How to Leverage UX and Market Research To Understand Your Customers

Summary: In this webinar organized by the UX Research & Strategy Group, Michaela Mora, founder of Relevant Insights, discusses what market research is, the similarities and differences between market research and UX research, and how they could be integrated to gain deeper insights to deliver business impact.

45 minute video. By author Michaela Mora on July 19, 2021
Topics: Business Strategy, Market Research, UX Research

At Relevant Insights, we have been using UX and Market research to provide a deeper understanding of the customer journey and derive insights to guide business decisions for our clients.

Here is the transcript for the presentation given on this topic for a virtual event organized by the UX Research & Strategy Group.

In my section I discussed:

  • What market research is and its connection to UX
  • Differences and similarities between Market Research and UX Research
  • Benefits of collaboration between practitioners in both areas

The webinar took place on June 2021. Give it a listen (~45 minutes) or read the transcript below.

What is Market Research?


What is it? I want to clarify that the terms market research and marketing research are used interchangeably in our field. This discipline has nearly 100 years. Over the years the nuances between market and marketing in the context of research have been lost.

Market research essentially involves the identification, collection, analysis, and use of information to make business decisions.

Notice I didn’t mention surveys or focus groups or any particular data collection method. It starts with identifying what information we need, we then get it, analyze it, and derive insights to make business decisions. The last part is essential because our concern is about business outcomes which is why the Market Research Association changed its name to Insights Association a few years ago.

We conduct market research to identify or solve problems that businesses may have in different areas.

Market researchers are found working at in-house research teams often called Insights and Analytics, Customer insights, or just Insights. We refer to them as corporate researchers.

The new label for this group in the UX community is research operations and it’s being treated as something new, revolutionary concept, but this type of group has existed for decades in many organizations. They either are attached to a marketing department or are an independent group supporting other company functions depending on the size and structure of the company. This may be a centralized function, or they may be embedded within other groups by brand, by product, or industry vertical.

There’s also a whole ecosystem of research suppliers, offering services across all the steps of the research process. You will find market researchers in full-service agencies like ours, and agencies specializing in specific methodologies or provide supporting services like survey tools, survey programming, sample, recruitment, interview and focus group moderation, data visualization and reporting, etc.

Market Research Across the Customer Journey


I like to connect the two main reasons for doing market research to the customer touchpoints along the journey, the customer journey. Many of you have probably seen a version of this diagram in customer journey maps.

I want to clarify a couple of terms here.

 In market and marketing and market research, we usually are interested in the journey from non-customer to customer because we are looking at it from the business impact perspective.

We don’t use the term “user” as it’s common in the UX field because the term emphasizes the behavior or some aspect of the behavioral component of a customer or non-customer and doesn’t capture necessarily the needs, perceptions, and attitudes that materialize in the decision to buy or use a product. We can’t forget that both profit and nonprofit organizations have to make money to stay in business.

For a market researcher in a commercial organization, someone who comes to your website or an app and hasn’t paid yet for your products or services it’s just a non-customer. If they are paying, we call them customers. If they stop paying, we call them lapsed customers sometimes or go back to non-customers.

In non-profit organizations, depending on what they do even if there is no financial transaction, we also tend to call them customers, sometimes it’s a membership organization you call them members as well to reflect the fact that they consume the services we offer. This terminology is important because, in the end, companies need to acquire new customers and retain the customers they have.

All the research we do should support decisions related to the strategy, operations, organization, and the leadership to convert non-customers to customers and stay in business.

In general, we use research to discover problems at the beginning of the journey and often progress with research to test solutions. However, you might conduct problem discovery research at any stage of the journey depending on what you already know, and what you don’t know. Ideally, this is an iterative process. It’s just a matter of budget and timing in which you combine discovery research with problem-solving research to support business decisions.

Market Research to Identify Problems


When we do market research to identify problems, we do it often to support business strategy decisions, although there is a lot of tactics, research done to support tactics too, but this is the main goal. This can be related to product development, branding, investments, etc.

Essentially, we are looking for opportunities through gaps and problems that are not obvious to the business now and may arise in the future. This may include research to uncover unmet market needs, to understand the path to purchase journey, to understand market segments where the business can expand, and to detect any issues with brand awareness and positioning that might lead to customer defection or preventing the company from attracting new customers.

