Survey Research

Communication tools make it easier for marketers to conduct survey research and learn about customer behaviour. Compared to other research approaches, survey research is a reliable way to collect customer data without exhausting the company's financial and human resources. Read along to learn more about survey research and how it can help a company improve its performance. 

Survey Research Survey Research

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Table of contents

    Survey Research Definition

    Survey research is one of the primary data collection methods. It involves asking a group of people for their opinions on a topic.

    Survey research can help marketers obtain valuable insights about customers, including their attitudes, preferences, and buying behaviour.

    Survey research involves asking customers about their attitudes, preferences, and buying behaviour.

    The main benefit of survey research is flexibility. Marketers can send out surveys on many occasions and through various forms, including email, mobile, online or in-person.

    However, responses from surveys are not always reliable. The customer may not remember the full details of their actions and provide inaccurate information. In other cases, they may answer untruthfully to appear intelligent and well-informed. Some customers may feel their privacy is invaded when the researcher probes them with personal questions.

    Check out our explanation of Primary data collection to learn about other primary research approaches.

    Types of Survey Research

    There are three main types of survey research:

    1. Exploratory research

    2. Descriptive research

    3. Causal research

    Exploratory research

    Exploratory research reveals ideas and insights about a group of customers.

    This kind of research allows researchers to define the issue better, recognise opportunities and eventually come up with a solution.

    Exploratory research is less about collecting numerical data and more about engaging deeply with customers. Researchers usually ask open-ended questions to allow the subjects to express themselves freely. The responses to open-ended questions can reveal rich and quality information about the surveyed topic.

    Respondents cannot answer open-ended questions with a simple yes or no. It requires a detailed response based on customers' unique perspectives.

    Descriptive research

    Descriptive research is structured research that expects the surveyee to provide one of the pre-selected answers.

    This type of research collects statistical data that can be measured and turned into charts for spotting trends.

    Some examples of descriptive research questions are multiple-choice and Likert Scales.

    Likert Scale questions require respondents to give a rating, usually from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 5 (Strongly Agree).1

    Causal research

    The final type of survey research is causal research.

    Like descriptive research, causal research is pre-planned and structured. However, its goal is to explain the cause-and-effect relationships between variables rather than collecting customer opinions.

    Which variable is the cause? Which variable shows the effect? How does the change in one variable affect the other? These are the questions that causal research seeks to answer.

    Causal research is primarily based on experiments. Suppose descriptive research surveys a customer group to gain insights on a specific issue, causal research tests the subjects under different treatments to reveal the cause-and-effect relationships.

    In researching how new packaging affects customer satisfaction, a company can keep the old packaging in one store and use the new one in a second store. After some time, they can survey customers in these two stores to see if the new packaging improves customer experience.

    Cause-and-effect relationship in market research

    The cause-and-effect relationship is one where one event happens before another. In research, this relationship is studied among two or more variables. The variable that does not change when other variables change is an independent variable (the cause). The variable that changes as the other variable changes the dependent variable (the effect).

    The purpose of causal research is to determine which variable is dependent and which is independent, then examine the relationship between them.

    Market Research Survey

    A market research survey is a way of acquiring data about the target market. The information collected can then be used to develop new products or design marketing campaigns.

    Market research surveys remove the guesswork from the equation and provide customers with what they actually want. With a better understanding of the target audience, the company can develop a winning positioning and compelling marketing messages to attract the right customers.

    Uses of surveys in market research

    Marketers can use surveys in market research to gather basic demographic information about customers, like age, gender, location, income, etc., and deeper insights such as ideas, opinions, preferences, challenges, etc.2

    These insights can help the business improve existing or new products, construct a marketing mix, and create a brand story.

    Researchers can use surveys from other researchers (secondary data) or create new surveys (primary data) to answer a specific research question.

    Survey Research Methods

    The three main survey research methods are:

    1. Online

    2. Phone

    3. Face-to-face

    Online survey

    Online surveying is the cheapest form of research. The researcher doesn't need to meet and talk to the customer directly. Instead, they can send surveys via email, websites, or social media. The data collection is quick and accurate. However, there's no guarantee that customers will answer the survey.


    Another way to survey customers is to call them on a mobile phone to discuss a topic in-depth. Phone surveys have a higher chance of response than online surveys, but the customer may feel annoyed if the interviewer calls them at inconvenient times. Also, landline calls can cost money and require qualified staff to conduct them effectively.


    Face-to-face surveys or interviews mean meeting with customers in person or online. The interviews can last up to an hour, allowing researchers to collect the most detailed and quality customer information. Nowadays, video-sharing software such as Zoom or Google Meet allows interviewers to conduct interviews in any location, free of charge.

    Survey Research Example

    Examples of information collected through survey research:

    • The target market's information, including demographics, opinions, challenges, and preferences.

    • Insights on current or future products

    • What the customer thinks about the company.

    Examples of how survey research is conducted in real life:

    • A newsletter sends a survey with open and closed-ended questions to determine if the content lives up to the customer's expectations.

    • A handicraft store sets ups a call with a customer to collect detailed feedback on their shopping experience.

    • An online course platform interviews users about their learning experience and the improvements they want to see.

    Survey Research - Key takeaways

    • Survey research is a primary data collection approach to discovering customers' attitudes, preferences, and buying behaviour.
    • Survey research is highly flexible, but the responses are not always reliable due to customers' memory gaps or unwillingness to answer the survey.
    • Survey research can be conducted via phone, email, online, or in person.

    • There are three types of survey research: exploratory research, descriptive research, and causal research.

    • The three most popular survey research methods are online, telephone, and face-to-face surveys.


    1. Harappa, Survey Research: Types And Examples, 2021.
    2. Survey Monkey, Market research surveys. 2022,
    Frequently Asked Questions about Survey Research

    What is survey research?

    Survey research is a type of research that involves asking customers questions to collect data on their attitudes, preferences, and buying behaviour.

    Why is survey research important?

    Survey research is important as it can be applied to most situations to collect data from a large group of people. 

    What type of research is a survey?

    A survey is a primary research method that collects quantitative data. 

    Is survey research qualitative or quantitative?

    Survey research is often quantitative. The questions are mostly close-ended such as multiple choice and Linkert scales. However, it can also be qualitative when the survey contains a lot of open-ended questions. 

    How to conduct survey research?

    Survey research can be conducted via phone, email, online, or in person. Usually, the research will hand out a questionnaire and invite the customers to a call. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Survey research is one of the ___________ methods.

    The main benefit of survey research is flexibility.

    Responses from surveys are not always reliable because ___________


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