Don’t Confuse UX Research With Product Marketing Research

If most research is like assembling a puzzle, research to improve a digital product is closer to playing a game of chess.

You have to make calculated decisions—and well before you move any pieces at all—about what you wish to achieve, and how each action culminates in a winning game. On top of that, you have to understand the pieces available to you so you know which strategy is the most effective at any given time.

In product research, that’s why you have to master the different kinds of research at your disposal; namely, UX research and product marketing research. Doing so will help you find the information you need, and at the right time in your product’s overall lifecycle.

What’s The Difference?

Let’s start by understanding UX research. Innovatemap Product Strategy & Research Principal Katie Lukes defines UX research as the process of learning from users to inform good design.

UX researchers ultimately want to understand who a product’s users are, including their goals & workflows when using the product. They also want to get to the bottom of what’s causing users pain so the design team can minimize, and eliminate, those obstacles, all while helping users reach their ideal outcomes faster.

Product marketing research, on the other hand, is concerned with investigating what brings your target buyers to your product. While product marketing research isn’t a new concept, design research as a discipline is newly matured. Each takes a more thorough approach than what we saw from traditional marketing research. Plus, with new information changing rapidly, you will be behind the curve if you are not constantly learning and relearning what your users need and want.

Teams also need to be wary of not seeing product marketing research and market research as exactly the same. While market research is a broader discipline, you can think of product marketing research as a subset of market research that takes findings about buyer personas, competitive landscaping, and market validation to define the buyer and the market through the product lens.

A Symbiotic Cycle

What most separates UX research from product marketing research is the groups they seek to understand. UX research cares about the user perspective, while product marketing research strives to uncover the buyer perspective.

Over the course of your product’s lifecycle, UX research and product marketing research need to be in constant conversation with each other. Whether the research is being done in different departments (as in large organizations) or by the same person (what we typically see in startups), your research, and the insights you gain from it, need to stay connected because research follows a symbiotic cycle.

For example, if you’re a pure startup and don’t yet have your product in the market—and therefore don’t have a pool of users to reference—your time and resources should be spent on product marketing research. But once you’ve launched your product and have established your audience, that’s when you should begin your UX research phase. Later, as you try to position your product in a new market or test new messaging, product marketing research comes back into play.

Innovatemap Product Researcher Laurimar Garcia thinks of it this way: imagine you’re trying to sell roller skates, your product. Through market research, you recognize your target buyer lives in a neighborhood and likes to visit their friend down the street. Market research also helps you see the many options your buyer has to get there—they can walk, ride a bike, or hop in the car. One person might care about the convenience of the car; but in your product marketing research, you might uncover more people would consider roller skates because they value staying fit and traveling in style.

Product marketing research will help you uncover what your audience values—convenience vs. staying fit—while UX research will show you the decisions people make after they have experienced your product.

Signals To Examine

To understand whether you need UX research, product marketing research, or something else entirely, start by seeking to understand what it is you need to investigate. The following questions can help you watch for the signals you need to make the best decision:

  • Are you trying to understand your buyer or your user? UX research is concerned with your workflows and how your users experience your product. Product marketing research seeks to understand your buyers’ buying process and what motivates them.
  • What work are you ultimately trying to inform? To better inform product positioning, messaging, brand work, or sales enablement, product marketing research will get you the answers. But if you’re trying to build a product roadmap, create a design, or define product strategy, look to user research.
  • Are you investigating how to reach your customers? Even if buyers don’t exist yet, this question is best answered by product marketing research because this is what opens the door to conversations about what attracts people to your product over competitors.
  • Are you researching competitor prices, features, or messaging? All of this falls under the market research umbrella and needs your attention over the course of your product’s lifecycle. The market is always shifting and will affect your business decisions.

Summary

Research is not a linear process. As your product grows and evolves, the kinds of research tactics you apply should shift to meet the situation before you. After all, the best research—whether product marketing or UX research—is intentional to yield the results you need to move your product forward.

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