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The love story between market research and user research

Nikki Lavoie EVP Innovation & Strategy 03/30/2023
A bit of background

For a long while, many in the market research sector typically had little awareness of the related discipline known as user research, for good reason: market research assessed things like market opportunities, pricing, and marketing communications, while user research assessed things like usability, wireframe/prototype testing and A/B testing.

Over time, however, both disciplines have evolved tremendously.

During the last 15 years, market research has seen a big shift in how data is collected, analysed, and shared. With significant advancements in technology, #restech revolutionised everything from sampling to surveys to focus group discussions. Participants became easier to access, surveys went from pen and paper to mouse and screen, and analysis took on new life.

As those progressions unfolded, market researchers began adjusting their approaches, and both qualitative and quantitative methodologies experienced a renaissance of sorts, with research buyers reaping the rewards. Thanks to the greater ease of execution, market research techniques were able to be applied to much more than the standard questions of old but were benefitting teams cross-functionally across the savvier organisations.

At the same time, user research – which had always been closely tied with technology due to its origins in improving soft and hardware experiences for people – also began seeing its toolset expand. The technology companies who were focused on user experience started to understand the importance of evaluating a holistic user journey and new uses for the discipline were explored in a cross-functional context.

Undoubtedly, somewhere in the mix were a few avant-garde organisations whose user and market researchers crossed paths. But their rather rigid definitions of those operations only revealed a limited number of similarities across their work.

Where we are now

Recently, though, this has all begun to change. The Venn diagram of what makes up user and makes market research has become increasingly overlapped. Many of the same tools and platforms are engaged for both, many of the methodologies are the same or very similar, and many of the objectives are closely aligned. What were once two totally separate disciplines are now often treated as siblings in the same family (within organisations who prioritise human-led principles).

But some key differences remain. Stakeholders are typically found within completely different teams, deliverables are often different in terms of length, format, and output style, the education and training vary, and the budgets and importance placed on each are often viewed through different lenses.

Why should you care?

As organisations look to streamline budgets, there will be a greater need for researchers to underscore their value. One such approach could be to provide insights across a variety of functions and stakeholders – with some organisations already working to merge their UX and MRX units.

Plus, new tools are continuing to emerge, with generative AI pushing the boundaries of our current capabilities. Alongside this (as with the wave of “DIY products”) will surely come a further democratisation of research. Whether it be in synthesis and output more easily shared and referenced, or in approaches that enable richer insights from new or previously hard-to-reach communities, the separation of market and user research will begin to fade as the edge of these two insight-generating families disappears.

What is the optimal way for market and user research to collaborate and lead the way in driving truly human(ity)-led products and services?

The conversation is an essential one, and we are intending to pioneer it.

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