How To Integrate Market Research and UX Research for Desired Business Outcomes

Summary: Watch Michaela Mora, founder of Relevant Insights, at the 2022 X Event Conference by the Insights Association, discussing the current state of the relationship between market research and UX research, misconceptions about market research, and introducing integrated research insights framework that helps strengthen the value of research to support business outcomes.

28 minute video. By author Michaela Mora on February 22, 2023
Topics: Business Strategy, Market Research, UX Research

Market research and UX research integration are crucial to providing actionable insights and impacting business outcomes. Unfortunately, the Market Research/Insights and UX Research functions have been growing apart for some time now. Each team assumes it is doing something different without realizing the existing overlaps. They work in silos at the risk of eroding the value of the research function for the business and risking their jobs in the gamble.

Watch this presentation at the 2022 X Event Conference by the Insights Association, in which Michaela Mora, founder of Relevant Insights discusses the current state of the relationship between market research and UX research, misconceptions about market research, and introduces integrated research insights framework that helps strengthen the value of research to support business outcomes.

What Is Research All About?


At the highest level, research is concerned with understanding the needs of customers or users, as they call it in UX research, in UX in general, and so we can help companies develop products and services to meet those needs.

The first thing that comes to mind for a customer is, what’s in it for me? They don’t care a lot about the features, but what the teachers do for them, and even when we ask them about product features as we do in our research, if you listen carefully, you will hear that they speak in terms of the perceived benefits of the problems that they may be anticipating.

Why am I talking about the integration of market research and UX research? I have been in the industry for a long time. I have been doing user research before UX was a thing or an acronym, and things have changed a lot, not all of them for the better.

The Problem with Market Research and UX Research Silos


As the UX research field has grown, so has the gap between the traditional market research function and UX teams doing research. Many companies don’t even have a market research function connected to marketing. In companies that are so lucky and visionary that they can have both teams, you see these two groups working in silos. They don’t talk to each other, they don’t communicate, each doing its own thing without sharing goals, business goals connected to business outcomes.

The problem is that when these two groups don’t work together, a fragmented view, image of the customer shows up, which makes it hard to defend the value of research in the C-suite when we come up with contradictory insights.

It’s not uncommon to see a UX team researching an interface interaction, to improve the experience for a product without knowing if there is a need for that product, while the market research team might be doing concept testing and coming for new ideas but not going far enough to understand how the interactions may have an effect, how that user experience may affect the initial trial or repeat purchase or usage later on.

When those contradictions come up in the discussion with stakeholders, the first thing they do is start questioning the value of their research. So, I’m concerned about the future of our profession and where we’re going with this.

Management usually doesn’t know how those two groups should be working together. There is no incentive, no space, and no structure to facilitate this. So they keep doing their own thing, duplicating efforts many times, wasting resources, and not working in a complementary way.

Misconceptions about Market Research


One issue we have is that the market research profession has an image problem. There are misconceptions and a narrow view of what market research is. Many don’t know, in the UX community, what market research is. They usually think it is surveys, quantitative research, or to support marketing and sales, which seems to be a bad thing in UX.

I have heard comments that we don’t do qualitative research or that we don’t care about product research. There’s no notion that market researchers have been doing product research for decades in the physical world.

This is a result of our industry being very slow to react to the need of product research in the digital channel, so that gap has been filled by designers and developers, and product managers without a research background. Somebody has to do it, and we are not paying attention to them. Again, it’s about the survival of our profession.

Many don’t know that market research is an interdisciplinary field. Even some people in our industry forget about that because they specialize. We specialize. There are a lot of specialties. They have grown out of the need for answering problems and questions the companies have. They get really specific, and so many of us are working in a particular field.  Some companies do more of one or the other, but let’s not forget that Product is one of the pillars of marketing. Without a product, there’s nothing to market.

Just to be clear, if there is any doubt, market research includes qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Even if we specialize, if your company only does one or the other, don’t think that’s the whole field. There’s more to it. There are some areas where there’s overlap. Market researchers think that UX researchers are doing something different. UX researchers think they’re doing something unique. They’re not. They’re doing the same thing with some specificities. There are just a lot of adaptations of the same techniques.

The Current Narrow Scope of UX Research


Another problem we have is the actual definition of UX, which stands for user experience. Before it became an acronym in the last few years, the user experience term was used, started being used in the 90s at Apple. It was used to refer to the general state of mind developed by multiple interactions, not necessarily with digital products, with physical products, Apple computers, and with customer service, even with marketing which set expectations about the product.

The problem is that over time, over the years that the field of UX research has become narrow and narrow. Now, UX researchers tend to work on just studying digital interactions between users and some type of digital interface. They tend to work with prototypes and some, many levels of resolution, and now there is more and more the need for discussion about the need for discovery research, which is another name for what we call in market research, exploratory research, trying to understand the needs of the users before launching into product development, which is a basic question, you would think.