Any analysis we do to understand market characteristics, sales trends, business trends in the industry help monitor what’s going on to discover problems affecting the business or providing opportunities for growth. There is actually a growing discipline in market research concerned with foresight trying to forecast the future and trying to identify emerging trends so businesses can adapt and pivot as the market changes.

Market Research to Solve Problems


Market research for problem-solving usually revolves around finding and testing solutions that ultimately support decisions about how to proceed to acquire and retain customers. This is where a lot of, actually, current UX research is done.

The solution we look for and test are mostly connected to one or more of the four Ps of Marketing: Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. Place is just distribution or point of sale. Point of sale could be a store, a website, and any particular channel where you sell products or services.

Marketing decisions are not only related to advertising and promotion but are directly connected to decisions made in product development, pricing, and distribution, so yes, product development is part of the marketing strategy.

If you are in a UX team dedicated to product development and make decisions on product design features, navigation, and other very product-specific problems that may seem unrelated to marketing and business outcomes, I want to tell you that’s not the case.

Everything you do will have an impact not only on the user experience but also on what the business can claim it offers to customers, the prices it can change, and where you can sell the products. I would argue that having the marketing perspective and business impact in mind will help you to prioritize the product feature backlog and elevate the value of the UX function.

So, here are examples of types of market research connected to the four Ps we do to support decisions in different phases of the customer journey. As you can see, there is a lot of research we can do. Some fall in what many call UX research, some are part of what is known as traditional market research, but the fact is that UX research is a particular application of market research methodologies.

Research for Business Impact


To avoid fomenting division, we should think of them as research for business impact. Ideally, you should have a plan to coordinate different types of research to answer questions related to both the strategy and tactics the business can pursue. Within each of these types of research, there are many specialized research designs and techniques that include qualitative and quantitative methods.

Market Research Process


Let’s talk about the research process. This is pretty typical for research projects regardless of whether they are qualitative, quantitative, or are related to UX or not.

The first step is to define the business problem in discussion with decision-makers and other stakeholders. That’s a super important step that unfortunately many stakeholders and internal teams don’t spend enough time on.

Once we define the business problem, we have to translate it into research questions to gather the needed information. Next, we go to step two where we select the theoretical framework or analytical model, the hypothesis that we are working on to guide our search for information.

 In step two, we may need to talk to industry experts, do secondary research, do qualitative research if it is unclear what the approach should be. We are not discussing data collections yet. We are trying to select a framework to understand and analyze the data that we will collect.

For example, if you are interested in determining pricing for one product or more, you can use different approaches to ask to answer this question. Depending on the pricing model complexity, the number of pricing points you want to test, whether you include competitors’ pricing, substitute products, etc.

Next, we go to the research design, step number three. This is where you get into the actual blueprint the detailed procedures of how to do this. I’ll talk more about that in a couple of slides. Then we go to field, collect the data.

Once that’s done, there usually is a phase of data processing. Whether we use qualitative or quantitative data collection methods, we need to inspect the data, clean it, format it for analysis.

For example, if we do surveys, we usually create cross-stability tables with statistical testing. We also do what we call coding of open-ended questions in which we categorize the answers to do content analysis.

 If we do qualitative research, we may have transcripts that also are likely to need cleaning and thematic categorization. Once the data is ready, we’re diving into the analysis and the process of deriving insights which usually goes together with the creation of reports and different deliverables.

Reporting is not only about creating PowerPoint reports or dashboards or other deliverables but also about sharing the information and insights with the stakeholders and helping to implement the insights. This last part is often the most difficult to do well because the implementation of insights is influenced by financial, operational factors and competitors’ actions, etc.

Problem Definition


I want to go a little deeper into the problem definition step because a lack of problem definition is a common cause of the failure of many market and UX research projects. Money and time are wasted if the problem is misunderstood. Serious strategic mistakes are frequently made from asking the wrong questions.

So, let’s get a clear idea of the difference between business problems and research problems. The business problem is about what the decision-maker, that stakeholder is trying to do. The focus is on the action he or she is deciding to take with the goal of delivering a business outcome.

When we translate that to a research problem, we are trying to determine what information we need and how to get it. The focus is on information and insights to guide the decisions.

Here are three examples of how to translate business problems into research problems.

 If the company is trying to decide what new products to develop physical or digital, in market research terms we need to find out what needs are not being met in our category or for certain market segments to then generate new product ideas to meet that need. Many of you may be thinking this is one of the things we do in UX research. You’re right, but this is nothing new. It has been part of the product research we have been doing before UX research came as a novel idea in digital companies.

