What’s the difference between UX research and market research?

Posted on May 5, 2023
3 min read

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It's tempting to rely on existing market research rather than new user research to inform product decisions. After all, market research is available at your disposal, whereas conducting UX research requires a heavier lift.

Market research is an incredible resource, but it isn't enough on its own. Similarly, UX research should be supported and complemented by market research. The best results happen when the two are used in tandem.

In this piece, we're exploring the difference between UX research and market research so you can decide how you'd like to use both.

How are market research and UX research different?

Market research targets information related to the sales of a product. According to the American Marketing Association, this research helps a company “identify and define marketing opportunities and problems; generate, refine, and evaluate marketing actions; monitor marketing performance; and improve understanding of marketing as a process.”

For example, if your product is a fitness tracker app, market researchers want to know how the branding feels. They want to know what other fitness trackers are on the market and how this app compares.

Market researchers also want to know how people react to and rate the app, as well as how likely they are to spend money on it.

UX research (sometimes called user research) identifies information about how a product fits people’s wants, needs, and abilities. UX researchers collect and synthesize information about user behavior. They capture information about the use environment, potential barriers to use, and a number of other factors.

In the example of a fitness tracker app, UX researchers would want to know what kind of problems people run into when trying to track their workouts using other apps or methods.

UX researchers also want to observe what happens when people interact with the app — are they making mistakes that can be aided by better design? Does the app meet their requirements for what they need a fitness tracker to do? Who is the app for and how are their needs covered – is it useful for only physically fit people, or can it be helpful for people in physical therapy, for example?

Analyzing attitudes vs. Analyzing behavior

Market research techniques are often attitudinal — meaning they measure what people openly report about what they think, feel, and do.

Attitudinal measures are useful for learning things like what people are likely to buy. The problem with collecting only attitudinal measures is that humans often have a hard time expressing their true opinions. We don’t always know why we think or do things. Without knowing it, people often give biased information if they want to impress or please the researcher. Answers can depend on mood, as well.

To go beyond attitudinal measures, UX researchers uncover insights by understanding actual behavior. We listen to what people say, but we also observe what they do when they interact with a product.

And when we ask questions, we narrow in on specific behaviors. In the example of the fitness tracker app, we ask how many hours per week do people use their fitness tracker app? How often do they forget to track things? Do people take their phone and the app with them during a workout, or do they log workouts afterward? What specific information do people want to track for their fitness goals and how can we present information in a way that is motivating and easy to understand?

Focus groups vs. Interviews

The interaction style with research participants can be different depending on whether the context is market research or UX research.

Market researchers often use methods like focus groups and surveys to gather information about opinions. These are useful methods because they enable researchers to collect a lot of data quickly and inexpensively. If you want to gather general information for how people respond to something or want to collect numerical ratings, focus groups and surveys are the way to go.

UX researchers rarely schedule focus groups and often only use surveys early in a discovery phase. Although focus groups can be powerful, they can often be dominated by just a few personalities.

Interviews can be better than focus groups and surveys for getting honest information and personal stories to dive deeply into what users want and need. One-on-one interviews and product testing are opportunities to learn how users will interact with a product in a natural setting.

Conclusion

Both market research and UX research are important, but require different approaches and methods. Crucially, UX research deliverables are different from market research deliverables, and UX research tools can be different from the tools used in market research. Although the end goal for both is to delight and engage users, market research focuses more on the general landscape whereas UX research focuses on the users wants, needs, and desires.

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