Market Research and Marketing Research mean the same thing

Answer to Contemporary Market Research Questions

I am teaching a series of market research lessons in Tokyo at the moment (based on the ESOMAR book Answers to Contemporary Market Research Questions). At the first lesson one of the questions from the audience (who were all people with Japanese as their first language) was about the difference between Market Research and Marketing Research. I explained (and Tweeted) that there is no useful or meaningful difference between the two terms – which led to a few counter tweets. So, I thought I would set out my thoughts in more than 140 characters.

To most business people, to most market/marketing researchers, to most users of marketing/market research the two terms are interchangeable. Whilst most people seem to have a preference for one over the other, a writer/speaker cannot expect an audience to draw a distinction between the two.

There are some people who assert that there is a difference between the two words. However, these people tend to disagree with each other. For example a Qualtrics blog post in June 2010 asserts that Market Research is a subset of Marketing Research. Conversely Wikipedia says of Market Research (in the entry on Marketing Research) “Market research is broader in scope and examines all aspects of a business environment. It asks questions about competitors, market structure, government regulations, economic trends, technological advances, and numerous other factors that make up the business environment.”

The definitive description of Market Research, for international purposes, is probably the one offered by the ICC (International Chamber of Commerce)/ESOMAR Code on Market and Social Research. The Code says “Market research, which includes social and opinion research, is the systematic gathering and interpretation of information about individuals or organisations using the statistical and analytical methods and techniques of the applied sciences to gain insight or support decision making.”

My personal preference is for Market Research, but that is perhaps not surprising as I am from the UK, and in the UK almost everybody says Market Research (as supported by entering the two terms into Google Trends and restricting the search to UK). The terms Marketing Research is more common in the USA, but even there Google Trends would suggest more than twice as many people are looking “Market Research” and “Marketing Research”.

I could try making the semantic argument that Market Research relates to every aspect of the market, whilst Marketing Research only relates to that sub-set of markets that pertain to marketing. However, that would be folly.

Most articles that look at the two terms say they are used by most people interchangeably. If you want to confirm this get hold of a few introductory text books on market research and marketing research and inspect the contents – they overlap entirely.

If two terms are used interchangeably, and, if those people who believe the words are distinct ascribe very different meanings to the words, then there is no useful difference between the words. Speakers and writers do not own the meaning of words; meaning is determined by the people who read and hear the words.

I suspect that those people who argue that there is a difference between Market Research and Marketing Research are saying:

  • There used to be a difference.
  • And/or they would like there to be a difference.

PS, in this post I have used caps for Market Research and Marketing Research as I am drawing attention to the two terms and wanted to highlight them. Please, normally, do not use caps for market research, it is not a proper noun.