If for example the company has a product already and is trying to decide which product improvements or features they should invest in and develop then the market research problem is about understanding customer preferences, intention to use the product feature, usage behavior, and so on.

Say the company decides to invest in a particular product or product feature and wants to promote it in their marketing advertising, they would ask, how should we position this in our advertising across marketing channels? The market research problem here is to find out which perceived benefits of this product or product feature delivers the most value to the customer and which features support this benefit and then we can use and claim in our advertising.

Market Research Design Categories


Assuming we agree on the problem definition and an analytical plan and approach, we start to work on the research design. There are three major market research design categories we can use alone or in combination.

We have Exploratory designs with objectives that are mainly about discovering unknowns or seeking deeper understanding. Generally, we use qualitative research here but surveys can be used to explore certain topics. They are called pilot surveys because we are asking questions without clear hypotheses in mind.

Descriptive research designs are used, as the name indicates to describe characteristics of markets and customers, non-customer in the context of a particular business problem. We may have certain hypotheses in mind that we might want to confirm or deny. Here we use surveys, observational methods and do secondary research based on data collected for other purposes.

Finally, we have the causal research designs which are trying to infer cause and effect relationships between variables of interest. Here we set up experiments in which we manipulate certain variables in relatively controlled environments and then collect data via observational methods, surveys, and sometimes even qualitative methods. In whatever research design we land on, we need to get into the specifics which fall into one of the six Ws.

The Six Ws


First, we remind ourselves again Why we need the research, then go into specific details about What information we need for the analytical plan, then we define Who the target population of interest is. Do we need to talk to customers or non-customers? How many? What are the screening criteria to be included in the study?

We also need to determine When we should ask for the information from the participant. For example, should we do it before, during, or after a particular event or behavior? Then, Where should we contact them, at home, at the store, on the website, in the lab?

Finally, in what Way are we collecting the data? This is where data collection method methods come in. This could be surveys or observations or interviews. So, data collection methods, which is the first thing that comes to mind, that’s why many said surveys, it’s just one aspect of the research design.

Data Collection Methods


I briefly mentioned Secondary research before. The counterpart of that one is Primary research. These categories are based on the question of whether the research was specifically designed to answer the problem we have in our hands. If the answer is yes, then it’s Primary. If the answer is no, then it’s Secondary.

As a general rule, we should start with Secondary research which tends to be cheaper and faster but rarely give us the specific answers we’re looking for.

Among the Primary research data collection methods, we make a distinction between Qualitative and Quantitative, so we do more than surveys.

Qualitative research is one type of exploratory market research methodology based on semi-structured or unstructured data methods including in-depth interviews, focus groups, ethnographic observation, diaries, etc., and small samples. This is where a lot of UX research falls.

The main outcome from qualitative research is to develop an initial understanding or a deeper understanding about something, not to recommend a final course of action, particularly for strategic business problems.

Primary quantitative research is designed to collect data in a more structured way that can be quantified.  In market research, we use two basic methods to do that: surveys and observation.

Observation is more about collecting data on what people do, what is that people do. This is a huge methodology field especially when it comes to surveys.

Designing good surveys is difficult and it goes beyond just writing questions. There’s a lot of statistics involved that you have to understand to be able to design them well. There are full master’s degree programs dedicated to survey methodology at many universities.

Having access to surveys like SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics and other tools doesn’t automatically translate into good survey design. The tools won’t do it for you even if they offer some templates. They always need to be customized.

In this diagram, I have organized the major data collection methods. Ideally, we should use a combination of them since they collect different types of data and provide different insights the variation of the methods currently used in UX research also found in one of these categories.

For example, I listed here usability testing which is mostly qualitative and even if it is unmoderated, it is a specific type of interview derived from what we call in-depth interviews.

Other techniques used in UX whether it is card sorting, tree testing, desirability tests, the five-second impression test, unmoderated user testing are also using survey methodology at its core if they are done online or are conducted as interviews.

Avoiding the Law of the Hammer


There is a little bit of obsession with tools in UX, but I encourage you, encourage those involved in UX research to think beyond tools and more in terms of methodologies to facilitate getting insights depending on the business problem.

