Market research is widely understood as the act of conducting surveys and focus groups, and using big data to gather understanding about a market. It is very common in marketing and helps us understand the people inside the market segment, where they live, and what they want.
User research on the other hand, is the process of spending time in the consumer's house and understanding why they do the things they do. It’s like stepping into someone's shoes to view the world from their perspective.
To put simply; Market research is “what the market wants”, and user research is “why the market wants it”.
Us marketer’s certainly need market research to do the job properly. We need to know who the customer is, what they want, and how best to attract and persuade them.
What will make you a great marketer, is to deeply understand “WHY the USER” wants it. Only with this information, can marketers create brands or products that appeal on a deeply emotional level or, solve the need in a completely new way leading to a disruption in the market.
When conducting my own research, I use both methods. Typically, i’ll start with a good old quantitative survey and desktop research to understand the types of people in the market and the general differentiating trends that might be interesting to learn more about with “user research”. From this, I hand pick 5-10 individuals for in-depth interviews typically done face to face in their home or environment which i’m wanting to learn more about.
Conducting user research after traditional qualitative research allows me to understand the market research on a much deeper level.
I’ll give you an example...
Back in 2012 I worked for a company in home brewing. For those of you who know homebrew, it was typically regarded as a bit of hobby that older men who liked cheap beer would undertake to save a few dollars. However, we were noticing a big rise in the interest in beer, and craft beer around the world. Our “market research” also told us that a lot of the interest was with the younger generation.
With this information we set about creating a new brand for an old product hoping to attract this new market. The product was simple. Empty pouch into some water. Add yeast. Wait 2 weeks. Bottle. Drink. We developed some crafty looking branding, packaging and new flavours like “American Pale Ale" to appeal to this new craft brewing trend. We launched the way we always did. Newsletter to our retail stores, social media, brewing trade shows etc. Sales were okay but it was the same older market buying the new stuff. Nothing dramatically different.
It was a year or two later when we did some actual "user" research with extreme users - "hardcore home brewers" in Portland, Oregon, that a few things became clear.
The younger, new generation of potential home brewers wanted to control everything in the beer. Having the ingredients mixed in a pouch didn’t work for them.
This new generation of home brewers wanted to experiment with their own ingredients and recipes. They wanted to make beer like the craft breweries were doing it. They also needed their wives approval on equipment they bought. They needed just the right balance of efficiency and a "hands-on" feeling.
Efficiency, we learnt, meant enough automation and tech so they could juggle being home and looking after kids at the same time as brewing. "Enough hands-on”, meant they wanted to be stirring and adding the ingredients by hand. They needed to feel like they were part of the process.
They were also looking for community and a chance to show off what they had created and learn from others. They typically also had beards and wore t-shirts from their favourite local craft brewery. This was the uniform of their tribe and how they found one another in public.
With user research, we quickly realised we needed to develop a new product category, not just a new brand. In 2014 we launched the world’s first affordable all in one electric home brewing system, The Grainfather.
We spent very little money on advertising and relied heavily on word of mouth and social media to spread the message. We created an "early adopter club" for our first 1000 customers who bought. This appealed to their desire for community and contributed to quickly boosting the brand with vast amounts of brand advocacy.
It hit the market for just under $1000 (about 30 times more than we would sell a brew kit for). The result was phenomenal. We could not keep the product in stock for about two solid years straight.
So, what made this such a success? It was the right combination for market research and user research. Market research helped us to identify a new, emerging market that we could sell to.
User research allowed us to find a disruptive solution to meet the needs uniquely and develop the brand on an emotional level.
It appealed to their sense of identity and belonging that no other brand was doing at the time.