Modern Market Research Methods: A Comprehensive Overview

Emily James

Co-Creating the Future of Survey Participant Exper...

At the recent ASC International Conference, I had the pleasure of running a workshop about the chall...


Paul Hudson

    No matter what may be said about market research, there is one fact that will remain true until the very end: there is no one right tool, application, or process for every research experience or situation. So, in order to build the best market research experience that will deliver the best results and ROI, it is good to know what types of market research methods there are available.

    Tweet from FlexMR Tweet This
    No matter what may be said about market research, the fact remains there is no one right tool, application, or process for every research experience, and there are a lot of methods for consideration.

    Before we dive into the detail of each method, here's a condensed version of the list we'll be discussing. Each of these research methodologies relies on technology in some capacity, and most have only been developed within the last two decades. Although a number of the items on this list are modern, internet enabled variations of traditional pen and paper based methods.

    15 Modern Market Research Methods

    1. Online Surveys. The most accessible research method; a way to gather large volumes of responses in a short time.
    2. Live Chat Focus Groups. In depth qualitative discussions with a group of individuals that prioritises anonymity.
    3. Webcam In-Depth Interviews. Real time and instant reactions from individuals in a one-to-one environment.
    4. Eye Tracking Studies. An emerging method that measures attention and spontaneous, even subconcious responses.
    5. Online Diaries. Regular, repeating tasks that consumers can complete on the go, with image and video extensions.
    6. Smartboards. A method which enables consumers to markup images and generate detailed sentiment heatmaps.
    7. Online Communities. The gold standard for qualitative engagement that balances researcher and participant led feedback.
    8. Mobile Ethnography. Similar to a traditional ethnography, but often self recorded and on-the-go.
    9. Virtual/Augmented Reality. A new space that uses virtual imagery to test consumer responses and reactions.
    10. Gamification. Pioneering research tactics that incorporate gaming feedback loops into traditional research tasks.
    11. Social Media Listening. Picking up on brand or industry trends by analysing huge volumes of social media data.
    12. Scrapbooking. The digital equivelent to cutting and pasting images to create impactful, visual montages.
    13. Biometric Response Research. Measurement of cognitive and emotional stimulation via biological feedback.
    14. Wearable Based Research. Data captured by wearable devices such as smart watches or activity trackers.
    15. Vox Pops. Short, self-recorded videos that capture the essence of consumer feelings and engage stakeholders.

    Below, I'll detail each of these methods in more detail, in addition to their strengths, limitations and explaining how you can fit them in to your existing research strategy. These suggestions cover qualitative, quantitative and even emerging methods that don't quite fit into any conventional category. But research is a constantly evolving process, full of innovation - what's new today will quite possibly be the new standard tomorrow.

    1. Online Surveys

    This first one is a little obvious and a lot self-explanatory. The online survey is the most common quantitative research method around, and is typically comprised of questions that businesses want to ask research participants to get the ‘what’ answers.  

    There are a multitude of online survey tools that we are familiar with, SurveyMonkey is a great example of this, and there are different ranks of online survey tools depending on how much you want to pay, and how much variety you would like within your survey. Our own survey tool allows for variety in order to keep participants engaged for as long as the survey takes. Answer options such as Visuals, sliders, drag and drop and card sort gamification all allow for a more enhanced participant experience.

    2. Live Chat Focus Groups

    Focus groups are like online surveys, in that they seem to be a timeless traditional research method, but this one is great for gathering qualitative data directly from the mouths of participants. These particular focus groups allow data to be gathered in real-time with a formidable connection built up between the researchers and the participants for contextual purposes.

    These focus groups can take place either online (through tools such as our own) to eliminate any geographical obstructions, or in-person to strengthen the connection between the participants and the researchers through physical proximity.

    3. Webcam In-Depth Interview

     This is considered the online version of traditional in-depth interview. This typically consists of a one-to-one chat between researcher and participant and allows the participant to really go into depth about their experiences without the possible contamination of other participants.

    Pure data such as this can be likened to survey data, but with context to inform it further. Maximum depth is reached through threaded discussions and timing flexibility to accommodate busy respondents.