All these categorizations I have been presented so far help us in market research to find the appropriate methodology to avoid being jailed by the Law of the Hammer which is a cognitive bias. This was put forward by Abraham Maslow in 1966 when he said, “I suppose it is something tempting if the only tool you have is a hammer to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

If all you know is how to do surveys, you will use surveys for every information need. If all you do is qualitative research, you will try to use it for everything. The same is valid for UX applications of these methods, even if you specialize in a particular methodology or tool.

I recommend that you at least be aware of its limitations. If you don’t know other methods or have a preference for whatever you’re using, I recommend collaborating with others, using research suppliers who know more than you in a particular methodology that complements your set of skills because no method will provide all the answers.

UX  vs. CX Definitions


This brings me to the topic of comparing UX research and market research and throwing CX in the mix. The term UX, user experience, was introduced in the early 90s by one of the founders of NNG, Don Norman when he was at Apple and his team realized that the experience of using Apple computers was weak in his own words.

They have been insisting on the original definition of user experience as a state of mind combining emotions and aptitudes that develop as a result of user interactions with products and services, with customer support, and even marketing which helps to set up expectations about the products and services.

I heard the other day an interview with Jacob Nielsen, and he sounded a little dismayed that people have missed the boat with this. This definition is not in people’s minds when they’re thinking about user research because over time in reality UX has been narrowing its scope and has been established as a function in mostly digital-first and e-commerce companies to support software development often disconnected from marketing and the business strategy at large. This is where the CX crowd has seen an opportunity and is creating even more confusion.

CX stands for customer experience and is grounded in customer satisfaction research which has been always one of the disciplines in market research, and according to the CXPA, the professional association, CX is the total effect of all customer interactions across all channels to support an omnichannel strategy that has implications not only for product development but also for operations.

At this time, many in CX roles are trying to get the leadership in the companies, trying to get them on board with the idea of customer-centricity across all channels and use high-level metrics that come from customer satisfaction research, like the NPS, to connect customer-centricity to business impact.

 If you read both definitions closely, you realize they are saying essentially the same thing. Both are expressions of outcomes from the customer perspective, and both are grounded in market research methodologies.

They are using different lenses to look at the customers. UX is very much deep in the trenches studying micro-interactions with products and marketing channels, while CX is kind of floating above trying to get an integrated macro view of all the interactions which is what businesses with a mature market research function like consumer-packaged goods, like Procter & Gamble, the Unilevers of the world have been doing for years.

Market Research vs. UX Research


If we look at the current state of the research methods used in product development, for example, where the bulk of the UX function operates and compare it to how market research approaches product development, you can see there is a lot of overlap despite the use of different labels.

For example, if we go from product idea, benefits identification, marketing strategy, and final product usage, in market research we use qualitative research methods across all the stages.

I use the term qualitative research to include many different methods, not just user interviews. User interviews and stakeholder interviews, which are sometimes perceived as unique UX methods, are just what we call in-depth interviews but relabeled based on the people you are interviewing.

Data that comes through customer support tickets for example is considered Secondary research since this is not generated for research purposes but it’s very valuable data. When we are doing product research, we may see different adaptations of the same techniques depending on the products we are studying.

For example, think of usability testing for a digital product where you give the participants a task in a particular scenario and observe what they are doing, what they will do, and ask them to think out loud about what they are doing or did.

The equivalent in the physical world is at-home product testing which is pretty standard in market research. We send the product to people, ask them to use it for different purposes, then we observe how they do it, ask them questions via interviews or surveys about the product experience, or in person if we have someone in the house watching, and nowadays we can use digital ethnography based on videos to capture experiences and feedback.

Personas research is another UX adaptation that really comes from market segment profiling.  The problem there is that many times persona development is just an internal, opinion-based workshop exercise without the actual market segmentation data behind it.

Working in Silos


Currently, many companies that have a UX team and a market research or insights team, tend to work in silos. Often the leadership doesn’t see the connection between them.

Also, because many who come to the UX field have mostly a background in designs and software development and not in research or marketing, new terminology has flourished and contributed to the idea that UX research is something new and disconnected from market research, so unfortunately each team sometimes is researching the same thing, and even if they come from a different perspective, they are not exchanging notes and finding knowledge synergies.

We are running in parallel lanes and sometimes competing with each other and even being hostile and territorial which doesn’t help the company to get a full understanding of different aspects of the customer experience in an integrated way.

