In August 2022, Quirk's Marketing Research Review published a summary of Sophie Grieve-William's video on the core differences between customer and consumer research. In the article, you'll find an introduction to why the distinction matters to insight professionals, how to approach both forms of market research and common applications of the two data-driven activities.
Originally appearing as part of the FlexMR animated insight series, Sophie explores how the terms - often used interchangeably - have a surprising amount of meaning, and the core debates that surround both. You can watch the full video in this short blog on the subject, or on the FlexMR YouTube channel.
The Differences Explained
All those in customer-facing industries know the terms customer and consumer. In certain circles those terms are used almost interchangeably, but are they really the same?
Consumer research is a well-known practice that brands use to make sure they gain vital insights on those who consume their products and services. Through this consumer research, brands can fully understand the audience they are catering to and retain them by building the perfect products and services that they need.
Customer communities are a common tool to use in consumer research, but only if those consumers are also the customers – and the variance here can mean the difference between success and failure for that brand.
So, let’s go over this definition again: Consumers consume the product, customers buy the product. They can be the same person, which is why these terms can be and are sometimes used interchangeably, but this isn’t always the case. Customers can buy a product for someone else to consume. Consumers can consume a product bought for them by someone else who becomes the customer.
Consumer and Customer Insight Challenges
Conducting research on customers vs. consumers has specific challenges, some that cross over but a few that are applicable only to either customers or consumers. For example, a challenge that affects both customer and consumer research is respondent engagement – for there will always be those respondents who don’t really care to provide detail on anything asked even when they agree to take part in the research.
One challenge of customer research that doesn’t impact consumer research is the tasks centered on the customer journey, figuring out pain points and devising strategies to mitigate them. A task that applies to consumer research over customer research is the product development tasks – making sure to get consumers who actually use those products to help design the next iteration with better features will be better than just asking the customers who paid for the product.
To find out more about the difference between customer and consumer research, plus what it means for your insight strategy, read the full article on Quirk's now.
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