    4. Eye Tracking

    This innovative technique is used to measure consumer attention and spontaneous responses, typically to marketing messages but can also be used to capture the most eye-catching product placements and ranking the importance of aspects such as price, ingredients/composition, and image attraction.

    The usual use-cases for these results is to improve design communication and shopping experiences, but it can have more practical uses too. For example, within architecture or construction fields, this can be used within emergency simulations, which will provide insights as to where best to put emergency exits for efficient evacuations.

    5. Online Diaries

    This is a technique that allows for more accurate insights to be gathered over a long period of time. Online diary research presents us with a window into our participant’s day-to-day lives and can be conducted on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Tools such as ours allows, not just text-based diary entries, but also video diaries and survey-types questions which can be answered by participants through multimedia on a regular basis to add variety and enhance the research experience.

    6. Smartboards

    This visual qualitative method enables participant collaboration within concept-testing tasks. Participants work together, sentiment tagging images and video-stills with their comments, creating a heatmap of consumer opinion of marketing, product, and service material.

    Each one of these tools will vary in ability, but FlexMR’s SmartboardMR allows participants to comment on each other’s tags to add their opinion to the mix, either agreeing or disagreeing with author’s choice of tag. This debate enables researchers to gain an in-depth understanding into their customer’s minds and behaviours, drawing out insights along with the relevant context from one short task. 

    7. Online Communities

    These dedicated communities encourages peer-to-peer interaction for the continuous generation of insights, even without a structured research experience. Participants can join without the traditional geographical obstacles and contribute as much of their story as they would like. The closeness this platform provides enables accurate and actionable insights to be drawn from natural conversations between participants in online spaces such as forums and blogs.

    These platforms can be accessed via mobile or desktop and are monitored by researchers for both safeguarding and insight generation purposes, so the space remains safe and enjoyable for all involved. This technique can be used as a standalone method, or in conjunction with scheduled research tasks to enhance the value of the insights generated by allowing further informal discussions outside of the task.

    8. Mobile Ethnography

    Traditional ethnography was used within Anthropology to learn more about cultures and societies; mobile ethnography is an evolution of this that is used within market research. Ethnographic research can include surveys such as is outlined above, or it can be very creative, as is outlined by our CIO’s blog.

    Research methods such as diary studies and online communities, but all from a participant’s mobile phone. Research Apps such as Indeemo accurately display the value of in-the-moment insights, reminder notifications, and other benefits associated with mobile research.

    9. Virtual/Augmented Reality

    This is a topic that FlexMR has already covered once, in another blog, but it is worth mentioning as these techniques grow in popularity and effectiveness. VR and AR are incredibly useful for research tasks that require a visualisation of concepts in particular, as it provides an immersive experience that engages the participants which is more likely to generate detailed, actionable insights.

    Companies such as Touchstone Research have already incorporated VR into their arsenal. They have used it to conduct sentiment reports, concept testing, usability testing, surveys, and in-person focus groups and in-depth interviews. This example shows just how much value VR and AR have within the industry at the moment, but also how much potential there still is for this sub-research industry to grow into.

    10. Gamification

    Another notable research technique that VR and AR enables, is that of gamification. This is still a little bit of a stretch for market research solutions at the moment, but there are other gamification techniques that can be applied to existing research methods like surveys and focus groups. Betty Adamou’s guidance on this topic can be gained from within her book ‘Games and Gamification in Market Research’ where there is an interesting section of VR and AR in gamifying research to become more engaging and effective in the ease of recognition of emotional insights.

    However, gamification research doesn’t have to be conducted through VR or AR. Computer games or board games are still viable and somewhat cheaper techniques that are just as effective if not more, due to the wider audience it appeals to. This type of research encourages participants to provide particularly candid data and insights on products and services.

    11. Social Media Listening

    This is a bit of a controversial topic that some researchers swear by and others condemn mercilessly. Both sides of the argument have merit. One stated benefit of social media listening is that you can hear what your customers really think of a product or service. This statement has some flaws, but overall there will be customers out there who use social media like a review site in order to express their opinion on their experience with your brand.

