Theory and evidence are the cornerstones of good research technique. The theory, or “concept,” drives the collection of data, or “evidence;” indeed, without a concept, there can be no meaningful research results, only a collection of abstract facts and numbers. In this way, all scientific research involves both conceptual and empirical research technique. But for market researchers, who need to make well-informed decisions in order to improve business performance, it is imperative that empirical research becomes the focus of the research process; take a look at the differences between conceptual and empirical research to learn why:
Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein: these famous philosophers and scientists relied heavily on conceptual research to develop insight and theories about the way the world works. They established concepts to explain common occurrences by observing their surroundings and compiling, studying and summarizing existing information. Many conceptual researchers advance to empirical research (like Einstein, in particular), but many remain committed to only using their logic to give meaning to natural phenomenon.
In the world of market research, conceptual research involves the collection of secondary research materials such as case studies, syndicated market reports, trade journals and other previously published information. Taking information from these sources, companies can make educated guesses regarding past, current and future markets, as well as confirm possible areas of interest they should or should not pursue.
Empirical research, on the other hand, is based not on theory, but on experimentation. Using either a quantitative or qualitative methodology, researchers gather data that can be measured according to a certain population, place and/or time. They then use this information to make meaningful, fact-based conclusions.
Market researchers use an empirical research approach when they want to gain insight regarding a specific problem, not a general one. Through observation and experimentation, they gather data that can help them address an explicit concern (such as “How Does Our Current Pricing Affect Sales?”). They choose a method for approaching a sample of people (specifically qualified to provide feedback, of course) and gather information from them. Then they organize and analyze that information for a better understanding of the factors affecting the company or organization they represent. Results from empirical studies will necessarily be dependent on the researchers conducting them, the sample they choose and the circumstances, perceptions and prejudices of everyone involved. As such, empirical research is the only way for companies to acquire specific evidence as it relates to their own business practices, allowing them to make decisions that are custom-tailored to their own unique needs.
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Businesses should use conceptual research to help them identify factors and issues that could affect their own products, policies and procedures. They must, however, follow up any conceptual ideas with empirical research that is equipped to answer a specific question. If you need help developing a theory and/or gathering the data to address it, please contact our team at Communications for Research (CFR). We have over 20 years experience helping companies recognize and address issues that ultimately improve their bottom lines!
You might also like to download our free resource, “The Insider’s Guide to Successfully Using Market Research Online Surveys,” to learn more about best practices for effectively setting up market research online surveys.