It’s always been a basic question in the product research that market researchers have to undertake. No marketing team is going to go out there and launch a product without knowing if it is a market for it, and what its viability is.

But even the discussions about including discovery research tends to be a little bit narrow and connected to the customer journey in a digital channel.

A Holistic Definition of The Customer Journey


The view of the customer journey usually depends on how close you are looking at the interactions.

We adopt a holistic view of the customer journey as a multiple set of interactions across various touch points, across channels in the journey from no customer to customer, staying a customer, and even stopping being a customer.

A customer may interact with an organization of one or more touch points within the faces of the purchase cycle, pre-sale or pre-purchase, depending how who’s talking about this, but it’s the pre-, during, and the post-, after, which is where normally a lot of UX research is done because the user experience with the product is part of the post-sales process.

Interactions happen in different channels, and the channel is just the medium in which this happens. It could be the store, the website, the app, the email communications you get from the brand, and even the advertising that you’re exposed to. The thing is that customer journeys rarely go in straight lines, and they rarely fit organizational charts with siloed departments.

If you ever buy something from Best Buy, think of all the interactions you have had with them, buying at the store, buying online, picking a store, using their app, price shopping, and getting the daily promotional emails. All of that influences your brand awareness and your propensity to consider them and buy from them in your next round of electronic purchases.

Customers don’t think in channels. They decide to buy or not buy from you based on an accumulation of experiences. We, as researchers, want to separate them, but that’s not the reality from the user’s perspective.

All those borders between the channels, the website, the store, the app, all that melts in people’s minds in this general, kind of overall experience. That sometimes goes to the bad end, and sometimes goes to the good end, depending on the recency of the interactions or saliency of the interactions. But the overall experience is usually a result of a halo effect of the omnichannel experience.

That integrated experience from the user’s perspective, I suggest to you, is the main reason we should strive for an integration of insights in all the research we do. It doesn’t matter the group doing it.

Research & Business Outcomes


When I think of integrated research insights, I keep coming back to the textbook definition of market research. Market research, now it’s like a bad word, but the definition has not changed. It’s to identify, collect, analyze, and use information, doesn’t say anything about the methods, to make business decisions.

There is a notion sometimes in the UX community, when I talk to them, that they should care only about improving the user experience and not much about business outcomes. If you have been long enough in this industry, you know that if that research doesn’t help the business, the business is not going to invest in the research.

Even the companies that do research and value research, don’t do enough, they don’t invest enough in the research they should be doing, so again this is about the survival of our profession.

A Framework for Integrated Research Insights


Today, I’m proposing this integrated framework, at a very high level, based on two main principles: diversity and integration.


When I talk about diversity, I’m starting with the basics of having a diverse team in all potential dimensions that you can afford, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, region, culture, etc. because they bring different perspectives. It’s not as important to do the research but what happens after when you need to analyze it. You need people from different perspectives that can keep a check on all the biases we have.

We need diversity of skills in the team, and ideally, if they come with experiences from adjacent research disciplines with different perspectives, the better.

Then you combine that with a diversity of methodologies. We know that not one method is going to give you all the answers. No method is perfect. We should have an arsenal of qualitative and quantitative methods that we can use to select a fit-for-purpose method for the problem that we have at hand, but to do that you have to have a team who can use those methods, so you see, everything is connected.

Finally, I know that the Do-It-Yourself research trend is alive and strong, particularly in the UX community. In my own experience, of more than 20 years in the industry, I can tell you that a hybrid model of collaboration between internal research teams and vendors is usually the best, works best for the quality of the research, for learning, for the sustainability of the research team, than just the team doing everything internally or just relegating everything to suppliers.

The Opportunity Cost of Do-It-Yourself Research

The Do-It-Yourself research may look cheaper and faster on the surface, but there is an opportunity cost to it that’s many times overlooked and not discussed. If people don’t see cash out, it’s like it doesn’t exist. It’s magic, but it’s there, and it has long-term consequences for the quality of the research and the team.


All the diversity in the world, and the team, and the methods, and the skills, and everything, is a necessary condition but is not enough. You need to get something to put them together.

I suggest to you that a team can work effectively together by sharing business goals connected to business outcomes, shared terminology, and at least a shared knowledge of the basics of research.

Another huge problem I encounter when I talk to UXers is the big terminology inflation in that field. It’s very hard to have a conversation without a lot of misunderstandings. All concepts are relabeled with new words that have other connotations, so there’s a lot of misunderstanding. A lot of knowledge is lost because nobody now knows where to go back to the roots of it.

So, once you have those first three, then you have a foundation to be able to work in complementary ways; with the skills and the perspectives, they can now collaborate within the team.