The CX Clock


 Once you have a product, any product decisions the UX team makes to improve the customer or user experience at a micro-interaction level will continue to have an impact on all the phases of the journey from non-customer to customer both on the external interactions with customers as well as the internal systems, employees, resources needed to support those interactions.

This clock model is just a reminder of the potential touchpoints that will vary from company to company, of course, in which we need integrated market research and UX research.

When I was a research manager at and the Director of Research at Blockbuster Online before founding Relevant Insights, I had a very small team and a selected number of external research partners who will support my research operation.

However, I had an integrated team. There was no division between market research and UX research. We just did research. The UX term was unheard of, of course.

In both companies, I set up a usability lab in-house and run it with the support of specialized research partners. I was involved in the research design of all the studies including usability testing and information architecture, etc. I made sure that this research was providing complementary insights to the research we were doing related to branding and pricing and marketing strategy to help grow the business.

Research Integration


This is a fun example. This is kind of a baby I had at Blockbuster Online.

I had the opportunity to support the launch of a very successful product based on a lot of research that you would now separate in UX and market research, but I firmly believe our success was due to research integration.

We started with a large two-step market segmentation study that included a pilot survey and allowed us to identify a huge market opportunity. This was time this was the time when Netflix was only 5 million subscribers. Not long ago but it feels like a long ago.

Once we found a couple of segments that still have unmet needs, we started to explore product ideas with both qualitative and quantitative research. We did a lot of interviews and focus groups and quantitative concept testing not just for the product idea but for the branding and the positioning because those have to be coordinated across channels since we had the online service at the stores.

At that time, we did a lot of prototype testing and pricing research. We did research to design the marketing collaterals including the mailer. Also, this was the time where we send DVDs by mail. We tested email messages, direct mail messages, and we also set up a quarterly customer satisfaction and brand health tracker that would monitor trends and our competitors. That’s the CX realm nowadays.

We did a lot of research with a team of two and a small army of research suppliers working in coordination and guided by clarity about the business outcome we needed. We were able to grow 1.5 million subscribers in nine months. It was like giving birth, believe me.

Market Research Problem Clarity


Across all the research we did, we kept the market research problem in mind which was to gain insights into the needs, attitudes, perceptions, behaviors of current and potential customers in the context of a lot of factors that influence the decision to become a customer and stay a customer.

Then, we have to translate all of those insights into business implications for the strategy, for the operations, the organization, the leadership decisions. 

Implementation of insight is often hard as I said because there are other factors to consider, so the more you tailor the market research problem to the business problem, the higher the probability your research would be valuable.

Value of Research Erosion

00: 41:54

On that point, in my experience the value of research, it doesn’t matter if you call it UX or market research, erodes over time if

  • It’s not connected to a business problem
  • It’s driven by methods and tools rather than by information needs
  • You are not able to translate data into action actionable insights even if you are doing it in the context of a business problem.

Useful Knowledge Areas


We all come to research with different backgrounds, so to be able to collaborate effectively, we need to have common areas of knowledge and terminology. For example, market researchers would benefit from learning about principles of visual design and interaction design even if they don’t plan to become designers or developers.

At the same time, UX designers, developers, product managers would benefit from learning some of the research fundamentals so they can participate as observers and interpreters of results in more effective ways, even if they don’t become researchers.

In my humble opinion, if you have you have people in your team with deep expertise in areas like research design, development, project management who are at least familiar with the basics of areas from other team members you are more likely to have a productive team that can work together, produce quality work, and is also less prone to burnout.

So, these are some areas, knowledge areas, I have been cultivating over the years to help support UX research and market research needs to solve business problems. I am a specialist in some, and I’m a generalist in others.

Learning Opportunities


If you are interested in acquiring a good foundation in research either to become a researcher or at least being able to contribute to the research process, here is a list of known organizations in our industry that offer training,, conferences and a lot of useful content. 

The Insights Association is the former Market Research association that represents both in-house researchers and research suppliers, but if you really want to geek out on survey methodology check AAPOR.

AAPOR is the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Many marketing, I’m sorry, many academic and government institutions and large commercial market research agencies are members and do a lot of research on research to see what works, and a lot of that is presented at their conferences and webinar. They have big guiding papers they publish on their website.

And on that note, I wanted to leave you with some of the books that I have found helpful in my work as a researcher they have helped me to expand my knowledge and enable me to support UX and marketing teams.