    In any case, while social media might not provide truly accurate insights, it is a good technique to use if you want to get a sense of what people are saying about your brand. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly can be viewed from social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, but it can be used to view for free what rumours or conversations are being spread around about your brand.

    12. Scrapbooking

    The artistic nature of this research task allows participants to be creative and fully engaged with the exercise at hand. Scrapbooking is exactly what it sounds like and can be done both online and offline depending on what tools a brand wants to use and where their participants are located geographically.

    This task can be done individually or as a group exercise depending on the objectives of the research. The more artistic the participants are feeling, the better their work will embody their emotions and true thoughts. FlexMR’s online scrapbooking tool allows both participants and moderators to comment on the scrapbook final images for each participant, therefore sparking debate and further insights when needed.

    13. Biometric Response Research

    This is a bit of an odd one that might not be too well-known. Biometrics is an emerging market research field, spinning off from neuromarketing research. This type of research enables researchers to track and record a participant’s cognitive and emotional responses towards certain stimuli. This type of research is predominantly used within X- and UI-type research, however businesses like Expedia are using it in innovative ways in order to discover the secrets to travel booking patterns among consumers.

    The techniques within this research method include: FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging which is used to measure activity win the brain), EEG (Electroencephalogram, which detects brain wave activities on a subconscious level), Observational Analytics (which involved examining participants’ reactions toward a certain stimuli), Heart-rate monitoring (self-explanatory), and Facial coding (reading a participant’s tur facial expressions).

    14. Wearable-based Research

    The potential opportunity for market research within wearable tech comes in the form of real-time passive data collection from existing wearables, or active data collection from specifically-made wearables designed to track various responses.

    The wearable tech that allows for passive data collection is the option most researchers go for as it provides a copious amount of in-the-moment insights with minimal effort. However, there is still a chance for researchers to request specific types of data from the participant while they are completing tasks through photos and videos. This is a more natural experience for participants and researchers with minimal interference on either end.

    15. Vox Pops 

    Vox Pops, or Vox Populi, are short insightful interviews with research participants which can occur in-the-moment on the street or in response to a research ask online. This technique can be a convenient way of receiving candid feedback in a short space of time, and has grown so much in popularity that there are entire organisations dedicated to the method.

    The “Man on the Street” vox pops are typically one of the most convenient as they take a minimal amount of time out of the consumer’s life and may offset any selection bias that might occur within an online vox pop. However, this is limited to the consumers within the geographical boundary of the researcher, however online, vox pops can be recorded and sent in without the obstacles of geographical location and can still be as effective.

    Tweet from FlexMR Tweet This
    There are an ever-increasing amount of market research methods to discover as the industry evolves, and it has become impossible to name them all. What methods do you think should be on this list?


    There are many other research methods that have not been named within this blog; however, the widespread selection above provides a great many opportunities for effective market research to be done and also provides a comprehensive understanding of how the industry is evolving while maintaining the most effective forms of research. Each method can be used on its own or alongside other methods to enhance the research experience for both researcher and participant.

    Other research methods that I would have liked to have put on the list are behavioural economic research methods, such as Market Inefficiencies and Heuristics-based techniques, and AI-based research methods such as chatbots. But the question is, what research methods do you think should have been on the list?

    New call-to-action

    You might also like...

    Blog Featured Image Header

    Market Research Room 101: Round 2

    On Thursday 9th May 2024, Team Russell and Team Hudson duelled in a panel debate modelled off the popular TV show Room 101. This mock-gameshow-style panel, hosted by Keen as Mustard Marketing's Lucy D...

    8 MIN READ
    Blog Featured Image Header

    Delivering AI Powered Qual at Scale...

    It’s safe to say artificial intelligence, and more specifically generative AI, has had a transformative impact on the market research sector. From the contentious emergence of synthetic participants t...

    7 MIN READ
    Blog Featured Image Header

    How to Use Digital Ethnography and ...

    In one way or another, we’ve all encountered social media spaces. Whether you’ve had a Facebook account since it first landed on the internet, created different accounts to keep up with relatives duri...

    7 MIN READ