Descriptive Market Research

Research questions best answered through quantitative methods

Consider the Rigor in Mixed Methods Market Research
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Descriptive market research and exploratory market research are often categorized as distinct approaches to conducting research studies. And, while that is fundamentally true, it is important to recognize that the two approaches to market research are highly complementary and considerable value can be achieved by using the two approaches together.

What Is a Mixed Methods Approach?

The increased rigor of mixed methods, which is the term for combining qualitative and quantitative methods, is generally considered to be worth the extra effort and worth the extra cost. The main caveat is to be certain that the research question being asked is worthy of the attention it will require and the resources it will consume. In other words, a market research question that is a good match for mixed methods must be the right research question to ask, and it must be the right time to ask the question.

Foundations of Quantitative Market Research

Market researchers use descriptive or quantitative market research to answer a specific question, which may be expressed in the form of a hypothesis when the inquiry is characterized by an evidence-based structure.

Descriptive market research generates findings that are expressed in quantitative terms:

The capacity of descriptive market research to be expressed in quantitative terms is based on empirical assumptions, such as sample size and representativeness, validity, reliability, and mitigation of experimental error.

Descriptive Market Research Designs

Market research that is designed to generate descriptive or quantitative outcomes most often uses one of two design structures: Cross-sectional design or longitudinal design.

Cross-sectional Research Design

A cross-sectional market research study is a type of one-shot inquiry that often utilizes surveys research, distributing a questionnaire to one or more samples of a population at a single defined point in time. Cross-sectional research methods enable the use of the consumer survey instrument on more than one occasion, and sometimes with samples from the same population and sometimes with entirely different samples of a population.

Consider a consumer survey that is conducted for a client's product launch of a consumable item in a retail distribution warehouse such as Costco: Samples of the delicious consumable are offered to shoppers in the warehouse for a limited period of time, and the shoppers are asked to complete a 3-question survey in exchange. The respondents make up a convenience sample simply because they happen to be shopping in the retail warehouse on the day when the free samples of a new consumable product are being offered. It would not be possible to replicate the sample of people surveyed on any given day during the product launch. This is one of the reasons that a cross-sectional research design is considered to be a snapshot of the consumer response to the new product.

Longitudinal Research Design

When the responses of the same sample of respondents are tracked through market research over time, the study design is referred to as longitudinal. 

Consider a client satisfaction survey that is distributed annually by a company: Some of the clients will be the same from year-to-year, and the survey will most likely be disseminated to respondents at the same time each year. Keeping these parameters of the survey's research the same is fundamental to the ability of the company to generate and refer to trends over time. Companies with the budget to support it can purchase access to a consumer panel in order to add stability to their longitudinal market research. This enables a company to keep a finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment and behavior as it relates to a product or brand. Consumer panels can provide weekly or monthly updates about their purchases to the market researcher or to the client directly, which is common for major consumer packaged goods companies like Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever.


Solomon, M.R., Marshall, G. W., Stuart, E. W., Smith, J. B. Charlebois, S., & Shah, B. (2013). Marketing: Real people, real choices (4th Canadian ed.).  Pearson Canada Inc.