Market Research or UX Research?

Understanding the differences, and which best meets your needs.

5 min readJul 26, 2018


We often hear the question, “What’s the difference between market research and user experience (UX) research? Aren’t they the same thing?” While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are important distinctions regarding when they are applied, who/what is being studied, and the types of business problems they solve.

To determine which one is right for you, we recommend identifying your business problem first. For instance, if you have little confidence in your product’s marketability, you’re looking at a market research problem. However, if you’re confident in your product’s marketability, but you’re not meeting business goals, you’ll want to better understand your customers’ behaviors through user experience research.

Let’s take a deeper dive into this to help better understand the differences.

When should you apply market research vs. user experience research?
In general, market research is geared toward understanding purchasing behavior and preferences around products and messaging. It is a means of gathering demographic and attitudinal information, addressing the questions of whether there is a need for the product in the market, who will buy it, and the best way to reach a target audience. Ultimately, it can provide insight into the viability and market strategy for a product.

While market research is oriented around selling customers products, UX focuses on the interaction between customers and products. Through various qualitative and quantitative methods, from moderated interviews to data analytics, user experience researchers identify the ways in which people are using a product, problems they encounter during the process, and unmet needs within the existing model. This information helps to inform design solutions, which are followed up with iterative testing to ensure the product or service is aligned with users’ expectations and needs. These methods help to improve issues around customer service complaints, high drop-off rates, low satisfaction scores, or a general desire to make a product more modern, approachable, and user-friendly.

What information is being studied?
Market research focuses on whether a product should be brought to market and user experience examines how people will interact with it once available. Aimed at predicting purchasing behavior and what could be profitable, market research identifies gaps in the existing landscape and the products a company can launch to fill them. A toy company, for instance, may believe that young girls would be interested in building toy cars, so through online surveys or perhaps a focus group of mothers, market research can help determine whether this build-your-own-car line could be profitable.

User experience research, on the other hand, is less concerned with what people say and more concerned with what they do. Understanding how customers behave when engaging with a product helps to uncover unknown needs and gives direction on how it should be designed. UX research employs a number of methods to understand the user experience, namely ethnographies and usability testing, where a user can be observed doing the various tasks a customer is likely to perform. A user test with Flyby Airlines, for example, may uncover that users are going to the site most frequently to look at ticket prices, but it’s taking them four clicks to get there. A UX designer could then surface that tool to the main page, saving the user time and decreasing the drop-off rate. UX research also flags any existing problems to address for a smoother and more intuitive experience. So in this same example, let’s say UX research found that customers’ travel plans tend to be flexible. Yet, when customers try to change the dates, it erases their departing airport and destination. A UX designer might use this intel to incorporate a side-by-side price comparison for different dates, not only fixing the airport issue, but also accommodating the newly discovered need to compare prices on travel dates! This example shows how the research feeds into the design to solve the business problem while improving the customer experience.

What business problems do each address?
Market research uncovers the audience for a product or service and user experience explores how to make it more desirable to them. Through large-scale surveys and analyses of secondary data, market researchers can determine a viable market for a product, narrowing down a broad population into a specific demographic (gender, age, economic status, location) that is most likely to purchase or use it. Based on the size and purchasing power of this segment, a company can gauge whether a product ought to be launched. They also use this information to target that segment through advertising, messaging, and package design, among other things.

User Experience research focuses on the existing user base to uncover ways in which the product can appeal to and accommodate those operating it. For that reason, UX research requires a smaller sample size than market research and explores the deeper and more specific thoughts and behaviors of those engaging with a product. This information helps tailor the product design to the appropriate audience, making it more desirable to the target demographic.

How is the research landscape changing?
According to the Walker 2020 Progress Report, by the year 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Meaning, that to win over customers in this highly competitive market, a company needs more than a great slogan or innovative idea. They need a product that offers a fluid experience and is enjoyable to use. Your business may be the BEST in the industry at offering tailored suits, but if your website makes it hard to envision the sizes or impossible to make a purchase, users won’t stick around to figure out the benefits. The perspective of UX greatly widens the capabilities of researching the user’s engagement with the product, especially aspects that have proven to be most important in translating to satisfaction and sales.

We hope this has helped you gain a better understanding of whether your business would benefit from market research or user experience research. If you would like to chat more about the differences or discuss a user experience need, contact us to start the conversation.

Author: Leah Samuelson, Senior Experience Researcher
Leah is a Senior Experience Researcher at Ogilvy. With a background in market research and a Master of Science in Applied Psychology from the University of Southern California, Leah employs user-centered design research with a focus on uncovering trends and identifying the intangible thoughts and behaviors of the customer.