

  • Discovery is what you do when you want to understand the potential market for a product, before you go and build that product. You want to understand problems, people, and opportunities.
  • Next comes validation and testing, where you’ve got some sort of prototype or mock-up, a solution, that you can test to see if it solves the problem in the market that you want to solve.
  • Then there’s ongoing listening post-launch. At this stage you’re focussed on learning how your product works in the real world, and making sure it stays useful in the long run. You’ll continue to iterate and find new opportunities through this research.

Market research frequently happens in the discovery phase. That’s useful because if you don’t have a market fit, once you build it no one will come. But it shouldn’t stop there. Companies that do ongoing research tend to to grow faster.

User researchers: share product research insights with marketers to keep them up to date and inform updates to positioning and message.

Marketers: your market has probably evolved since you first did market research to launch your company if it’s been a while. If you don’t have the budget for ongoing market research, take advantage of the discovery research your UX research team may already be doing. And if you do have the budget, theme of the article, share it!

The best research is habitual research, shared.

Want to contribute to User Interviews content? Here’s how.

Nikki Sequeira

Nikki Sequeira is a content marketer passionate about helping brands deliver more value to their customers. Writer, editor, strategic thinker. Traveling the world when not at home in Victoria, BC Canada.

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