When to test, and when to research

A gradual separation.

Some years ago, ‘research’ and ‘testing’ were pretty much synonymous. In more recent times there has been a gradual separation meaning that these two terms now imply different methodologies and outputs.

But, do brand managers and marketers understand this?

The reason for the question is that we’ve encountered a number of instances of Clients undertaking testing studies that they had anticipated would address their research needs, only to find themselves with more (and important) unanswered questions as they reviewed the findings.

What do we understand ‘testing’ and ‘research’ to be?

Testing & research twins


Testing has, to a large degree, been increasing in popularity and usage because it has grown from two dynamics that have recently emerged…

1. The ability to connect with research audiences online, making it easier, simpler and more convenient for consumers to participate and respond.

2. The development of databases of willing respondents that can be cheaply accessed in order to deliver a test sample – and the attendant philosophy of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ that has encouraged the ignoring of specific targeting within this approach (there are plenty of case studies that suggest that in most sectors the results are near identical whether a targeted or a random sample is used).

This has led to the emergence of a roster of panel-based service providers who offer a range of subscription or ad hoc ‘testing’ approaches. These are really useful when there is a need to get a quick fix on the appeal of a range of different new concepts, flavours or varietals. It’s also a good way to validate a new product offering, pack design or piece of brand communications – to provide some basic ‘evidence’ of consumer appeal, to reassure a management team or to help persuade a retailer to stock the new entrant.


Research can embrace these ‘test’ elements, but can do a lot more besides this.

Research is not just about understanding what consumers think, but also about why they have these opinions – particularly within a qualitative research approach.

It allows for more interrogation and probing, and, (increasingly) for a more iterative process that enables ideas and concepts to be developed, evolved and re-examined during its course.

Research man

The role of testing and the role for research

Role of testing


Testing is good for delivering simple overview ‘numbers’ – a relatively crude filter that provides an element of direction and confidence to support business decision-making. Often, it is about justifying decisions that have already effectively been made – a final ‘tick in the box’.

It requires initial decisions to have already been made about what should be tested – responses will always be prompted by some form of stimulus or descriptor.

Tick box


Research is (or should be) about uncovering insights that haven’t previously been known. Within a qualitative research study there is the opportunity to allow consumers to make spontaneous suggestions, to develop their thoughts and ideas, and for them to interact and to respond to each other within a controlled discussion.

When there is a need to properly understand how consumers think, act and behave within a market sector, exploratory research is definitely the best way forward. If there is a requirement to shape the positioning or presentation of a brand, and to understand how different audience segments respond to and engage with that brand, then qualitative research is an effective tool to provide the required direction.

And often, an element of testing can be integrated within a broader research project – for example, we’ve used different scoring methodologies within online forum research at the end of an elongated study to deliver ‘test results’ to complement the attitudinal preferences that have emerged across the course of the forum.

Testing or Research?

Testing vs research table

Helping you decide whether to test, or to research.

Coffee cups

Ask the experts.

At The Brand Nursery we have helped a number of Clients with testing exercises – in particular, to create visual stimulus that brings to life the concept or pack that is being tested (because it’s important to make sure that the stimulus used within this kind of study is a good reflection of what the product or service will be).

We are also familiar with a number of testing fieldwork providers, and the strengths and limitations of their different approaches. We can advise on who, or what, will best fit your needs, and manage your project if you require us to.

We have shaped and delivered a host of research studies – from simple quantitative Omnibus or hall-test projects, through to complex focus group programmes and extended online forum studies. We are experienced qualitative moderators, and skilled at analysing and interpreting both quantitative and qualitative findings.

bananas in frames

The process.

There is always a need to balance the desire for robustness, detail and depth of insight with the inevitable constraints of the available budget. It requires objectivity in planning, and the knowledge that comes from expertise in doing this kind of work for many years. But the most fundamental requirement is to start by asking the right questions at the beginning of the process;

  • Why do you think you need to do this piece of testing or research?
  • What do you need to find out?
  • What are you hoping/planning to do with the findings?
  • What is the budget, and when do you need the results by?

Answer these questions properly (and although they appear simple, the answers sometimes need a bit of thought!) and it should become clear as to whether you need ‘testing’ or ‘research’, and what kind of methodology will best meet your needs.

We’d be very happy to help you to plot your course.

When to test and when to research.

If you’d like to know more, call Chris Blythe on 0113 234 6220 or email chris@thebrandnursery.com