The goal is to integrate the elements the same way we would put together a salad. Each ingredient keeps its own identity while adding flavor, texture, and color to the whole salad, but it’s kept together by the salad dressing.

Our salad dressing is our shared goals, business goals. Remember, we have to make money to stay in business. Even non-profit organizations need that. You also need the shared terminology and shared knowledge of the research fundamentals. The Do-It-Yourself trend took off in the early 2000s when online survey tools came to market and really exploded.

I was one of the first adopters. I remember my time with SurveyMonkey, and that coincided with my time when I went to work with I worked there with a small integrated team doing both market research and user research. We had an in-house usability lab. We worked internally, did a lot of things internally, and also collaborated with vendors.

Blockbuster Online – A Case Study


In my next job at Blockbuster Online, it was even better because I could see this integrated framework come to life and really work. When I came to Blockbuster, the business outcome was really clear. During that time Netflix was only 5 million subscribers, and renting movies online was a very niche segment. There was still room for another competitor in the market,

The management team was really clear about what they needed, and what they wanted, and it was a very strong supporter of research, a champion. They didn’t want to go to board meetings or anything without really having data, nothing about gut feelings. We had some A-types in the team who thought they knew everything but still were smart enough to refrain themselves and realize we needed real evidence to make our decisions.

When I got there it was just me, first, and then when it got to be too much and I was able to hire someone. We created a big research plan that would touch every touch point across all channels because we needed new customers. That was the mission. Find your customers, find new opportunities.

We did many rounds of qualitative research trying to find growth opportunities in how people used their free time, what entertainment options they had, and what unmet needs they had.

A lot of ideas came out that needed validation and trying to figure out who was interested in those ideas so we went into a big segmentation study, a two-step segmentation study. We started seeing two segments coming up and telling us there is potential here.

One of the ideas came back growing legs right in front of our eyes. At that time, most people either were renting in the store or there was a little tiny group just renting online, but there was a big mass in the middle that was already exposed to Blockbuster Online and Netflix, and they wanted both.

We did so much research on that thing! Concept testing, quant and qual, we had to redesign the website and create prototypes. I even set up a usability lab in-house with a one-way mirror. We had to create that product from scratch, did pricing research, tons of conjoining studies trying to figure out the portfolio, the combination of options while also defining the brand positioning, and how we were going to be launching this, how we were going to be talking about this.

We tested many marketing collaterals. One of them was the mailer. The mailer is the envelope where we would send movies through the mail.

And for that mailer, we got 200 design versions. All schools of thought in graphic design for that little envelope. Then we have to go like four rounds of research until the last piece was a big MaxDiff study just to find the one. The winner had 70 percent preference, and the second was like 30 percent, so it was a no-brainer. And all of that, all that research was done with a team of two and a small army of vendors. We did more than 60 studies in less than two years, and if you don’t remember, or never heard of Blockbuster Total Access, I’m going to show you a little commercial that summarizes all our research in 30 seconds.

Blockbuster Online Commercial


Two years of research in 30 seconds. To get to those key points, those key benefits, and ways to explain that, in an easy way, took all that research.

We launched the first day, 20 000 people came to our door, to the website. It crashed. The best day ever because we know we had people there, hot bodies knocking at the door. We grew 1.5 million subscribers in nine months. It was like giving birth, and we beat Netflix in the stock market for a couple of quarters.

Sadly, a new management team arrives. They don’t know digital, they don’t understand the digital channel. They come from the retail side. They couldn’t care about all the research we did. This is what happens when you don’t have champions of research in the C-suite. That’s when you really need to have them out there, really championing for you, and you have to be consistent and to the point, so they decided to close the Online division two months after they arrived. Where is Blockbuster now?

Still, this was the best job ever in my career, because I could see research insights in action. I could see the integration of what I’m talking about before we got into the UX silos and all the fights and tension and hostility between our two disciplines. This is what you need in the long run. If we continue that way, it’s going to damage everybody.

Drivers of Research Value Erosion


I want to leave you with a reminder here that the value of research erodes for those who are new to UX research, who haven’t been in the industry for a long time, I have seen this come in waves, and so it’s gonna erode if it is not connected to a business outcome, the business problem. You can strive for the best user experience in the world; if it doesn’t help the business, it’s not going to go anywhere.

If it’s driven by methods. There’s a little bit of an obsession with tools and methods in UX at this time. It should be driven by information needs, and then those determine what methods we need to use.

If it’s not at the end connected and translated into actionable insights.

As I said before, I’m worried about the future of our profession, but I think we have a great opportunity, and this is a growing field. There are a lot of opportunities where we can make it better and showcase the value of research through the collaboration between Market researchers and UX researchers. Thank you.